Dear Goose Creek Family,
I know that reading all the words of this note may be painful for many of you. But I would encourage you to read them. They are just as painful for me and it is very difficult for me to say.
A truth is that I have been, shamefully reluctant and fearful, as a black man, to address the protests that have been occurring across the country. As a person who has come from a Southern family that has experienced continuous and nonstop discrimination for more than 300 years, including beatings, racist acts and even the lynching of my grandfather’s brother, I am cautious about touching the third rail of American life – our original sin of slavery and racism.
Three things inspired me to write about this topic. First, a white colleague wrote a touching note of support to me earlier this week. It reminded me that I should, as a leader, take a stand and say that discrimination in any form does not align with our values. Second, another white colleague happened to bring up that her family members were at protests over the weekend. The third thing was coronavirus. It was striking to me that after a month of economic suffering because of coronavirus, we all received a $1,200.00 check from the United States Government. After 300 years where the United States of America, as President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, put its foot on our necks, we have received nothing. It puts in symbolic and stark relief that America has not lived up to the ideals upon which is was founded. We are, as Southern Blacks like to say, still waiting for our 40 acres and a mule.
When white Americans feel a little bit of suffering, $1,200.00 lands in their pockets. When black people face hundreds of years of intergenerational trauma and lost opportunity, we are told we are being too sensitive. When Native Americans are nearly wiped out by genocide, they are pushed aside, abused and taken advantage in subsequent generations.
If the 40 acres and a mule that General William Tecumseh Sherman wanted to give us after the Civil War are not coming, a nice consolation prize would just to be not be discriminated against on a daily basis and not to have others disregard the value of our lives.
You are unlikely to see me protest. But you will see me put my money where my mouth is. If any of you make a donation to a social justice cause in 2020, Goose Creek will match it up to $250.00. All you need to do is send me the receipt. I will continue to seek opportunities to hire people of color, women and members of the LGBT community as my way of ensuring that people are given opportunity and responsibility. I know that I have been given power as a leader and that comes with the responsibility to do my part. This is very much aligned with Goose Creek’s values.
I know that many of us want to believe that race relations, hatred for members of the LBGT community, oppression of Native Americans and discrimination against women has faded. The empirical and statistical data is in stark opposition to that view.
The truth is, we are far from Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideal expressed when he said, “I have a dream where little black boys and girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.” We are far from his dream “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” But, I do believe his words when he said: “The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.”
You are the ones who are bending toward justice. And we need you now.
Though this is deeply personal, I want to share a part of my family history. We have faced continuous and nonstop forms of discrimination for 300 years since the period where my relatives were slaves. My grandfather’s brother was lynched in South Carolina. My mother was denied admission to a college, despite stellar grades, explicitly and openly because of her race. A white FDIC supervisor, trying to protect my father, would not allow him to take a job as bank examiner in South Carolina because of the risk to his life because of his race. If you think that has not had an impact on the opportunities, the psychology and the reluctance of my family to discuss race, you are naïve. We have experienced intergenerational trauma similar to that of our Native American brothers and sisters, who my heart breaks for every day.
I remember crying and being so mad at my father when, in the same year in middle school, the Klan marched just north of us in Forysth County, Georgia and my first girlfriend told me that her dad had decided we could not date because of my race. I thought my dad had promised me that this was over. That is one of those moments when I was reminded that I was black — that I was other, that I was different, that I was still not a part of the same American dream. It was just as heartbreaking for me to watch the boys learn that same painful lesson – that the color of their skin matters – more than 25 years later and more thing 55 years after King told us about his dream.
At the same time, many whites have stood up for us. After my grandfather’s brother was lynched, a white family helped our family flee the town and obtain new names. I should not be a Blair. That name was taken on as a cover to protect my family from more lynching. The white FDIC supervisor helped my father obtain a job in Maryland, where he still could not go to every area because of the Ku Klux Klan presence on the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland. The Army soldiers who worked with my father agitated for him to be allowed into restaurants when they were on the road. While my middle school yearbook looked like a Klan rally on paper and a relative near my age had a Confederate flag draped on him in high school, my family has also been timeously embraced by most white people in our lives. For that and the efforts of those who are now agitating for change, I am grateful.
Recognize, however, that when you go back to being white – when you go back to your lives, we are still black and will have to live with the consequences of what’s on the ground. Even though the looters are opportunists and not the protestors, we will be held accountable for that in the minds of others and the next time we are walking on alleys and run into a police officer concerned about their own safety. In my entire life, I have not had a bad experience with a police officer, however, I know many who have been harmed for reasons that are hard to explain. I encourage you to keep the fight going until there is systemic change.
A consequence – no doubt, unintended – of Donald Trump and others wontly and callously tearing down the systems that exist that are unable to respond to this agitation for change, is that we have an opportunity to rebuild those systems in a new image.
We need you. We need you to stand with us. We need you to fight. Whether we are black, brown, LBGT, a woman, a Native American or some other, we need you to fight America’s original sin of slavery and all of our patterns discrimination.
We need you to say, that enough, is, indeed, enough.
All the best,