In May 1934, Charles Hamilton Houston began his keynote address to the National YWCA Convention with these words:
“The race problem in the United States is the type of unpleasant problem which we would rather do without but which refuses to be buried. It has been a visible or invisible factor in almost every important question of domestic policy since the foundation of the Government.”
Those words from Mr. Houston, the architect of the legal strategy that toppled legal segregation in the United States, are as accurate on this mournful night in America as ever before.
Yesterday, the White House–calling for “law and order,” a dog whistle this White House is all too familiar with–threatened to dispatch the U.S. military to cities across the country. Invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807, the White House would “dominate” with “overwhelming force” the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who are calling for change, people using their First Amendment rights with ferocious urgency to condemn the killing of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement, and to condemn the killings of Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more tragically taken from us. Even amidst the risks of the coronavirus, people are calling for significant and swift change at long last to police practices and to the criminal justice system, and decrying other tragedies large and small that are inseparable from race and racism over the last two weeks, two years, two decades, and two and a half centuries.
We need more people pursuing change with such exigency, including our decision-makers and policymakers at all levels of government, business, education, health systems, and nonprofits, too–including us at HSC.
On Monday, I asked our agency leaders to tell me what they have been doing to meet this moment, and what we should be doing to meet this moment. I have been wrestling with those questions myself the last week. And I would pose them to any of you reading, as well. Whatever your ideas and best practices are, let’s pursue specific, tangible, and aspirational solutions.
And I believe the health and human services sector is positioned to lead the way in identifying those solutions.
Let’s do the hard work now, so that a year from tonight we are celebrating our progress and not calling for action amid bereavement once again.