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Black Lives Matter
I was in trouble with the police twice by the time I was 12 years old. My crime? The color of my skin.
The first time, I was roller-skating with white friends at a rink in my white suburban neighborhood. Apparently, there had been some trouble at a nearby gas station. Since I had been seen earlier in the roller rink parking lot—the only young black person in the group—I was a suspect.
The second time, I was at the mall, taking my time to pick out something to purchase with my allowance. And, as you might guess, I was suspected of stealing. After pulling me into the back room, the undercover officers seemed shocked that they found nothing in my pockets. I remember being worried about getting in trouble with my parents, but I was too naive to be humiliated or concerned about my safety.
But my father was not naive or unfamiliar with the sting of humiliation that racism brings. Another time when I was a child, my dad and I were crossing the street when a group of white men in a pickup truck slowed down and spit racial slurs at him. That was over 40 years ago, and thankfully, no one got out of the truck, so I did not have to watch my dad get hurt or killed that day. But today’s technology has allowed George Floyd’s family and all of us to watch their loved one get murdered in broad daylight.
Young people all over our country have seen this murder. The young people of Chicago Lights have seen this murder. Parents all over the country, of every race, have had to explain to their children why this happened. Black parents all over the country continuously have “the talk” with their children, especially their sons, letting them know that they can’t afford to be like their non-black friends. They must conduct themselves in a particular way to stay alive.
Chicago Lights family, we must do better. Yes, we have all done great things through Chicago Lights programs. We have provided resources. We have provided educational opportunities. We have provided life-changing relationships. We will continue to do those things because they are important, and they are at the foundation of who we are.
We will also work to ensure that Chicago Lights is not only “not racist,” but that we are decidedly “anti-racist.” This means that we will audit and examine our practices and procedures to ensure they do not uphold structural racism or systems of oppression rooted in white supremacy. We will do this for our participants, and we will do this for our dedicated staff, making sure that black voices are heard and valued. We will provide thoughtful opportunities for the entire Chicago Lights family to come together, to learn, to discuss, to listen, and to change. We will do this because our students, the most vulnerable adults among us, and our staff team doing the work need us to show up for them.
Black Lives Matter
and Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere
For most of us, these days are like nothing we have seen in our lifetime. We deeply grieve the lives lost. We are heartbroken by the violence and destruction.
Please take heart. Change is knocking at our door. If we all answer the door, there will be the kind of change that will eventually lead to a world where all young people can be free to live out their dreams and know they won’t be harmed because of the color of their skin. Let’s choose to believe that. Let’s choose to work for that.
Yes, things are broken down right now, but remember that breakdown—times of pain and uncertainty—leads the way to breakthrough.