We, at the National Center for Children and Families (NCCF), embrace you as our community. Sadly, we write to you today to express our acute grief and our anger regarding the historical, persistent, and violent incidents that cut short the lives of Black Americans, daily. We are heart-broken, and yet, we also are resilient and hopeful.
Beginning in 1914 as an orphanage that cared for poor, abandoned White children in the District of Columbia, NCCF admitted its first Black child in 1969 in Bethesda, Maryland. Since then, it has grown to serve annually nearly 50,000 children, youth, and families in the region who are poor, homeless, abused and neglected, or coping with significant disabilities and trauma. The majority are African American. What we now know is, that due to the COVID -19 related pain of disproportionately becoming infected, losing loved ones, and suffering unemployment, while simultaneously experiencing on going bigotry, prejudice, and hatred, directly and personally, and close up, Black Americans have been pushed up against a wall of fear. In fear for themselves, their children, and their families. In fear of systems and structures designed to serve some, while failing to ensure safety and justice for them. In fear for their very lives.
The little Black girl in me, was born in rural, poor South Carolina, and migrated to New England as a young child, the oldest in a large extended family seeking new opportunities in the North. Today, she too is racked with memories of segregated water fountains and bathrooms, name calling, labelling and exclusion, lynching, dogs and water hoses, spitting, and threats, harassment while standing at a bus stop dressed for Church, as well as an uncontrollable fear of the police. Today, I often see Black children peeking out at the side of their parents, hesitantly, and wrapped in their parents’ pervasive, ever present anxiety. I sense the heartbeats of parents become nearly suspended from worry every time their adolescent leaves from out of their eyesight. The Black little girl in me feels the loneliness from all of this, and the confusion. What did I do wrong?
Further, we feel anger that can no longer remain muffled, certainly not silenced. There are the voices of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minneapolis. Earlier, there was Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. There was Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and countless others, who we will never hear from again, only the active memories representing their lives and how they died tragically.
Maya Angelou wrote “The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.” This condition works no differently than COVID-19 which penetrates the cells in our lungs. It is wildly infectious, sickening, and can cause death. It challenges that belief that living is about loving, about embracing humanity, which we all possess, but do not all value for all. In 2015 more than 100 police shootings of Black Americans were reported.
National conversations about anti-black racism have gone nowhere, fizzled into non-action. No change. No strategy. No action. And with the pandemic keeping us socially distant, we no longer can gather together in our typical venues to gain some new understanding or to form a collective will to address the increasing frustration and despair, that is spilling over, while recalling that we, in truth, exist only as one human family. Like brushfires in a thirsty forest terrain, the anger has produced what we all must agree is a national protest movement, seeking racial justice.
For NCCF, our hopeful stance, is reinforced by the knowledge that Black Americans have been joined peacefully by tens of thousands of other, diverse community members, to rise up and protest across the nation, as is their Constitutional right. The community is mobilizing because many of us do know that as a moral community, we cannot condone violent or racist acts or discrimination. They must never be accepted as “normal” nor can they be ignored. We must wrestle with a virulent history of white supremacy and the myths that marginalize, demean and ultimately fail to protect Black children and their families from harm. We need to act to change every law, system or policy that endanger the lives and well-being of Black Americans. We must continue to do the difficult, necessary work to change the culture of our institutions, to eliminate immunities that prevent accountability, and to insist on justice and equity.
The vision: A stronger spirit, a stronger community, and a stronger Black little girl in me.
Peace and Courage.