By Tanzi Barbour
Black History Month is more than just a reason for us to pause and celebrate those that have come before us. I believe it’s also a time for us to do a pulse check so we can understand where we are in the world, how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.
And if we’re taking the pulse right now, I’d say the patient isn’t all that healthy.
It baffles me how some companies, okay a lot of companies, and organizations can still have very little diversity with their staffing. I’m bothered mostly by those groups who claim to work on issues of diversity and yet, that same diversity is not shown on the staffing page of their website. It baffles me how they think this lack is okay and they don’t see where this is offensive.
It infuriates me when I participate in “working groups” specifically around people of color and I am the only “of color” in the room. Sidebar - I’m also irritated that someone thought it was okay to call us colored people again. I sit in a lot of working groups, but I don’t see a lot of groups working to actually be more diverse.
I’m irritated that there isn’t a national outrage about how little our Black and brown children are learning in school systems. I’m even more irritated that issues have come to my native city of Washington, D.C. and no one really seems to give a damn. Where are the protests around students receiving unearned diplomas? Where is the movement to ensure that students from marginalized communities are put in successful situations to excel in school? Right now, less than 30% of all Black children who attend public schools in D.C. are proficient in math and reading according to a recent equity report. How is that okay?
I love the motto of Wayfinder – “For the Least of These.” I find myself using it all the time. I notice it in those same working group rooms when the least aren’t present. I see it when I work in low-income areas and the least somehow become the most - the most hoping for a new tomorrow, the most who are trying to do better, the most who are activists in their communities because they know this shit just ain’t right.
There was a time when white people refused to come to certain areas of any urban city and now they are coming in droves because someone told them that’s the “it” thing to do now. Someone told them that it’s completely fine to move out the most of those who owned the homes in these communities for years, and not bat an eye. They actually think they are doing the community a favor by moving themselves in and the others out. Talk about privilege.
I hate that I even have to explain this.
I know this piece may come across as me being angry and that’s okay because I am. My neighborhood has become gentrified. My community that once boasted residents of homes that have been in their families for generations have been sold, gutted, and removed of all traces of history...because gentrification is en-vogue now. Stealing history from the least of these seems to be the thing to do.
We recognize it in music where our culture is often robbed and raped for the sake of sampling a beat. We see it in copied hairstyles (Kim Kardashian was channeling Bo Derek and not the beautiful African queens where braids originated. Really Kim?). While our people are being sent home, shut out, fired, expelled, and ridiculed for wearing the tresses of our history. We see the robbery in justice when Black people are killed and yet their murderers aren’t held accountable. No justice. No peace. We recognize it in literally every area of our Black lives.
The Wayfinder Foundation exists for the least of these. We believe in investing in women activists who are doing the work in their communities to uplift and move them towards freedoms they have yet to experience. I have no doubt that our ability to do this work will prevail. I think Tupac Shakur may have summed it up best in his biopic movie “All Eyez on Me” when he said “You got to enter in somebody’s world in order to lead them out.” It can’t only be done from a board room or a working group. Sometimes you have to go out and be among the people.
And if you’re wondering what my definition of “for the least of these” is, it is being mindful of the decisions we make and how they will ultimately affect those with the least power.
So, for this Black History Month make it your appointed duty to do more than sharing a meme or creating a campaign that shows you’re “down”. To my activists in our communities, I know you’re tired but our work is not yet done. Dig in deeper and fight for our children and for our mothers. Activate those in your community who can help you galvanize those who are the recipients of the wrongdoings. Become their advocate while teaching them to advocate for themselves.
And for our friends - change your board rooms, your leadership teams, your staff members. Don’t just talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Equalize your power structure so that it includes more diverse people (and no, having a group of people of the same race and/or gender who have different ideologies is not the type of diversity I’m talking about here.) Get some Black and brown folks in your place of business so you can at least have one authentic voice of the people you seek to help.
My frustration may be my own. Standing on the Island of Personal Opinion is not a new trip for me. However, I do have to say this: I wouldn’t be so irritated if I could see the mentality that comes with working on behalf of the least of these in your actions.