*originally published June 12, 2020
Dear United Way Friends,
I hope this continues to find you and yours safe and healthy.
Over the last couple of months, this “These Three Things” series has highlighted our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, I want to deviate from that conversation and instead take a moment to address just one thing – because it is that important. I’d like to talk about racial equity.
Equity is often a word thrown out in conversation, but it can be misunderstood. I think this graphic succinctly illustrates the concept of “equity”:
At United Way and through the relationships and work with our partner agencies, our goal is to include equity in all aspects of our work. Harkening back to my previous letters about COVID-19, the virus has in fact highlighted inequity in that people of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus due to disparities in economic factors, access to healthcare, type of employment and benefits (or lack thereof) offered, and other areas.
Late last week, Catrina Thompson, WSPD Chief of Police and 2020 Board Chair for United Way of Forsyth County, and I issued a joint statement in light of current events that I’d like to share with you:
The tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer is yet another reminder of the systematic inequities suffered by African Americans and evidence of the underlying inequities and racism that continue to exist in our community and our country.
It is heartbreaking and infuriating, but it’s also confirmation that continuing to make equity a focus of our work is vital to fulfilling our mission.
Racism and discrimination have no place in our society, and we mourn the murder of George Floyd alongside his family and our community. We join those who call for justice for Mr. Floyd and for reforms that will help prevent tragedies like these from happening again.
We acknowledge and condemn the unjust treatment of countless others, including those whose names we may never know. We acknowledge the ongoing incidents and trauma our black community members experience every day.
We’re proud of the way the citizens of Winston-Salem have peacefully expressed their outrage at the death of George Floyd and that members of the WSPD and Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department have supported and participated in the lawful expression of frustration and anger. Change can only happen if we work together and this week has proven that Winston-Salem has the potential to be a model for transformation.
George Floyd’s death cannot be in vain. It must be used as a rallying cry for systematic change and, in our work, as an indicator that we need to prioritize a continued focus on equity in all aspects and move with more urgency.
At United Way of Forsyth County, a strong part of our core values is equity. We seek to support a community that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable. One where citizens, whatever their gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation or identity, education or disability, feels valued and respected.
In addition to issuing this statement to the community, we held a virtual meeting for staff this week focused on introspection. We had a conversation about racial equity and how we will respond individually and collectively. This discussion was the first of many as we determine our next steps as an organization. One theme of this conversation was whether this point in time will be defined as a “movement” or only a “moment.” We believe that George Floyd’s murder is a call to action and that we must be part of supporting a “movement.”
It is our belief that systems, not individuals, hold people in place. These systems do exactly what they were set up to do. Going forward, we will be advocating for change at a systemic level. Racial equity sits squarely within our mission of bringing the community together to solve complex problems that no one organization can address alone.
We’ve been intentional about infusing equity into our work over the years, most specifically with our creation of the Place Matters initiative in 2014. Place Matters in a resident-led, asset-based strategy focusing on 13 neighborhoods in northeast Winston-Salem. In 2019, we invested in 20 programs focused on strengthening these neighborhoods in the areas of Housing, Education, Healthy Living, and Unemployment. Place Matters is a great start to addressing inequities in our community; however, there is so much more work to do.
Here’s a quote that I hung on the wall by my desk years ago. I read it every day as we were creating the Place Matters initiative, and I have been reflecting upon it daily the past couple of weeks as we look to our community’s future:
Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.” –
There are no easy answers. This is difficult work. We don’t yet know how we will be part of building a more equitable community, but we do know that we will increase our advocacy to remove systematic barriers in our county, state, and country. Inaction is not an option.
Thank you for your continued support of our community – and thank you for Living United!
President and CEO
United Way of Forsyth County