Better Together: Voices From the Community

At every turn, we tell ourselves 2020 can’t possibly get worse—and then it does.

Before the pandemic, times already felt tough for so many families. COVID-19 has exacerbated their challenges, bringing widespread unemployment and food and shelter insecurity, and underscoring the inadequacies of our health care system.

The most recent examples of police brutality have acted as the last cracks breaking a dam that was barely holding back a flood of outcry at centuries of systemic racism and inequity. We are finally seeing widespread mobilization and support for black Americans, a group we as a society have been failing for far too long.

By listening to the words and ideas of others and understanding the ways that we can all take action to be instruments of progress, we can help turn this painful moment into a real catalyst for positive change.

We’ve been listening, learning and sharing voices that have inspired us, plus ways you can take action.

We’re committed to using our platforms—Better, Marin Magazine and SPACES—to share diverse perspectives and foster productive conversation. We can—and must—do better. Please join us by sharing your stories to Marin Editorial and Better Editorial.

We asked 2019’s Top Black Women of Impact to share their voices with us, as well as top Latina leaders in philanthropy and government and other leaders in racial justice. Below are a few we are honored to share:

Alicia Vega

Executive Director, Changing Worlds

Alicia Vega

“I stand in solidarity and outrage with the Black community at the continued senseless violence and murder of Black individuals in America.  As a Brown Mexican, I recognize that I will never fully understand what it is to live under Anti-Black Racism. I am the Executive Director of Changing Worlds, an organization with a mission to foster inclusive communities and enhance cross-cultural understanding. As such, I must and I will seek first to bear witness and listen to the experiences of the Black community, including the Black Trans community, in order to understand what the Black community needs from me as an individual and as a leader. By standing  together against injustice, we can find a path toward a future where true equity and dignity can be present for all people. But until All Black People are treated with dignity and equity, none of us should rest.”

Carmita Semaan

Founder & President, Surge Institute

“I am a black woman. A black woman in a country that weaponizes blackness. And we cannot – especially now – passively accept or ignore the anti-blackness that infects our country like a virus. It is one far more pervasive, dangerous, and long-standing than COVID or any other virus we have faced. We live in a country that is built on the backs of black labor and genius, yet anti-blackness has consistently and universally meant that those of us who wear this cloak are targets of individual, institutional, and state-sanctioned acts to demean, disempower, defeat, and ultimately kill us.
Given this, over the past few weeks, I’ve been full of rage, sorrow, and discontent. At a time like this, words feel woefully insufficient. I’ve deleted social media apps and largely disconnected from broad public conversations regarding the tragedies and devastating impact of the cases of Breona Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and Ahmad Arbery. I have done this primarily to protect my psychological safety and physical and emotional well-being, but have continued my commitment to working for liberation and equity.

I’m a woman of action. My impatience is not always my best trait, but in times like these, it’s invaluable if directed productively. While I value the need for conversation, I live by the strong belief that conversation and debate about needs and actions can NEVER be adequate substitutes for nor be mistaken for the action itself. So I’m committed to supporting those who are organizing action and continuing to drive the work of the Surge Institute, which has been grounded in the elevation and liberation of our people since its inception. This a moment that requires collective resistance and response for the sake of ALL of us. I honestly don’t have all the answers, but I trust the brilliance of our collective to emerge with sustainable solutions to tackle this systemic pandemic.”

Maria Socorro Pesqueira

President, Healthy Communities Foundation

“We cannot ignore the physical and structural violence that Black communities have experienced in this country, which manifests in inequitable health outcomes and a continued threat to well-being. Our commitment to health must go beyond the absence of illness or disease. It must include the conditions for all of us to thrive: to experience physical, mental, and social wellness, where every individual has the whole-health ability to contribute to the health of the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled just how truly connected we all are—the health of one individual is directly tied to the health of another. At this moment, we must call each other in to our shared humanity—when we recognize our own humanity, we can see and honor the humanity of others. Our herstories/histories and our futures are intertwined. Until Black Lives Matter in all our policies, practices and systems, we must continue to do the work to collectively heal and restore health and wellness for all.”

Patricia Mota, MPA

President & CEO, Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement

“We must leverage this grief and pain to give us greater strength towards our relentless pursuit of equity and justice. Inaction and silence will only lead to greater injustices. May we each take action towards fully realizing Our Collective Power towards building a more just and inclusive society. It starts with each of us, and collectively, we have the power to make a difference!”

