THE JUSTICE SERIES BY JAMES MORTON
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Greetings:

We continue to be confronted by weekly examples of how polarized America has become; polarization marked by a summer of deaths across several U.S. cities, such as: Louisville, Minneapolis, Kenosha, Portland (OR) and others that have gone unnoticed. We must declare – Enough is Enough!

We must call for an end to murders and attacks arising out of systemic racism. We must call for an end to division based upon race, religion and gender.  We must demand an end to the virulence, agitation, instigation, hatred and contempt fueling violence. And we cannot condone the use of “difference” as a rationale for murder, assault and destruction. 

Let’s all be anti-racist in our actions and deeds. To be anti-racist is to call for a world where difference is just that – difference; it is not a judgment or weapon, but something to value and appreciate. Let’s act today – let your actions and deeds be the change you want to see in the world. The change starts with us – you and me. We must declare – Enough is Enough – and then act accordingly.

I was moved by the message of our National Y-USA CEO, Kevin Washington, who challenged us to continue our work toward building an anti-racist, multi-cultural organization, with an eye toward creating inclusive communities. Kevin’s remarks are as follows:

Dear Y CEOs:

It has been another painful and exhausting week in our country. I am hurt, worn out and most of all, angry. Really damn angry.

Every needless act of violence against a Black person in this country is a punch to the gut – because Black Lives Matter – but what happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week is particularly tough to absorb.

Jacob Blake, Jr. was involved in the McGaw YMCA in Evanston, Illinois, early in his life. He grew up as a Y kid.

So did Jacob Blake, Sr., who credits the YMCA with raising him after his father passed away when he was a boy. His father, a pastor in Evanston, served on the board of the Emerson Street YMCA – the Black Y in Evanston before it closed in 1969.

The Blakes are part of the Y family.

So is Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who has been charged with killing two people and wounding another during the protests that followed Jacob’s shooting. He was a part-time YMCA employee who had been on furlough since March. Another punch to the gut.

My heart goes out to our colleagues whose YMCAs and communities have been directly affected by the violence we all witnessed in Kenosha. All of us at YMCA of the USA are with you.

In so many ways, the Y is representative of our country. As we work every day to strengthen community and create better outcomes for young people like Jacob and Kyle, we also must work on ourselves, continuing our efforts internally to become an anti-racist, multicultural organization. We’re on this journey together, and though some are farther along than others, the important thing is that we all continue to go forward. The Unlearning Institutional Racism town hall and the Breaking the Silence webinars this summer were meaningful steps; there will be more opportunities like these. The conversations Y-USA is hosting across our Movement right now importantly have an equity focus. Our emphasis on partnering with young people to create positive social change through the Commitment to America, and our work in partnership with My Brother’s Keeper to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color are necessary and responsive to what is happening around us. Racism is a problem 400 years in the making in our country, and we’re not going to solve it – within our organization or within our communities – overnight. But we are moving in the right direction.

When I shared thoughts after the murder of George Floyd in June, I said I was sad, frustrated, angry and scared, but hopeful. After this week, I’m sadder and more frustrated, angry and scared, but I remain hopeful.

As you may know, I love basketball. I am inspired and energized by the actions of NBA and WNBA players. You might look at these players and see highly skilled professional athletes – the best in the world at what they do. I do, too. But I also see changemakers. The average age of NBA players is 26, and in the WNBA it’s 27. