By: Jason Newman, Chief Executive Officer – Boys & Girls Clubs of Muncie
On April 20, 2021, a Minneapolis jury found former Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of Second-Degree Murder, Third-Degree Murder, and Second-Degree Manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. This is the first step of closure for the Floyd family, but only one tiny sliver of a piece of closure for the United States of America, in dealing with a too long history of Anti-Black racism.
In his life, George Floyd, was a man. A human being who, like every one of us, had highs and lows. He was one of five children, the first of whom to go to college, on a partial athletic scholarship. He was a son, a father, and a grandfather. He was a friend to many, and I’m sure, a bane to others. He had hopes and dreams, and fears and failures. In his death, he became much more. To some he became a symbol of over 400 years of Anti-Black racism in the United States, another Black man who died too young at the hands of the Police. To others he became a point to fight over. Did he resist? What about drugs in his system? Hey, did you know he had a record?
It is way past time for our country to have a conversation about our history, and how that history continues to divide us. Like many of my White peers, I’ve had my own blinders on issues of race for a long time. I’ve made the argument that Slavery, and Jim Crow laws have been off the books for decades! Our constitution, which had originally defined a Black person (this is an oversimplification coming up) as 3/5 of a human. But we changed that! We even elected our first Black President, twice! Sure, there were still pockets of racism in the country, but it was getting better. Even then I didn’t think it was going to go away completely in my lifetime, but I focused on how things were getting better. On the question of how racist I was, I would have demurred, I see people as individuals, and so I don’t really see their color, I would have said. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to listen more, and listen more closely to what was, and wasn’t said, by my Black friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. After watching the horrific video of George Floyd’s death, I started listening even more closely. In open (and sometimes difficult) conversations with Black friends, reading blog posts written by Black men and women, listening to podcasts from Black women and men, I learned. I’m still learning, and I hope to continue to do so. I’m still trying to have these conversations.
I’m writing now, as both the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Muncie, and as an American Citizen, a human being. We cannot forget that many of the conversations we have been having over the past year started because of the killing of a man, of a human being. A son, a brother, a friend, a father, and a grandfather. While we use George Floyd as a conversation starter, a family grieves. As Boys & Girls Clubs staff, our first priority is to our kids, to help them as individuals, to grieve, to celebrate, to grow, and to succeed. But we also must always remember that our kids are also part of a larger community, our community. So, it is also our responsibility to prepare our kids for the world they will be going into and help to give them the tools to make it a better one.
Emma Lazarus, American poet, and scholar, wrote, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” She wrote those words, in the mid-1800’s. They were made famous, over a century later by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is true. Until all are equally a part of our community, until we are all welcome at all of the tables; the lunchroom at our schools, the tables of power, the tables of influence, none of us can be truly free.
I am hopeful that our conversation has just begun. For my part, I will continue to listen, and to grow, and yes, I’ll still make some mistakes. When I do, please call me out on them. I will listen and try to do better.