Our nation (and indeed the world) is at a critical juncture, one that requires meaningful and determined actions. At San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, these are not just words. We intend to take action.
We – staff, board and our clients – recognize that the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis is, tragically, only one in a long history of murders of black men and women in a country that purports ‘equal treatment under law’ but has not lived up to that ideal. We are in pain; we are angry; we feel the rage.
The institutional racism that has existed in our country for more than 400 years takes many forms today. It is in the denial of housing, quality education, and decent jobs and wages. It exists in the brutality of judgment, treatment, and dehumanization of black, indigenous and people of color by too many police departments throughout the U.S. It is in the suspicious look of someone when a black person or Hispanic person, whom they don’t even know, walks by them on the street.
We believe in the Black Lives Matter movement. Their main tenet is their commitment ‘to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive’. We also believe in their commitment to “working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.”
Too many times in the past, we failed to step up to violence and make the institutional changes our society so desperately needs. While there were some changes in the last century after the massacre in Tulsa nearly 100 years ago, the actions and uprisings in Watts/South Central in 1965 or in the South in 1968, or in Los Angeles in 1992, the institutions of racism still exist. The vision of an ‘officer of the peace’ with a knee on the neck of George Floyd is emblematic of too much pain and trauma for entirely too long.
The protests, marches, and actions over the last few weeks, while an expression of anger and rage, are also an expression of hope and expectation for change. President Obama recently said that the scope and breadth of protests are, indeed, different this time. There is a broad and strong coalition of youth, adults and older adults, all races and ethnicities, all of whom are saying loudly and forcefully “enough is finally enough.” I do believe we have a unique opportunity at this moment to make a difference.
This brings me back to the Center. As I said, words are good, but they are not sufficient. We must take meaningful action, individually and as a Center. So many of our clients, and indeed, our staff (Black, Latino, Asian, Native American, LGBTQ, and others) have suffered from institutional racism, discrimination, and from treatment by those same institutions that tell them that their lives do NOT matter. We as a Center firmly believe in equal treatment, equal access, and equal justice for all people in our society.
The Center has taken steps over the years to address diversity within the organization and cultural competencies to better address the needs of our clients. As a policy, our hiring practices and services are accessible to all persons served within the community, including persons of diverse ethnic backgrounds, cultures, age, gender, sexual orientation, spiritual beliefs and languages. More than 260 of our employees speak more than one language and they represent 19 different languages. Despite our efforts to date, we recognize there is far more work to do. We pledge to create a path to better ourselves individually and collectively. Here are the steps we are taking to improve who we are, and to improve our community.
Honestly Examine and Address Our Own Biases, and Actively Work to Change Them
: this will require self-reflection, and reflection within each of our departments at work. Put our cultural competency training into real-life practice. In the same way we use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy principles, self-examination and reflection can help to change the way we behave and treat others. Recognize that so many of our clients and our staff have suffered the traumas of racism and discrimination in their lives. Listen to them and truly hear them.
Be the Strongest Advocates for Our Clients & Families
: We do this so well, but we need to redouble our efforts in light of income and health challenges. They need our advocacy to address their needs in various social determinants including poverty, food and housing insecurity, health care, social rejection and, yes, racism. As we advocate for them now, we also need to increase our efforts to educate them on how to advocate for themselves, to improve their lives and their self-sufficiency.
: We have a wonderful team of managers and leaders at the Center; however, the group is not as reflective of the diversity of our staff or of our clients. We need greater diversity among our group of leaders: those with lived experience and different perspectives that will enrich our conversation and who will inform the collective ways we seek in order to improve our interactions with and services for our clients. I am committing to this effort at developing those leaders throughout the Center.
Community Engagement and Advocacy
: We will continue and increase our engagement with community leaders at all levels: City and County officials, LAPD, nonprofit advocacy groups, etc. with the goal of improving the lives of our clients, and of addressing institutional racism wherever we find it. The Center needs to be an active and forceful advocate for our clients and for issues we care about.
We have hope. We saw images at one of our program sites of vandalism during a protest earlier this week; but, the next day, a group of community volunteers came on their own to clean up the graffiti on the walls and paint over it. This is a sign that we as a society have many good and caring people.
We take inspiration from the community of people trying to institute change, and will work together to strive towards equity and justice at the Center. With diligence and purpose, it will lead to greater fulfillment of our Mission and to a better agency.
Thank you for supporting our Center and helping us to further our mission to “move lives forward.”
Timothy J. Ryder