This piece was written by United Way of the National Capital Area employees Lester A. Wilkerson Jr., Ivan Williams, Gevar Bonham, Dirk A. Butler and Torrance Hucks. It is part of a collection of stories told by African American male colleagues at United Way NCA. Click here to hear more.
The work we do for United Way of the National Capital Area to create equity for our community is more crucial than ever. When the news of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many before them ignited a national protest against racism, we felt the earth shift. Now was the time to be bolder with the work that we do.
Before we could forge on with our work for justice and equity, we held a space for our work family to share their feelings, be heard, grieve and begin a curative process so that we can reengage with hope. We hope the thoughts from our Black brothers at United Way NCA provides an opportunity for others to resonate with our feelings and encourages other organizations to hold a similar curative space for their colleagues.
Brother Floyd’s death reflects a country that failed him. That failed Tamir, Freddie and Trayvon. That failed us as Black men, and, if this system doesn’t change, will fail our children. We fail Black boys academically through suspension rates and unequal treatment. We betray Black men in our employment practices. We fail them in our community development approaches, evidenced by how many reside in subpar conditions. We are inept in our policing, sentencing and incarceration models, evidenced by the disproportionate mass incarceration of Black men. Because of this, we feel vulnerable. We feel weak. We feel less than a man. Is Black male life this devalued that it can be taken so effortlessly?
As Black men living in the 21st century, we are “anxiously exhausted.” We’ve felt unwelcome in our own communities, been called racial slurs, treated ungraciously and feared. We’ve learned the rules of survival, knowing that even with the mastery of them, the decision to live or die is at the mercy of law enforcement or a racist. Trauma is so ingrained in our DNA that we cannot begin to imagine a reality without it.
As we witness our children experience racism in their lives, it is painful to watch. We wish we could carry the weight of the experience for them, but they must know the world for what it is in order to change it. These experiences create a callus in Black men that bonds us across generations. Nothing about it is good besides the “comfort” of knowing that someone else gets it. We are bonding over trauma. The recent murders were not surprising but they broke us just the same. We have not been OK and, for the first time in our lives, we feel comfortable saying that out loud: We are not OK.
Like so many of our brothers, we are traumatized and depleted. We find it hard to hold onto our identities as father, husband or professional. At this moment, we are reduced to objects. We are not able to make ourselves whole. We must rebuild and restore, but we can’t do that when oppression exists. When the knee is on our necks, we are not able to exist without terror or grow into what we choose.
George Floyd was destroyed by a global system called white supremacy. A system created to oppress Black and Brown communities. Oppression choked George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds so he could not breathe, and we cannot either. Until we conquer oppression and give ourselves permission to choose justice, none of us can.
The recent celebration of Juneteenth reminds us of how far we’ve come, but also disheartens us that with all the civil rights work that our ancestors fought to enable equal rights, we are still faced with the same inequalities. This system needs reform. We have a responsibility to ensure that we come out of this movement with a new sense of optimism and continue to fight for a better future for everyone in our country regardless of their race, religion, gender or social status.
Our hope is the current racial pandemic will invoke change. We cannot remain silent, and we have to demand change. As Black men, let’s give ourselves time to reflect, grieve and renew. With that restored energy, we can then continue our work of holding the government and country accountable for their actions to finally create equity.
Lester A. Wilkerson Jr. is an accountant at United Way of the National Capital Area. Ivan Williams is community impact manager. Gevar Bonham is IT systems administrator. Dirk A. Butler is vice president of community impact and engagement. Torrance Hucks is volunteer engagement manager.
The original article published in the Washington Business Journal. To read the original article, please visit here.