Esther Franco-Payne

Executive Director, Cabrini Green Legal Aid

“When I first heard about what happened to George Floyd, my heart skipped a beat. And when I first saw what happened to George Floyd, my heart broke. I am a black woman, with a black husband, and black children, and to know that this continues to be our reality as black people in America is disheartening. There is a constant state of fear and despair that is indescribable, and it is apparent that no matter how compliant you are, how nice you are, if you’re jogging or driving, if you’re sleeping or if you’re awake, society has placed a value of “less than” (<) on the lives of black people, which tells us that we do not MATTER. Having grown up in Englewood, I am fully aware of what it means to have less… less businesses, less education, less employment opportunities, less resources, and less access. I also know what it is like to have more – more police presence, more disparities, more inequities, and more pain – consequently, all by design. As a black leader of a social justice organization, it is often very challenging, because the work I do comes from a place of passion, proximity and personal experience. Yet, there are times when I feel that my work is not enough and not making a difference, especially when we are constantly losing BLACK lives. I pray that the countless lives lost are not in vain and that we are learning, growing, challenging the status quo, and pushing for progress. I am both hopeful and optimistic that positive change will happen and I am proud to lead an organization that is part of that. Essentially, I am here to serve because this is what God has called me to do. We are all called for such a time as this…”

Alicia T. Vega, M.J.

Executive Director, Changing Worlds

“I stand in solidarity and outrage with the Black community at the continued senseless violence and murder of Black individuals in America. As a Brown Mexican, I recognize that I will never fully understand what it is to live under Anti-Black Racism. I am the Executive Director of Changing Worlds, an organization with a mission to foster inclusive communities and enhance cross-cultural understanding. As such, I must and I will seek first to bear witness and listen to the experiences of the Black community, including the Black Trans community, in order to understand what the Black community needs from me as an individual and as a leader. By standing together against injustice, we can find a path toward a future where true equity and dignity can be present for all people. But until All Black People are treated with dignity and equity, none of us should rest.”

Claire Hartfield

Chairman, Alain Locke Charter School

“The horrific police brutality which the nation is finally looking square in the eye is part of a larger set of interrelated systems of discrimination in housing, education, jobs, and criminal injustice. Change must take place at all levels – personal, governmental, and in private business. We can all be an active part of creating a better society – reach out across racial lines in our personal lives, vote, create structures in the workplace to include the voices of black and brown people. Forward progress depends on it.”

Angela Cobb

Founder & CEO, FirstGen Partners LLC

“This moment reminds me of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s quote, “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” The rage and pain of this moment is the effect of a community that has been on the receiving end of disinvestment, disregard, and dispossession for far too long. I am pained to see our cities and communities in shambles, but I believe that we are at a moment of reckoning. Our nation, our cities, and each of us are being called to account. We must reckon with our racial history and the oppression that is embedded in our systems and structures. We must also interrogate our individual beliefs, behaviors, and choices. All of us, especially white allies, must know better and do better.”

Dara T. Munson, MPA

CEO, Chicago Child Care Society

To the families across the city grieving these murders, Chicago Child Care Society will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in demanding justice and an end to oppression. For the hundreds of infants and toddlers and mothers and fathers in our programs, we have a vision for the future and commitment to build a more just society. Our vision is that when your babies come of age in 20 years, our world will be better so that they can realize their potential and live their dreams. CCCS has a commitment to these principles which we will continue to work for through our programs and public education messages. These are the values we hope to see when our babies come of age:

Black and Brown lives are valued
Freedom, dignity, justice and equity for all
All communities have good schools
Neighborhoods are vital and thriving
Peace has replaced fear and violence”

Shelley A. Davis

President, Forest Preserve Foundation

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
—“Ella’s Song,” Sweet Honey and the Rock

“My heart breaks for those who have been killed and harmed by police officers across the country. I live in two worlds, a world of privilege that allows me to work from home and collaborate with philanthropic leaders around the city. I also am a native South Side resident who has had to endure days of National Guard helicopters hovering overhead; confusion on how to navigate my journey to Northwestern Memorial Hospital to refill my 86-year-old mother’s medications with the bridges over the Chicago River being raised and Lakeshore Drive being closed; and the daily fear of the possibility of my husband or my son encountering the police and never returning home.

Yet I hold on to hope and envision a brighter and more equitable future. One in which entrepreneurs will bring economic growth to sorely under invested neighborhoods. Community organizers will continue to apply pressure that will bring about much needed reforms. And philanthropy will increase investments that lift up African American communities to right the wrongs of multi-generational inequity.”

Kimberly Foxx

Cook County State’s Attorney

“As we all continue to cope in these unprecedented times, the need for equity and justice is even more profound.

In the past few weeks in response to the global pandemic and recent community protests regarding police accountability, we have witnessed the aftermath of how failed systems have directly impacted disenfranchised communities across this country.

Like many of you, I am saddened, frustrated and deeply affected by the injustices that have been further exposed as a result of these life altering situations. However, I am extremely encouraged by the immense opportunity to reevaluate and reinvest our resources. Through innovative and thoughtful policies, we can work collectively to implement systematic change that will help restore our communities moving forward.”

Sylvia Puente

Communications Manager, Latino Policy Forum

“My heart and spirit are heavy over the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, the structural racism towards African-Americans that plagues our country and the recent unrest, and the unaddressed tensions between Black and Latino communities.

The Latino Policy Forum will continue to work in solidarity with the African-American community. We will continue building on the four years of leadership training between Latino and African-American community leaders that we’ve provided through our MLA program. While we address these societal ills, we must also address the health ills. African-American and Latino infection rates of COVID-19 in Illinois remain four and seven times higher, respectively, than what they are for whites. This is cause for grave concern as we move to reopen the state. I feel that more inequity is being perpetuated on our communities of color, and that the state’s economic needs are overshadowing the need to keep these communities safe.”

Dr. Elizabeth Álvarez

Chief of Schools, Network 8

“What is Justice?

The last week of May and the beginning weeks of June, 2020 were rough weeks embedded into a difficult end of the school year. As an educator, I go straight to thinking about our students. How are they perceiving the world? Their place in this world? Our children are watching and trying to make sense. Their way of understanding school was uprooted in mid-March and they waited to receive learning remotely. Our children utilize various media and platforms to receive information and make once again sense. As time passed, children watched protesting occur in two different forms. One stating that freedom was being taken from them because hairdressers and restaurants were not opened quickly enough due to experts working on finding a cure to COVID-19. Children watch and again try to make sense. As the end of May was wrapping up, several stories appeared on the news from the white dog walker using her white privilege to call the police on a black man because she did not have a leash on her dog to watching George Floyd murdered on May 25, 2020. We all watched as he took his last breath and our children watched as well. This caused protesting to form out of anger. Again, our children are trying to make sense of all of it along with now understanding the term justice and how it is used differently. Justice for opening hairdressing businesses versus justice to being allowed to breathe, to live. The simple act of inhaling through your nose, engaging your abdominal muscles as you exhale through your mouth. We all have an obligation to address justice to our children. We have an obligation to make this world a better place so that the term justice is thoroughly understood, seen and felt by our children. Currently, as children watch they see that our black and brown citizens are told to inhale and swallow but don’t you dare exhale. Our children will return to us either in our school buildings or remotely. Moreover, we owe them an explanation and a plan. We have so much work to be done. Our children, our future, deserve better. They deserve to breathe. Freedom to breathe. They deserve to see justice by its true form. That means, when schools open in the fall we need to consider how we will make justice visible. From how we are providing equitable grades, assessments, opportunities, resources and feedback to our children. I am done with saying there are inequities in the world for our black and brown children and they need to learn early on of this unfairness. I was told this as a young child and I said the same thing to my children. I was wrong. It was not right then and it is not right now. I am done with hearing we are teaching growth mindset but we put this on our children rather than ourselves, the adults to shift our mindsets, to address our biases, and address racism. We become part of the problem when we teach our children the old saying of “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps”. I am obligated as a human, I am obligated more the day I received my diploma as an educator to make our world a better place. I am obligated to be an equitable educator. I am obligated to teach and instill justice. I am obligated to allow our children to breathe in a JUST world.”

Angelique Power

President, The Field Foundation

“Today we are witnessing the largest protests in our history happening across the world that center anti-blackness and systemic racism and put out direct calls to make long term and frankly, long overdue change. We are building this on the backs of our ancestors. They laid the path and groundwork to get us here today. Each powerful woman on this list has hundreds of women in her network who could be on this list. Now is our time to move from language to action. To mobilize across our multifaceted networks and across sectors. To join with our powerful Latinx, Indigenous, Asian sisters of color and enact some radical change. Equity means shifting SYSTEMS, POWER, RESOURCES. How are you doing this in your company? Organization? In the government? It doesn’t mean talking about it – the budget and investment needs to be about it. The way we ourselves share power will show it. And the world is aching for this…not just our daughters and granddaughters, but the world needs this change to really experience recovery in ways it has only imagined.”

How to Help: 

Many are finding that helping others is an effective way to help combat feelings of powerlessness in the face of COVID-19. Here are some organizations that need your help in Chicago and the Bay Area right now.

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