As the swell of anger, fear and frustration unfolds before us, we sadly know we have been here before – too often and for too many years.
We were here 400 years ago when Africans were forced into slavery in 1619. We were here 60 years ago on Aug. 27, when Ax Handle Saturday took place Downtown in the same areas local residents march today demanding justice. We were here in the 1960s when marches for civil rights faced off against those who fought with guns, dogs and batons. We were here eight years ago when a young African-American high-school student, Jordan Davis, was murdered at a gas station because someone didn’t like his music.
And, now, as we fight a pandemic, we are here again with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a list of others that is far too long. We are outraged, horrified, frustrated and saddened – all over again.
It’s the “again” that is the problem. We have envisioned change many times, but we have not followed through.
We all firmly believe in our vision of Northeast Florida as a community of opportunity where EVERYONE has hope and can reach their full potential. But we do not live in that world.
Our black citizens are contracting and dying of COVID-19 at rates much higher than their white counterparts. A zip code can determine one’s life span. Our schools are overcrowded and are literally crumbling. One third of the people in our community cannot meet their basic needs. And we are still fighting to confirm a human rights ordinance that insists on equality for all, including our LGBTQ+ community.
This is not a community of opportunity.
But we know it can be.
We must start by listening – listening to the calls for change, the cries for help and, even harder, to those who struggle to find their voices.
We must start by listening, but we must also follow through. We must act.
At United Way of Northeast Florida, we know we have work to do. We will start by convening conversations with our staff, our board, our donors, our agency partners and, most of all, with people in neighborhoods most impacted by structural racism.
We pledge to work even harder to dismantle unjust systems and to work with current and new partners in new ways to reimagine and build a just and resilient community.