6/1 CEO UPDATE: WE ARE RESPONSIBLE
Our work is to create a community that IGNITES and DEFENDS the potential of youth. Unfortunately, violence of any kind, but especially violence against black and brown people, HARMS both our Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry community and our community at large.
For too long, families in our program have felt justifiably unsafe. Knowing that their beautiful, potential-filled children are 250% more likely to die in encounters with law enforcement than white individuals, mothers in our program worry in extraordinarily unfair ways. When I place myself in their shoes, I become overwhelmed and short of breath imagining their unrelenting fear and persistent hypervigilance.
With parents locked arm-in-arm with dedicated mentors, we work as a team to inspire our Littles to do well in school, build strong peer/family/community relationships, choose safe behaviors, and cultivate ambitious dreams for their futures—ALL things society asks its best citizens to do.
As I reflect on just this month’s deaths, I cannot help but fear for 83% of the Littles in our program and hundreds more on our waiting list. What will happen when one of our African American Littles engages in ill-advised “teen stuff” so many of our white sons have already tried? Will they be punished more harshly? What will happen when the next white woman looks at one of our Littles and sees him as a threat rather than someone’s beloved son? When one of our Littles is pulled over because his taillight is out, will he survive the stop? What will happen when one of our mentees crosses paths with law enforcement and panics, because law enforcement is scary to his community? Tragically, I know that so long as things stay the same, and until we can guarantee our African American Littles and their families are as safe as you and I are, our collective efforts to help children reach their fullest potential will be COMPROMISED.
Unfortunately, and if we are honest with ourselves, white citizens like me have historically been far too late to the game because we have had the luxury. Most of us have consciously or unconsciously benefitted from unequal systems for our entire lives, all while people of color have been fighting against them. Many of my black colleagues and friends bravely admit their exhaustion and share what an extraordinary task it is to maintain hope and keep their heads high week after week, year after year, death after death. They wonder where their white friends are in the fight for their safety. While they in no way want or need new “white saviors,” they DO want us to listen, to pursue learning, and to follow them into the fight.
To prepare for this fight, we must first take responsibility and learn how we benefit from the suffering of others. We must prioritize speaking to our children, friends, and family about race even when it is uncomfortable and maybe especially then. We must do the work it takes to become culturally competent and raise culturally competent children, because “color blind” individuals often fear the very articulation of difference and exist blind to the suffering of black and brown people. We must discover our own implicit biases and become informed about unfair educational, hiring, financial, law enforcement, judicial, and housing practices purposely designed to perpetuate a painful status quo. We must affirm our interconnectedness, mourning and seeking justice for the deaths of hundreds of sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers as if they were our own…because THEY ARE.
If you are asking yourself where to begin, I can only suggest listening and learning. Like many other social change organizations, Big Brothers Big Sisters believes thought process ALWAYS precedes behavior change. Certainly, our collective responsibility requires much more than learning to THINK DIFFERENTLY, but listening and learning are ALWAYS the critical FIRST STEPS. We cannot be effective in the fight until we are informed. Here are just a few examples of resources that might help you on your way:
- Supporting Kids of Color in the Wake of Racialized Violence
- 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
- WEBINAR: "How do I make sure I'm not raising the next Amy Cooper?"
- Anti-Racism Project
- Showing Up for Racial Justice
- Racial Equity Tools
We acknowledge there is an incredible amount of work ahead, but on behalf of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry Board of Directors, its staff, and its mentors, we pledge to listen to our families, to keep learning, and to do our part. We will continue our efforts to develop local cultural competency training for ALL our mentors, staff, and leadership volunteers this new fiscal year, and we will immediately disseminate an early set of resources to all our mentors to guide supportive and appropriate conversations with their mentees.
Should you wish to learn more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry, how we embrace equity in our practices, or ways YOU can play a productive part in DEFENDING the POTENTIAL of the children we serve, please let me know. I may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 843.480.4776.
President & CEO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry