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Know Better, Do Better

Blog by Associate Michelle Gray

Last week, in a long overdue move, Quaker Oats announced it is doing away with its Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup brand, saying that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”

A new name and packaging will debut later this year.

You are familiar with Aunt Jemima, of course: a Black woman, who originally was dressed as a minstrel character. She then appeared with a “mammy” kerchief, which had been removed in recent years because of racial stereotyping that dated to the days of slavery.

The current logo features a smiling black woman. Nevertheless, the racist origin remains.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the internet to react to Quaker’s news. And it was what I’d come to expect with anything involving race: those who applauded the move and those who thought their world was ending.

One gentleman (a white man) claimed the change ruined childhood memories of pancakes in his grandma’s kitchen. Ah, memories, like the heritage of the South we “erase” by removing Confederate statues; a separate but similar issue.

His comment brought to mind the time when I was a reporter and Warren City Schools (Ohio) had to merge its two high schools. Committees made up of administrators, students and citizens were formed. A building was chosen and its name retained, but the mascot and colors of the other school remained. The students took the change in stride, but the adults!

I took a phone call from a woman who was in tears, saying her memories were ruined. Yeesh!  She wasn’t the first to call and I finally decided to speak up: “Memories are kept in our hearts and minds, not in bricks and mortar. Your memories are yours to keep, regardless of what happens now.” She hung up on me, but I wasn’t sorry for what I had said.

This remains true for pancakes and syrup. You can keep your fond memories of grandma’s kitchen while recognizing the racist origins of a logo on a package.

Another (white) woman lamented: “This is ridiculous. Who’s next? Charlie Tuna?” As if anthropomorphizing a fish somehow equates to enslaving humans. But the answer to her question is Mars, Inc., which owns Uncle Ben’s. Just hours after the Quaker announcement, Mars said it would rethink the logo of its rice products.

My own reaction was “about time. I can’t imagine why it took them so long.” But I don’t want to commend myself, as I have moved through this world with relative ease as a white woman and I am embarrassed at how long it has taken me to be “woke.” And sometimes I wonder if I am at that.

I remember in 2013 watching “Fruitvale Station” and really realizing, for the first time, that I have never, ever had to fear for my life at the hands of a police officer. And sadly, that is something my black brothers and sisters deal with daily. It was a sad and sobering realization.

I came across this on the internet by Instagram user @shes_mightymighty: “No matter how open-minded, socially conscious, anti-racist I think I am, I still have old, learned hidden biases that I need to examine. It is my responsibility to check myself daily for my stereotypes, prejudice, and ultimately, discrimination.”

I posted it to my page as a reminder. And I tell myself to remember, and follow, what my hero Maya Angelou said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Dear White People: DO YOUR PART!

Blog by Associate Rosie Blackburn

The events of 2020 have had me on perhaps the biggest rollercoaster ride of my life.

I started the year — literally on January 1, 2020 — in the hospital unable to walk.  After treatment and rehab, I fully recovered.  I am convinced it was the many, many prayers of my family, friends and my Dominican community that greatly contributed to that recovery.  I truly felt the arms of God holding me.

I was finally able to get out a bit and along came COVID-19.  I have felt very sad over the loss of life. I have felt afraid.  I have felt grateful that I am well and have all that I need. And I have felt anger at lack of leadership.

In the midst of the global pandemic, we have lost black lives to police brutality and now face the ugly truth of the deep-rooted racism in our country.   We have known it. We have denied it. And we have “whitewashed” it with lies.

We now have another opportunity to finally begin to be truthful, to own it, to own our part in it, to educate ourselves and to make the changes needed to truly be one human race.

We white people need to be leading this fight, not the black people.  Black people have to fight every day — EVERY DAY — for their survival.  We do not need to look to them to also educate us, to show us the way, to be the front line.

We set up these systems and found many ways to keep them in tact for 400 years to suppress BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color); and we must be the force that dismantles them.  It will take very hard work and perseverance.

What can we do, we ask?  I don’t have all the answers, but I have some thoughts and suggestions.  We have to begin.  We will stumble. We will fall. We will mess up. But we must keep going.   Some things we can do:

Read and educate ourselves.  White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is a good beginning.  DiAngelo is a white woman and she is very clear in explaining white privilege.  I Am Still Here by Austin Brown Channing is a great read.  Channing is a black woman and illustrates how whiteness dominates our country.   There are many great books out there – Google it!

Quit trying to make Black people white!  Quit assuming we know how they feel, we don’t!  We can’t!  Quit thinking the white way is better, it isn’t!

Take a long hard look at your racism — a long look, an honest look.  Look every day.  You don’t have to share it with anyone but you do have to be willing to sit with yourself and hold yourself accountable.

Find ways to have the hard conversations with family, friends, and neighbors who make racial comments.  It has to stop!  We can be part of that change.  We have to speak up every time.

