A LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY
From Joe Yancey, CEO of Places For People
As the leader of a community mental health center serving a population more than 60% African-American and as a Black man who has spent a lifetime advocating and fighting for social justice; I am angry, incensed, saddened and honestly, at this point in my life, just a bit depressed. Over the past three months we have born witness to or heard about the executions of Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, George Floyd and the hysterical call of Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York’s Central Park to law enforcement because she feared for her life because a Black man requested that she leash her dog.
This is just the past three months and does not include the many Black men and women who have disproportionately lost their lives, been arrested, prosecuted, or harassed by law enforcement and the criminal justice system, in many cases, simply because they are Black.
However, the criminal justice system is just one of the institutions embedded in the fabric of our history as a country that quietly fuels, sustains and continues the inequities and injustices against African Americans that we benignly collectively refer to as racism today, without really universally understanding what that means, nor how to effectively address.
Inequity doesn’t thrive in how we think or feel as individuals or groups of people, but rather in the institutions and structures that, over time, have been so embedded in the fabric, almost invisible until a “flashpoint” occurs, to once again illuminate them.
Due to the predominant history for African-Americans in this country of slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow, legalized barriers to democratic participation, legal segregation and inequality, discriminatory housing laws/policies (that have had the most lasting economic impact); there have fundamentally been two distinctly unjustifiable sets of rules, opportunities, threats, and experiences that have been constant and continue today, one set for white people and one for black people and people of color.
We must focus our efforts to make fundamental change on the institutional and structural components that will need radical transformation to make any real difference. In 1952, Ralph Ellison wrote “Invisible Man,” where he basically wrote about the experience of a Black man that, though free, felt invisible in the world as if a commodity instead of a person. This is how the journey began for Africans in this country and, unfortunately that “personhood” has not yet been realized where it will make a real and permanent difference; institutionally and structurally.
Once again, the Country and our community are experiencing another “flashpoint” resulting in explosion of embers of injustice that have been simmering below the surface and along with the anger, frustration, disappointment and grief, we are also either consciously or unconsciously experiencing individual and collective trauma. Overlaying this is a pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color. For these reasons, I believe that how we communicate, respond and experience each other should be informed by the principles of trauma-informed care, particularly during this time. Healthy responses to trauma experienced by individuals and communities focus on enhancing Safety and creating greater opportunities for Choice, Empowerment, Trust and Collaboration and how those are manifested in our personal behavior and decisions, but also how we begin to intentionally embed these principles in the policies, laws, values, and behavior of our institutions and systems.
We need to understand that we all have an increased vulnerability regarding emotional wellbeing during a challenging time as we are experiencing now. It is extremely important that we attempt to be aware of our emotions while also being attentive to those around us as we attempt to help others navigate through this.
Let’s communicate, but more importantly listen to each other and allow for sharing of thoughts and emotions without judgment. Most important, let’s work hard to see the dignity and humanity in each other with a keen understanding of our interdependence regardless of our mutual vulnerabilities, missteps and imperfectness. That is, in fact, why Places For People was founded in the first place…..to allow those who were forgotten and thrown away to regain their rightful place in society and to enjoy the full benefits of a healthy and productive life.
Places For People CEO