Community Voices: Holding on to hope for our grandchildren

When will the pain end? For mainstream America, Memorial Day revealed the duality of the American experience. An experience for the majority of people, defined by celebrating the sacrifice and honoring the dedication of those who died to ensure America is land of the free and home of the brave. Yet in that same moment of celebration, George Floyd was being callously suffocated and murdered.    

When will the pain end? I remember being a youth and receiving “the talk”: 'Ernest, you will have to work 2 times as hard to make it in life and if you ever have an interaction with the police, understand in that moment that they are the enforcer, judge, and jury -- your only goal in that moment is to make it back home safely.'

As a parent, I have had to have the same conversation with my daughter. Now I am reflecting on the generational conversations that have been had -- my great grandfather being told as a child do not look a white man in the eyes and step off of the sidewalk if a white person is walking by you; my grandmother being told as a child, you can only use the colored water fountain and restroom; my mother being consoled and told that even while being berated by racial slurs (while integrating public schools), that she should hold her head up high and keep moving forward. 

When will the pain end? When Americans, all Americans, stand up to confront the legacy of racism and slavery. This great country has the stain of reproach from the blood of the first slaves to the last breath of George Floyd on its hands. The forerunners of reformation are calling out like the Prophet Nehemiah to come and rebuild -- rebuild our humanity, rebuild equality, and rebuild inclusion to eradicate the distress, the fire, and the reproach that has its knee on the people’s neck.

When will the pain end? First, to get there, we need to have accountability for rogue law enforcement officers and action that demonstrates that the acts of murder or manslaughter will not be tolerated and will be punishable to the full extent of the law. Possible options are to authorize the Department of Justice to investigate or provide investigative authority to local Citizen Review Boards to examine wrongdoing by police officers, making it a federal crime for police officers to commit murder and manslaughter.

Second, we need to reinvest and rebuild marginalized neighborhoods and people. These marginalized communities (including Hispanic and Native American) often own a fraction of the wealth and command substantially less in wages. To address these racial inequalities and inequities, it should be a mandate to create an Opportunity Bill that addresses access to capital (for mortgages, business loans, and student tuition) similar to how the GI Bill created the upward mobility of hundreds of thousands into the middle class. 

Third, we must implement and use community engagement principles and communication techniques. Law enforcement has to build relationships that engage with the communities they serve, rather than simply patrol them. Their creed is to protect and serve, not brutalize and command. The private sector also has to invest in community development organizations and leverage its procurement budget to resolve racial disparities, instead of reinforcing them.

When we do these things, we must also communicate and celebrate successes. Celebrate police officers who call out their brothers and sisters who have lost their humanity. Celebrate corporations that support and implement diversity, equity, and inclusion plans to include hiring practices and how they spend their money. We should herald protesters who are driven with the spirit of Nehemiah (and the officers who take a knee with them). We should highlight the protesters who protect the lone officer as well as the community members who come out to rebuild after the anger and fire subside. 

When will the pain end? As I sit here and reflect, the simplest answer is when my daughter does not have to sit my grandchild down to have “the talk.”

Ernest M. Coney, Jr. is President & CEO of the CDC of Tampa, Inc. The Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, Inc. (CDC of Tampa) creates opportunities for people to build prosperous futures and vibrant communities.