What matters: Jumpstarting racial justice conversations and racially just actions

In 2019, I heard from a group of women I hadn’t communicated with in decades, my class of sisters of Pi Beta Phi Sorority at the College of William and Mary. Briefly, I had been a member. I deactivated after realizing that, while nice, these white girls just weren’t my community. We didn’t listen to the same music or use the same hair care products – important things to a 19-year-old – or have a shared history. There were no African American Greeks on campus then; so, I just decided that sorority life wouldn’t be for me. No further thoughts about the Pi Phis until I received an email saying several of them had read my book, Daughters of the Dream. They were coming to Washington for their annual gathering and wondered if I might join them for dinner and conversation. I was delighted to do so.

From that gathering in 2019 has emerged the beginning of friendships and a series of conversations on racial equity that a subset of us have held, via Zoom, during the pandemic. I asked the women in this small group to share why they are making a commitment to racial equity, both learning and unlearning, along with being a part of the fight for racial justice. I wanted to know what – big or small — was catalytic for these women.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. The capture and sharing of incidents of racial injustice on cell phones mattered;
  2. The growth of books, podcasts, documentaries, and all kinds of knowledge sharing about our untold history mattered;
  3. The cumulative effect of seeing racial injustices on the news mattered;
  4. Having a group to have honest conversations with mattered; and,
  5. The sharing of personal experiences from someone they knew mattered.

We all need a prompt to shift our thinking, open our eyes, and lead us to act differently.

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Here are their complete comments.

  • The election of Barack Obama had led me to believe that all was well and minorities were making progress. When I re-met Tamara in DC 2019, after I had read her book, I had begun to realize that things were not going as well as I had thought. The number one catalyst for my change in thinking and acting was listening to her tell her story about her adult son and the police stopping him in front of his house and asking for ID. That, to me, was astounding. Little did I know. The videos of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd made a huge impact and reinforced the feeling I had when she told me about her son. The rhetoric coming out of the Trump White House was frightening, and made me even more aware of just how far the US has NOT progressed.

Adding to that have been the many readings, videos, etc that we have all shared. I am constantly in a state of surprise at how much I have missed….new highways cutting up minority neighborhoods, our (lack of) education when we were growing up, food deserts etc are all new to me. And just last week, learning that slaveholders had insurance on enslaved humans.

And now watching the treatment of Asian Americans and Jewish Americans has made it even more imperative that we continue to learn, and act. The video of the Jewish man being attacked in Times Square. Good heavens.

  • I enjoy conversations that have substance, and I enjoy learning. I am bothered by the great divide that our country has fallen into, and I believe conversations can be informative when differing thoughts are shared. Our Digging Deeper conversations do all the above. I’ve been prompted to read books and articles of which I may not have been aware, and I enjoy the conversations that they have generated. Television programs and our “field trips” have added to my knowledge and caused me to realize the “bubble” in which I grew up.
  • I’ve long known that my subconscious biases influence my perceptions of people and situations and likely inform my behavior and decision-making, but I’ve not known why.  When I read Tamara’s book, “Daughters of the Dream,” I began to understand how much I don’t know about the real history of our country and how so many of our citizens have been unjustly treated for years.  I want to know more about the roots of racism in this country and the roots of my own racism. I want to take part in the conversations necessary to break down barriers and suspicions and promote understanding and acceptance. I want to be able to speak up with confidence in situations that are unjust.  Afterall, I am a grandmother and I want this country to be a better place for my grandchildren, and everyone else’s grandchildren as well!
  • As a white person, I will never fully understand what it’s like to be a Black person. Similarly, my husband will never understand what it’s like to be a wife. Even more, I don’t even know what it’s like to be my best friend!  But since I daily interact with Black people (both friends and strangers), I am hopeful that our conversations will help me know how I can love and serve my neighbor better. That comes from my Biblical duty to love God – as loving God means loving and serving others of all races, genders, ethnicities, and classes.
  • In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed only 1 hour away from where I live. The neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon was acquitted. Black Lives Matter formed. In 2018, a college friend recommended a book, Waking Up White…, while another college friend published a book, Daughters of the Dream. In 2020, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd were killed. At this point in time, I began to see and hear the terms racial equity, systemic racism, redlining, quite often. I knew the terms, racial discrimination and racial inequality, but was unfamiliar with these new terms. The culmination of these events impacted me to dig deeper.
  • I think it all came to a head for me when George Floyd was murdered and Black Lives Matter became a flash point for white supremacists.  We have never lived in a very diverse area but being in Colorado I realized that this was probably the least diverse area we have ever lived in – and the most politically and religiously conservative.  Trump and his supporters also brought a new “meanness” to the conversations.While we can never really live in someone else’s shoes, I wanted to better understand my own privilege and biases, learn to have more intelligent conversations about issues, and potentially get more involved in supporting solutions.

 

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