Race, justice, COVID-19 and the work ahead of us

People in San Jose on May 31, 2020, protesting police brutality and the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who was killed in police custody. Photo: hkalkan/Shutterstock.com

The events of the weekend in San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and all over the country –  from Minneapolis and Chicago to DC, Seattle, and Miami – are deeply moving because of the cry for justice and deeply troubling because of the violence. These events are also an urgent signal that SVCF’s resolve to reduce systemic disparities and injustice – which will be called out as the very first pillar of our new strategic plan – is more important than ever.

But before I can wear my CEO hat, I must first wear my mother hat. You see, my heart didn’t just start breaking over the past week. It has been breaking for almost 21 years. My son turns 21 in August. On the day he was born, I knew his life was going to be shaped by how race plays out for Black men in this country. Unfortunately, what we have experienced in his lifetime has proven to be worse than my original fears. One recent example: My son is an athlete and exercises all the time, including going for regular runs in our neighborhood. Since Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in Georgia while running, my son has not gone for a run. I must be honest in telling you I am thankful he has not been on a run since that tragedy. The fear is real.

I wish I could keep my son locked in our home for about the next 10 years, just to keep him safe. I told him that last Friday and he said, “No, Mom. That would mean they won.” Instead, he and his best friend, also a 20-year-old Black man, have been thinking of how to make real change – like whether taxpayers could repeal taxes from local governments if those same governments are not protecting and serving them, but instead are using their taxes to endanger and kill them.

My son and his friends give me hope. They are thinking of how to dismantle an unjust system. And they also fuel me to work even harder for change. We cannot leave it up to them and future generations to reduce racism and eradicate systemic injustice. We have to keep working on it every day. This is our job.

What happened to George Floyd is not just limited to Minneapolis. What happened in Central Park to Christian Cooper, what happened to Ahmaud Arbery – none of these are merely isolated incidents. This country has a dark, horrible history of racism and systemic injustice – from the times the lives and lands were taken from the indigenous peoples on whose land we all currently live and work, to the first slave ship that arrived from Africa in 1619. Since those early years, our country has never been free. And people have risen up to fight the injustice over and over again.

As a country, we have a lot of work ahead of us. As a community foundation committed to serving our region, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Members of our Community Impact team began reaching out to community leaders this past week about how we can work together to respond to local protests and violence – all happening against the still dangerous backdrop of COVID-19. And remember, the fact that COVID-19 and its effects have been hitting people of color and low-income households harder has brought to light just how deep the systemic disparities are in our communities, in our state and in our nation.

Undoubtedly a coalition will be formed among community-based organizations, funders, our local governments. We know that many of the community-minded private sector companies we partner with will be interested in renewing their engagement in solutions. And there will be calls for needed statewide legislation to address factors that we know contribute to ongoing injustice, from education to poverty to our state’s high cost of housing.

For several years, as many of you know, SVCF has worked to strengthen relationships between communities of color – specifically African American, Latinx, Pacific Islander and Vietnamese communities – and law enforcement by working with community-based organizations led by people of color. These include PACT, Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, Silicon Valley De-Bug, ConXión, and the Independent Police Auditor (IPA) in San Jose. We have funded programs to engage the  police chief and the mayor’s office in the City of San Jose and the police chief in the City of Santa Clara in conversations with residents of color and the community-based groups that advocate for them. We supported programs that convened young people and police officers to build relationships, and invested in data systems to track excessive use of force incidents and to create tools for community members to easily connect to the Independent Police Auditor in San Jose. In San Mateo County, SVCF supported the Community Alliance to Revitalize our Neighborhood Initiative (CARON), a multi-year effort to build bridges and increase trust between the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and immigrant communities in unincorporated areas.

Clearly, more needs to be done. We will build on this important work as we continue to create a more cohesive community and a safe place for all – particularly for our Black and brown neighbors.

If you are inspired to give to local, state-based and national organizations working to address these issues, please refer to our list of organizations for social justice.

Alongside our renewed focus on addressing racial disparity, our work around COVID-19 relief continues. Learn more abour our efforts ›