I recently wrote a Blog post on the website associated with my memoir “Understanding and Combating Racism” which includedmy thoughts on how to move local antiracism initiatives forward and create the momentum for significant change.
The post includes a picture diagram and in the center is the stated goal as follows: “For the ‘Common-Wealth of Monroe’ to be a Model of Antiracist Behavior and Full Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Equality, in the face of being one of the most segregated Communities in the country, by ___?”
The approach I contemplate would frame the complex and difficult conversations of racism and its antidote, antiracism, more as an opportunity in exploring ways to resolve this elusive and enduring problem. This would be within the context of activating our rich and relatively unknown local antiracist history together with the many local, current initiatives and movements that would hopefully move us to the cusp of an inflection point.
Said another way, I believe a “moving forward” antiracism conversation offers a more hopeful possibility that “the glass might be half-full” already including the innovation, acumen, and boldness that our community is known for while introducing new forces that will bring about equity, democracy, and inclusion everywhere.
This stands in contrast to a confounding and debilitating problem I routinely encounter: i.e., that most people want to avoid difficult conversations of how to “move from” the horrors of the dreadful, prevailing poverty and racism in our local communities and country. In my ongoing post-publication work, I have discovered that igniting such conversations is incredibly challenging and will take the engagement of every key Community sector to bring about.
I would like to particularly place the spotlight on three of these sectors: Business, Faith Communities, and each of us as Individuals.
A committed Business sector is essential for anything to happen with any degree of sustainability. In my opinion, the Business sector has in the main been very silent and detached from anything close to the work needed for the fulfillment of the goal as stated above. This unfortunately is true as well with its ancient partner organization, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce (GRCC).
I marvel at the fact that one of the GRCC’s most challenging roles, as well as one of its most distinctive skills, is in how it attempts to market to the world one of the most segregated and impoverished cities in the country within which also lies one of the most underperforming school districts.
A new paradigm is needed and a major antiracism and poverty reduction step-up by the Business sector is long overdue. Associated with this is the glaring need for charismatic business leadership like that of Xerox’s Joe Wilson decades ago. Who might these new “Wilson’s” be? Could they emanate out of an organization such as RocGrowth* with its energetic promise and focus on young entrepreneurs?
Likewise, Faith Communities for the most part prefer to dwell within their own silos known as parishes, congregations, or assemblies. As I highlight in the Blog, “Faith Centricity” provides avenues and opportunities for the development of more empathetic hearts. Unfortunately fear of and reluctance to change on the part of many church leaders and their followers (i.e., the laity) leads to complacency and much unknowingness of the “others” in our midst, most notably our urban neighbors as well as the oft forgotten poor in our suburban communities.
Similar to the Business sector, prophetic leadership, such as that of the recently deceased Rev. Franklin Florence, is also needed. And our local history includes the fact that Wilson and Florence joined forces in the ‘60s to bring the Community together in countering the darkness prevailing after the riots in 1964. Who will be the new church leaders so desperately needed today to encourage, inform, and inspire their flocks? There are a few today (see https://asburyfirst.org/archive/ for one example) … but we need an army.
This leads me to perhaps the most important and where that “army” should come from; i.e., the “third rail” of us as Individuals and citizens who can participate, engage, and contribute a plethora of experience and gifts. It is in the pursuit of the common good that the “common wealth” (i.e., benefits) for all citizens are attained. And this should not be constrained within what the author Heather McGhee describes in her book “The Sum of Us” as the ‘zero-sum paradigm’.
She defines this paradigm as “the idea that the profit of some individuals and groups comes at the expense of others.” McGhee goes on to explain with what she titles the “solidarity dividend.” As she describes, this “dividend refers to the gains that accrue when people come together to work for the benefit of all involved. This occurs because coalitions can accomplish goals that are in their own interests – such as health care for all or action on climate change – in a way that is not possible when the individual members are divided by racism and the interests of elites.”
Each of us as individuals has much to contribute … and it could be as simple as breaking our silence or overcoming our frozenness to speak up and act individually as well as collectively. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. But just like what Wilson and Florence accomplished for the common good in the ‘60s, we do have two other legacy, prophetic leaders as powerful models: Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, who lived and are buried here in Rochester.
Even though they both are rightfully cast as local and national icons, that should not be intimidating to any of us since as individual human beings they demonstrated the power of what one person can do! Their lives model and provide the light to help guide each of us on our common journey today for the betterment of the communities we live in.
Some may consider these as exceptional comparisons beyond our grasp to even consider, but the fact of the matter is that what is truly noteworthy are the many hidden barriers of resistance continuing to prevent us from accomplishing sustainable change in the Community of Monroe and other communities around us.
Additionally, and perplexedly, the scores of local movements, programs, reports, and on and on developed or written over the decades have not moved the needle much regarding the persistent racist behavior still happening every day; or even putting a significant dent in being identified as one of the most segregated and impoverished communities in the country.
Nelson Mandala once said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” And as the famous Nike slogan goes, “let’s just do it”! These can also be the rallying cries for today’s local antiracism efforts to respond to the challenging question stated in the goal at the beginning of this letter, “… by ___?”
In a future letter, I will outline my own personal “do it” antiracism commitments and actions in my Town of Perinton and look forward to hearing about what some of you are doing to “nibble on the elephant” of racism where you live. In this way we will “move forward” together within torrents of change and hope.
As Martin Luther King once said “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
*RocGrowth is a grassroots, diverse, volunteer organization with more than 3000 members founded in 2013. It aims to identify, support, and build community for the new generation of leaders, as Rochester regains its rightful place among prominent progressive and prospering cities.
Bill Wynne is the author of ‘Understanding and Combating Racism: My Path from Oblivious American to Evolving Activist’ and a resident of Perinton. Bill’s website can be found at www.wewynneauthor.com.
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