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On Charlottesville, Connecticut, Accountability and Action

To our friends in the philanthropic world –

For some, the events that transpired in Charlottesville more than a week ago may already be fading from memory; for others the courageous action undertaken by communities of color in the days since (and decades before) are invisible. We cannot let it be so.

The sheer violence, terror and racial hatred advanced at the hands of white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville this past weekend exposes precisely how deep, wide, and present white supremacy remains in our country.

Our work at the Perrin Family Foundation supports young people to resist, challenge, and change those things that stand in the way of their ability and opportunity to survive and thrive in this world. One of the most pernicious threats facing our country, our state, and our communities is the dismissive denial by many in Connecticut that what happened in Charlottesville could not and does not happen here. At PFF, we see it as part of our philanthropic responsibility to disrupt that misplaced, and inaccurate narrative.

Here are just a few of the ways overt racism has shown up in Connecticut in 2017:

In the days following Trump’s election, many young people across Connecticut stepped into school buildings vandalized with swastikas and facing racial slurs.

Just a month ago, there was a white nationalist rally on the New Haven green. While the white nationalists were escorted to safety by police officers, counter protestors – including several people of color – were brutally arrested.

Waterbury’s town center is home to a whipping post – a relic and reminder of the North’s direct involvement in slavery and the slave trade – which for years has been casually used as a “bulletin board” until the protest art of a Waterbury resident sparked public outrage and debate.

There have been three teenagers of color killed or seriously wounded at the hands of police officers over the past four months, including 15-year old Jayson Negron, who lay dead, handcuffed, on the street of Bridgeport for nearly six hours.

Last week, dozens of immigrant and undocumented youth from Connecticut headed to Washington D.C. to fight for the right to continue living here as federal actions threaten to revoke protections afforded by DACA.

In research, policy and advocacy circles, the statistical reality of “the two Connecticuts” is commonly invoked and referenced. A plethora of studies, reports, and research have consistently found Connecticut at the leading edge of income and wealth inequality and the site of some of our nation’s most racially segregated communities and schools. Yet, the role of racism in shaping the racially disparate landscape, conditions, and opportunities across our state is seldom explicitly named.

The torches, flags, and hoods on display in Charlottesville were horrific and terrorizing symbols of white supremacy that are easy to criticize and reject. The harder work is to name and challenge the legacy of white supremacy that shows up daily, in covert and surreptitious ways. As the poet Guante explains, “white supremacy is not the shark, it’s the water”. We must acknowledge that the legacy of white supremacy lives in the racial disparities that exist in educational opportunities for young people across Connecticut, in our state’s criminal justice system, in racial income and wealth gaps, in health access and outcomes, and in the laws and policies that govern our state.

Institutional and structural racism are also baked into nonprofit and philanthropic culture. 60% of nonprofit organizations in this country serve communities of color, but only 18% of nonprofit staff are people of color; only 7% of those in CEO or Executive Director positions are people of color; only 8% of board members are people of color and nearly a third of nonprofit boards don’t have a single board member of color. Philanthropic organizations, as a subset of the broader nonprofit sector, have even larger racial gaps. A recent national study of thousands across the nonprofit sector found that the gaps aren’t for want of talent, capacity, or the desire to lead, but the result of structural barriers and implicit bias in the governance and management of nonprofit organizations.

No doubt there is a long road ahead. We believe one of the most promising and powerful paths forward is to listen to, learn from, and invest in the leadership of young people and communities of color. If you are unsure of where to start, here are some places to begin:

Connect with, support, and give to the important work of our grantee partners who are working to advance social and racial justice across this state. Telling Our Story is launching a campaign to make race and ethnic studies a graduation requirement in New Haven. Save Girls on FYER is working with community partners to challenge the disproportionate discipline of girls of color in Waterbury. Make the Road CT and CT Students for a Dream are on the frontline protecting the rights of undocumented youth and families. CT-CORE/Organize Now! is developing a multi-issue racial justice platform and holding a Racial Justice Conference in October.

Attend an Undoing Racism training.  Our grantee partners and their community allies are involved in planning local offerings in New London and New Haven areas this fall. Citywide Youth Coalition is planning a New Haven-based training this fall, and Step Up New London, in partnership with FRESH New London and Hearing Youth Voices is hosting one in October.

Think critically and consciously about the media you are consuming and commit yourself to seeking out news coverage, reports, editorials and opinion pieces that are authored by people of color. The Color of Change, the Root and Colorlines are good places to begin.

Educate yourself and others, and support the creation of spaces for young people to share, learn, reflect, and build with and from each other. Follow #CharlottesvilleCurriculum on Twitter for tools, ideas, and resources that you can use in workshops, classes, and programs, conversations with young people and at your dinner table.

Check out this post from our grantee partner the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice that lists 10 action steps you can take, and check out this crowd-sourced resource list for ways to take action.

Our board and staff are committed to continuing to amplify young people’s voices and take up the challenge of naming racism as it shows up in our work, our sector, and in the communities within which we work.

Will you join us?

Laura McCargar,
President, Perrin Family Foundation