A Statement From Our President & CEO
The nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd have rightly drawn the nation’s attention, once again, to the reality of racism in our society. The descent into violence this weekend in Richmond and many other cities does not bode well for a nation already grappling with a pandemic and intense polarization. And yet, we need not look too far into history to find inspiration and possibly a roadmap for a peaceful path to a more just and equitable America.
As a college student I had the opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill. In 1990, the halls of our Capitol overflowed with people of all parties to listen as Nelson Mandela made his first speech before Congress. I was one of the many who stood in the halls to listen to his speech and await his exit from the House chambers. Three years later, I spent a summer working with a small Anti-Apartheid nonprofit in Washington. While the Apartheid laws had been repealed in 1991, South Africa was preparing for its first inclusive election in 1994 – an election that Nelson Mandela would win. Anti-Apartheid advocates were skeptical that the white leaders of South Africa would honor the elections while others were frightened about what a government led by the African National Congress would do once it held power.
The world watched as a peaceful transition took place in South Africa and the new government instituted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which emphasized the importance of reconciliation in order to move forward. In 2020, the search for truth in America must involve understanding our own longer, more painful history and the impact that it has on the present. And yet, the idea of truth leading the path to reconciliation is critical.
America has made some progress toward racial justice since the original sin of slavery more than 400 years ago, but we continue to turn a blind eye toward much of the racial injustice that exists in our society. An honest assessment of the systems and policies we have in place will take greater character and courage than we appear to have in this moment. But denying the issues will only lead to greater discord and violence. When we honestly see the problems, only then can we begin the process of reconciliation that will create a greater, stronger, more enduring America.
At United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, we strongly believe that the best way – the only way – to move forward is together. All of us must commit to understanding and resolving the issues that face our community and especially those that cause such suffering for our Black neighbors. If we can truly listen to one another, we can craft a path forward for all Americans to live in peace, prosperity and justice.
James L.M. Taylor
President & CEO
United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg