I have always understood the oppression of our country’s systems and how that leads to racist, sexist, classist, etc. treatment and disparities. It is why I chose at a young age to get involved in social justice work; why I chose Social Work as a degree and profession because of its value of social justice; and why I accepted the role of CEO for the YWCA who’s mission is Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women.
I understood that working for social justice and fighting for equity would be a hard (and long) fight. I accepted that the seeds I plant might not fully bloom within my lifetime.
In the last couple of years, and particularly this last week: my heart has been broken; my spirit has waned; and my strength has weakened. I am hearing a strong message coming from the criminal justice system, “This system isn’t for you. You can’t find justice here. You should stop trying or you will be punished!”
I am scared to encourage my two nephews who just graduated from high school and are off to college to get involved in the movement. I see the political persecution in the Jasmine Richards case that leaders in the movement are persecuted using laws designed to protect us. I am frightened to urge my niece in college to explore and try things. I see through the Turner rape case that women who don’t stay “in their place” are blamed and shamed. I am afraid for my 10-year-old nephew who is most certainly growing into a large Black man. I see in the so many cases in the last couple years that killing Black men with impunity continues in police forces across the nation. For all the progress I see, I also see the disparities growing, the privilege strengthening and the backlash becoming fierce. I am worried that I am being silenced by the fear that my fight isn’t just long and hard, but could be pain and suffering for the impossible.
I am concerned about my community. Are those who have been organizing for paid sick days losing their jobs? Are victims of sexual assault who wait years for their cases to be considered worthy to prosecute and then shamed in the courtroom going to be able to consider themselves survivors? Are the loud voices calling for justice and change in the history of police brutality looking over their shoulders?
But, here is the trick dear system, the reason my fight won’t end. It doesn’t have to be strong every day—there are others, oh so many others. As Jasmine Richards was taken out of the courtroom she started chanting, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom!” The victim of Brock Turner made an amazing statement that speaks to the court’s ridiculousness and gave voice to the feelings of the almost 300,000 rape victims each year. The news media and social media erupted with outrage. Locally, I saw my Board members and staff “on fire”. I saw my students use the incidents to deconstruct media with magnificent understanding of cycles of oppression. I saw my best friend, who rarely gets it, he got it. I saw the confusion, the anger, empathy for the victims. And yet, as I saw folks down and questioning; I saw no one giving up the fight. In my waning strength, I will rely on all of you; you have reignited my fire and mended my broken heart. We strive on for more progress and for a vision of equity.