“If you fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over 60 years have passed since Dr. King made this “Plea to the White Community,” yet his words have astounding relevance today. How far have we (not) come? Have we been too silent?
When I began writing this, I thought I could use my voice as president and CEO of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits to communicate my sadness and anger over the events of the past week. I want to convey my feelings of solidarity for the value of Black and Brown lives. And yet I fear that my words will fall empty lest I express real feelings and not remain silent.
As we have seen an outpouring of response to the killing of George Floyd, I have watched the news stories with a heavy heart. It is difficult to find words that fully capture the anger and pain that I feel and that we see reflected in our communities. Recognizing that some, not all, of the protests have turned violent, I don’t want to be tempted into thinking that the protests are the issue at hand. We see the response around the world, and thankfully, good people are speaking out, not remaining silent.
Friends and colleagues, I cannot release from my mind the picture of a white police officer with his knee on a black man’s neck, with hands in his pocket, in public view with other police officers looking on with an expectation of impunity. I cannot allow myself to forget that the initial violent act, before all the protests, was inflicted on George Floyd.
This was not an isolated incident; it stings all the more because it’s happened so many times before. Just some of those we’ve lost: Eric Garner, Bettie Jones, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Gabriella Nevarez, Michelle Cusseaux, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Kathryn Johnston, Anthony Hill, Kevin Davis, Walter Scott, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Tanisha Anderson, Oscar Grant, Dominique Clayton, John Crawford, Alton Sterling, Atatiana Jefferson, Nicholas Thomas, Amadou Diallo, David McAtee and more in communities across the country. Let us remember their names.
As a white woman with privilege, I cannot fully imagine the depth of the pain that our black and brown colleagues are feeling. As much as I have thought that I have been working for justice, I have been jolted out of my privilege to recognize again that deep injustices along racial lines continue unabated. I believe that we have made progress, but the forces that deprive Black lives the belief that they matter are persistent.
We need our collective White, Brown, Black voices to join together to say out loud that we are committed to anti-racism. And we need our actions to demonstrate that commitment.
It is time for our policies and practices in the nonprofit sector to be changed to promote and reflect the leadership and diversity of our communities and ensure that these leaders are supported and not pushed out due to systemic inequities.
If white, we need to learn to acknowledge our privilege, listen to our black and brown colleagues, roll up our sleeves, and do the work that needs to be done. Increasingly, there has been a hue and cry for change in the nonprofit sector and in philanthropy to make access to funding available to organizations led by people of color. We need to support this shift.
If white, we must humbly recognize that we do not know what is “best” for people of color who work in our organizations and for those we serve. Ask them, and listen. We cannot simply pay lip service to the cause. We need to hold ourselves accountable for how policies and practices are enacted in the organizations we lead and in the communities we serve.
Let us seek a positive peace which is the presence of justice. In my role at the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, I recommit myself to our work in equity, diversity, and inclusion and to doing the work required to dismantle structural, systemic anti-Black racism and oppression. I invite others in our sector to join me.
Jeanne Canina Tedrow
President and CEO
Please join us this Thursday, June 4 at 1:15 p.m. for a facilitated discussion on Racism: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Current Nonprofit Climate with Dr. Forrest D. Toms.
Further Thought-Provoking Reading:
Enough is Enough, National Council of Nonprofits
Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay - Chances Are They’re Not, Refinery29
For Our White Friends Desiring to be Allies, Sojourners
Have Nonprofit and Philanthropy Become the “White Moderate” that Dr. King Warned Us About?, Nonprofit AF
A Pastoral Letter to the Nation by Rev. Dr. William J Barber, II, Poor Peoples Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
I’m White and I’m Outraged by Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder. Now What?, Dr. Taharee A. Jackson, Ph.D.