I have a deep sense of sadness about the recent murder of George Floyd. My home town is St. Paul – “twin city” to Minneapolis. This adds a layer to my grief and disappointment about the treatment of people of color in my home state. These events are in contrast to my early images of Minnesota. According to the Washington Post, Minneapolis is one of the most racially unequal cities in the U.S., where black people make half as much as white people. How could this happen? It is a rude awakening to know that human beings are treated this way here or anywhere in the world.
I grew up in what I would describe as a progressive, liberal household. My grandma Eva, who was born in the late 1800s, was a member of the NAACP and was one of the first women to attend college at the University of Minnesota. She inspired me with her advocacy for human rights. I was taught at an early age to be aware of discrimination and not to make generalizations about groups of people.
I attended Unitarian church in Minneapolis, which promoted multiculturalism and human rights. The values of humanitarianism permeated my early life. In my college years, I lived in Alabama and attended Tuskegee Institute for a year. As a white person, I immersed myself in the local community and studied African American history and literature. I became aware of the immense systemic racism against people of color in the south.
More recently, friends, loved ones, and clients have shared with me their own life experiences of discrimination. I care deeply about human rights, and have tried to apply this in my work as a health care professional and social worker. Now, as I stay at home, I am reflecting on the question which we must all be asking ourselves in this time: what can I do?
When I started Creative Life Mapping, I envisioned helping people with their careers and educational opportunities. I wanted to create hope and optimism for young people as they make the transition to adult life. I also had a goal of increasing diversity in education and employment by seeing how I can help “level the playing field”.
The protests around the world made me realize that the diverse generations following mine—Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z— have so much potential to make a positive change. Young adults are taking over many sectors and comprise the majority of the workforce. There are so many stories of youth taking action. When I think about advocacy for the environment, school violence and justice for people of color, it seems that our young adults are at the forefront. Yet addressing the challenges of our world has always been a daunting prospect. As my son Anthony reflected recently “Where do you begin?”
We need to keep the movement going! There are so many sectors of life where inequality and discrimination run rampant and where reform is necessary. Equal access to housing, employment, health care and mental health services are just the beginning. You don’t have to go far to look for a cause to support. How can we make meaningful, long lasting change within these institutions? Here are a few ideas about where to go from here. Let’s keep the movement going. As we emerge from the pandemic and confront our history of racism, let’s integrate this into our work, our relationships and activism. I have assembled a list of movies and documentaries, human rights museums, books and civil rights education; policy advocacy examples and civil and human rights organizations. The following are a few resources.
Learn about civil rights history and culture by reading, and visiting human rights museums. A reading list is found on Social Justice Books. A few examples of civil rights museums include: The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum; The Museum of African American History and Culture; and The National Civil Rights Museum.
Vote for leadership that brings people together and efforts to ensure voting rights. Help to get out the vote. Common Cause advocates for free and fair elections by providing tools and resources.
Advocate, support, and become involved in civil & human rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); The Ella Baker Center; The Innocence Project; and The Southern Poverty Law Center.
By staying active and involved, we can learn, understand history and carve pathways to go forward and keep advancing the movement for positive change alive.
[This post was originally a part of our ongoing newsletter series—Leaning on Your Strengths with Eugenie Lewis]