04 Jun Addressing Inequities – A letter from Kevin McDaniel
Over the past four years it has been my pleasure to be a part of the Neighborhood Leadership Institute experience. NLI is a special place defined by working collectively, with the goal of building a better community. For those who are graduates of Neighborhood Leadership Cleveland, you are part of a network that has utilized this unifying, collective approach to build, and contribute to countless initiatives, organizations, events, etc. that have had a tremendous impact on our region. While a shared, unifying effort is key to reaching our goals as a community, and will remain so; we have to begin our work toward this goal with the reality that life simply does not present an equivalent set of challenges for everyone in our community.
On behalf of the Institute, I express our sadness concerning the death of George Floyd. He was the victim of an unjust act, and that act occurred in a system that far too often does not render justice in cases such as these. The video recordings of his treatment, and the subsequent protests that followed in our community and across the nation, remind us that horrific acts like this are impacting brown and black skinned citizens at an alarming rate.
The majority of individuals in this country have the luxury of relying on systems that they believe will work ultimately in their best interest. Unfortunately, African Americans and people of color have not experienced this luxury. Conversely, the weight of racial injustice is one that is too familiar to African-Americans, who for generations, have lived with the stark reality that systems – criminal justice, healthcare, education, etc. – have not only been structured to mete out results that are not in the best interest of our community, but have been weaponized to halt progress.
This latest incident of police brutality has stoked the flames that have been burning deep within us for decades. The Minneapolis officers’ actions were visibly clear, and we stand united in condemning them. But not every inequity is this obvious. Remember the crack cocaine epidemic and how African-Americans were vilified? Does the nation’s response to the opioid crisis today match, now that many suburban cities are affected? Have you thought about how redlining in the residential lending industry has had pervasive influence on our communities to this day. We can look at criminal justice sentencing, COVID-19 impact, and many others to see these systemic inequities.
I bring up inequity not as a simple emotional ploy, but as a means of level setting, recognizing that in order to reach the proper destination, we have to be aware of our starting point, or else individuals will not understand the steps that need to be taken to build a community we all can be proud of. As we move to put action to the emotion we have at this time, let’s remember that this murder of George Floyd didn’t occur in a vacuum and cannot be dealt with as an isolated incident. This means that each of us has the responsibility to acknowledge and begin to change the systems that do not treat individuals fairly, and at their worst, protect those that do not value all human life equally.
So what are our next steps?
1)The first step is to be an influencer of those around you. It’s time to call out those who don’t proactively support justice for all. Let them know this stance is unacceptable.
2) Identify one or two areas in which you observe system disparities. Research them and become an advocate for change. Support the issues with your time, resources, and voice.
3) Be Counted! Fill out your census form and make sure that others in your network do the same. The census is the documentation used for local funding, representation, and policy decisions. We will never be heard if we are not counted.
4) Become an educated voter! Learn about your elected officials and the candidates that are running against them. Research their stances on issues and determine if they represent you well. Become engaged, advocate for the issues that matter to you most, and vote!
Lastly, to all NLI supporters, our vast network of Neighborhood Leadership Cleveland alums, and everyone who has been working toward building healthy communities in Cleveland over the years, I know this moment both enrages you and makes you want to throw your hands up in despair at the same time. I challenge you to be deliberate about self-care so that you’ll be refreshed, clear, and strategic about the work that is in front of us.
NLI is here for you. And we are dedicated to improving life for our fellow Clevelanders. Please join us in the fight.
Kevin McDaniel, Executive Director
Neighborhood Leadership Institute