Dear AltaMed Team,
The last few weeks have brought a number of tragic, shameful, and disheartening events for Black Americans and our country. And we are sharing in a collective grief we have felt many times before. I have spent the last few days examining and considering all that has come from the latest examples of police brutality, and the response both on- and offline.
Since I last spoke to you on Monday, we have seen charges brought against Derek Chauvin’s three accompanying officers, we have seen new and complex discussions surrounding what effective activism looks like, and shamefully, we have seen the President threaten to deploy a military presence. The tone of the week has already been set and reset, and many of us are just beginning the process of listening, reading, reflecting, and rethinking. I am not exempt from these processes, and given that AltaMed has its own foundation in social justice, it is important that we grasp and apply the meaning behind our foundation by showing solidarity where it is overdue.
Last year, I was given the opportunity to speak to UC Santa Barbara alumni about the 50th anniversary of El Plan de Santa Barbara, a manifesto I helped draft as a political science student. When we wrote that manifesto, we were deep into a civil rights movement that had begun with Black Americans and quickly extended to Chicanos and Latinos, and we students were now using the power of protest and demand to claim a place in the curriculum we were being taught.
El Plan was a call for the University of California to include our community in history and culture lessons, to acknowledge our progress and milestones, and to give Chicano students a say in how a Chicano Studies program would be designed. Returning to my alma mater 50 years after the fact, I had the privilege of declaring that I had returned home to apply my education toward building up the community that had raised me. This was particularly significant, as the manifesto we had created in 1969 asked that we hold ourselves accountable to our community as much as we held the university responsible to us.
I am no longer the 19-year old helping piece together a photocopied manifesto, locking myself into university buildings with other students until we were acknowledged. But I have not forgotten the climate that made those actions necessary. Where we’ve since made progress in some areas, we’ve failed to create change in many others.
This week’s anger has not just been about George Floyd, or the long list of Black individuals who have been killed or assaulted by police, whose deaths have failed to lead to necessary and permanent change within the justice system and our society. It is about systemic racism, and the failure of our community to educate ourselves and one another. It is about voter suppression. It is about the failure of the greater population to vote for candidates who will change our legal system. It is about supporting the right to fair access to business loans and putting money into Black- and minority-owned businesses in order to help all of our communities thrive, and using our voices to create pressure to oust those who enable injustice.
We should be angry that many are worrying about whether a onetime stimulus check will cover next month’s rent, and that it is up to us, individual donors and volunteers, to feed our own neighbors by funding food banks and deliveries. We should be angry that militant behavior is well-funded in our cities while many health care workers across the country are not equipped with proper protection against COVID-19. We should be angry at the disparities affecting employment, income, safety, and health outcomes across the country, whether or not a pandemic is at play. We should be outraged at injustices facing the Black community, many of which have been in place for generations and mirror those faced by the Latino community.
It is shameful that people and milestones worth celebrating are consistently overshadowed by stories of police brutality that do not yet have an endpoint. I don’t have the solution to systemic racism. But I can emphasize the requirement for individual actions to add up. It is individual people and organizations stepping up to provide for those who have need, demonstrate inclusive behavior, educate themselves, actively perform anti-racist work on themselves and within their communities, and stand up for those who are wronged, with or without police or government support. Leading by example is what adds up to gradual change. I know many of you are doing the work and having your own conversations, and I want to make clear that I am proud of this effort and am working to do the same.
Between the response to losses created by COVID-19, and protests in response to the continued injustices faced by Black Americans, we have seen in mere months what happens when individuals who feel powerless come together to form a group that has the capacity to be seen and affect real change. This absolutely applies to our team—we are more than 3,000 strong, and the majority of us are minorities in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or a combination of these. We understand varying degrees of discrimination. When we cooperate and collaborate, we can offer 3,000 signatures, test 37,000 people for a potentially deadly virus, and use the power of media, social networking, and patient interaction to encourage action and positive change. There are 3,000 potential allies among us, but we will only create progress if we examine our biases and histories, give real thought to our goals, and have the discipline to put in the work involved to create long-term change for ourselves and future generations.
Black lives absolutely matter. Stay safe, and take care of one another.