Dear Degrees of Change community,
Through recent weeks, we’ve joined people and communities across the country in grieving the continued killings of unarmed Black people. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, together with the false accusations of Amy Cooper, have sparked fresh pain, outrage, protests and unrest in communities across the country, particularly in Minneapolis, where our affiliate Urban Ventures hosts our largest Act Six program site, and many scholars live minutes from where George Floyd was killed.
While these recent events are deeply disturbing, they are not new. Systemic racism, white supremacy and racial violence have both figuratively and literally had their knees on the necks of Black, indigenous, and other people of color since the first Europeans arrived in America.
For our scholars and alumni, of whom 35% identify as Black and 90% as people of color, and for the majority of our staff and Board who identify as people of color, each new public tragedy takes a personal toll, another reminder of that our systems were not built with their well-being in mind. People of color are hurting, angry and exhausted from the unrelenting weight of racial injustice. Many resonate with the lyrics of 12-year-old Keedron Bryant, “I just want to live.” Enough is enough.
Combatting systemic racism is at the heart of our work at Degrees of Change. As our mission states, “We prepare diverse, homegrown leaders to succeed in college and use their degrees to build more vibrant and equitable communities.” We invest in our scholars because we know that their voices, perspectives, talents and leadership must be at the center of the transformation our institutions and communities so desperately need.
But when it comes to dismantling racism, particular responsibility belongs to those of us who benefit from the systems that privilege whiteness. We cannot be the white moderate that Dr. King speaks of in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “who is more devoted to order than to justice.” It is not enough to say we do not support these racist acts; we must actively challenge the systems that allow and perpetuate them, and work together to build something better. It is not the responsibility of people of color to do this alone. White people must be allies and co-conspirators.
So today we are asking two things:
- We invite all our stakeholders to join us in recommitting to our value of courageous culture, where “we aspire to create among our team, our partners and our students a courageous space where people from different backgrounds and worldviews can bring their whole selves, speak honestly, take risks, make mistakes, extend and receive grace, develop trust, hold each other accountable, and commit together to a common mission.”
- If you’re a white person, we challenge you to be an active ally. Our scholars and alumni deserve more and better than what our world is providing. We ask each of you to commit to doing something to make a change this week. If you don’t know where to begin, here is a helpful guide and list of anti-racism resources to get started. You can also follow and support the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and other anti-racist organizations.
Please join us in building a more vibrant and equitable community,
Tim Herron, Ed.D., CEO
Michelle Y. Bess, Board Chair