June 5, 2020

Black Lives Matter, and they must matter to all of us

I don’t often write political pieces. And despite what some may think, this post is also not political. Some people reading this may insist that it is. But racism and discrimination, and the never ending quest for equal protection, equal rights, equal opportunity and equal justice for all people in this country is also not political. It is instead a fundamentally “human” issue. These pursuits are the foundation of this American society. And the pursuit of justice and equality for all people encompasses all of us, whatever your politics may be.

And so Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter because if they don’t, then none of us are fully realizing the values and the ideals that we claim to support. Black Lives Matter because our country, from its founding moments, has used systemic racism and discrimination to oppress people and communities of color, and black communities most of all. So it is to them that we must apply our efforts. Black Lives Matter because all of us have an obligation to value and support the people in our society - those that are oppressed most of all.

I work as an urban planner and have had the privilege to work with communities of color across the country. I cannot claim to know how less-privileged people feel, or how differently they must conduct themselves to stay safe in their own communities and even in their own homes. It would be rude of me to assume that I do. But I can try to understand. I can listen and be empathetic. And I can challenge myself to take action and to do more to help. And I can take action within my communities, both personal and professional, to advance this movement.

Our country has a history of racism and discrimination. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to redlining, to racial profiling, to the criminal justice system. These laws and practices are not accidents. Those with power and privilege created these laws and practices “intentionally.” And the resulting oppression is not accidental either. We must own up to this. Black communities are oppressed economically, they are oppressed through unequal access to opportunity, they are oppressed by the legal system, they are oppressed by police action, and they are oppressed by the inaction of those with privilege. We all can act. We all can, in fact, “intentionally” change the laws of this country to better realize our values and start healing the damage to those we have harmed.

Change will require sacrifice. Black communities have sacrificed much throughout history, merely to exist - with their culture, beauty, and strength under constant siege. As changes to our laws, and institutions - and the very structure of our society - are demanded, further sacrifice must be made. And this sacrifice must fall on the shoulders of those in positions of privilege - such as me typing this and most likely you reading this - to make the personal sacrifices demanding this change. We must all demand that Black Lives Matter and insist that action be taken to ensure that they do.

Like many with privilege, I struggle to know what I can do. What sacrifice can I make to help? Fortunately, the options are myriad. The hardest part is taking the first step, in deciding to take an action and go from a state of inaction, one that is tacitly supporting the status quo of a racist society, to a state of action. We all have actions we can take, however large or small, to affect those around us and the communities we inhabit.

I am taking this action, among others, of writing this blog post, with whatever size audience it may have, to assert that Black Lives Matter. To assert that I stand with you in demanding change and action to reverse the forces that have oppressed black communities. I hope to encourage and inspire others to search in their hearts for what fundamental values they hold self-evident and to take action to live up those values.

All of us can reach out to people we know who are hurting and offer our support. All of us can engage with our communities and circles to implore a commitment to action. All of us can reach out to our local leaders and elected officials, demanding that they enact laws and programs to ensure that Black Lives Matter. All of us can vote in political elections for leadership that recognizes that Black Lives Matter is a basic human rights and American values issue that must be addressed.

Obama said (and I’m paraphrasing) that his life was better knowing that someone who never had access to health care now finally did. It is the outcome of empathetic behavior. Of listening to people different from you to understand what they need to thrive. And of making sacrifices and taking actions to help. Our strength as a nation is through our unity of purpose, through our shared values and through securing liberty and justice for all people. This pursuit belongs to all of us, and we all have a responsibility for action. Black Lives Matter, and because they matter, all of us have a role to play in ensuring that they do. Find a way in your life to make it matter.

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