Pray, pray, pray.   God for me is that divine energy that connects us all, that’s all of us, and the expression of God is the many ways we love.  Prayer is the gift of love – It brings us into relationship with God and who/what we are praying for.  Peace is a relationship that acknowledges differences and still finds a way to stay in relationship and share in the love of God.  That divine energy connects our hearts, all our hearts, and provides us the energy to love and stay connected.

While I find myself experiencing deep sorrow every day with the staggering number of deaths from COVID-19, I have a deeper sorrow over humans killing each other. But, I also have hope.  Hope in our ability to be humble and honest and in our great desire to do better now that we know better.  It is the work of the rest of our lives.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

An Exercise in Self-Reflection

Let this sink in:

“What we saw on that video was torture. What we saw on that video was inhumane. What we saw on that video was evil. We cannot cooperate with evil. We cannot cooperate with inhumanity. We cannot cooperate with torture. We must seek justice.”

Attorney Benjamin L. Crump

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Now, take a look in the mirror and answer the following questions:

  • Are you a seeker of justice?
  • How do you show justice to others?
  • Do you (unwittingly or intentionally) fail to do justice?
  • Are there groups of people who you think should have no rights or limited rights?
  • Do Black lives (really) matter to you?
  • Are there areas of your life in which you are indifferent to justice?
  • What are you prepared to do to act justly?
  • Again: Are you a seeker of justice?
Posted in Associate Blog, News

Seeking my Peace

Blog by Associate April Queener

I rode to work in silence last Wednesday. My peace had been disturbed and I was struggling to get it back.

We have been in a nonstop pandemic news cycle for months, story after story of the havoc the Coronavirus has inflicted on all areas of the country.

Now that the cycle has changed, we are being bombarded with more heavy news: a daytime killing of a jogger in Georgia; a woman threatening an avid bird watcher in Central Park that she would call the police and report him being “African American”; and lastly, the event that made me ride to work in silence — the video of a black man being held down on the street by another man’s knee, until he can’t breathe.

THAT should shake us all to our core. Watching a video of a black man being held down on the street by a paid civil servant who vowed to “protect and serve” SHOULD disturb our peace.

The video is nine minutes long; most people can’t make it through to watch the entire event that left George Floyd unresponsive in the street. Many onlookers begged the police officer to let up the pressure on his neck; they called for humanity. Floyd begged and even called for his mother; meanwhile, the officer remained stoic with his hands casually in his pockets not letting up the pressure.

I don’t know exactly what the crime was. There is rumor of a “forgery in progress” — that Floyd was passing a bad twenty dollar bill.

In my heart, I know that the penalty for this alleged crime should not be death on the street. I started to worry. I started to pray. I pictured my husband, my uncles, and  my son under that police officer’s knee.

My son is taking this latest event hard, when I got home from work he had written a song about what he witnessed on television.

My son is seventeen and will be a senior in high school this year. He is an honors student, an actor, a Shakespeare and musical theatre enthusiast, a musician, a writer, and he is a child of great faith. He has survived three open heart surgeries and lives with a complex heart defect. He also enjoys making rap music, has hundreds of records; and, I am proud to boast, knows all of the “good” old-school hip-hop.

As I listen to the song he wrote, I worry more, his voice is deeper. He sounds like a man. His words are poetry, articulating his feelings, his observations, his hopes and dreams. The song is the best he’s written and yet I worry.

Will people see all that is inside of him, his many interests and talents? Will they only see a boy in a hoodie that must be up to no good?  He is 6’3”. He has a beard. And, thanks to Coronavirus, he is overdue for a haircut. He needs to be protected.

When I made my rounds at work (the same day I rode to work in silence), I stopped in the room of a resident who is not always oriented to time and place. I asked her how she was doing and she replied she was “watching this poor black man in the street” and it was “hurting her heart.”

It gave me comfort and solace that she could see it. I was not alone. I knew then that I had to write this to reclaim my peace.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

TOGETHER WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Did you watch the “Graduate Together: High School Class of 2020 Commencement” broadcast?

If you didn’t, you missed some inspiring moments. If you did, I hope you received some messages of hope and empowerment – I know I did!

Some of those messages are worth repeating because their relevance extends beyond the targeted audience of 2020 high school graduates to each of us.

LeBron James, philanthropist and NBA great, challenged students to recommit themselves to their communities, saying “building your community changes the world.”

Hmmm … I wonder what our world would look like if we worked together to rebuild our communities for the common good?

Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize laureate and Pakistani activist, declared that “The class of 2020 won’t be defined by what we lost to this virus but by how we responded to it.”

Hmmm … I wonder what our world will look like when we emerge on the other side of this pandemic?

President Barack Obama offered three pieces of advice: Don’t be afraid. Do what you think is right. Build a community. He encouraged students to “… be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path.”

Hmmm … I wonder what our world would look like if we were alive to each other’s struggle, if we stood up for the rights of others, if we left behind divisive ways?

What are you willing to do to set the world on a different path?

As we move forward, into the future, we all have the power to effect positive change. Each one of us can make a difference. Together we can change the world!

Posted in Associate Blog, News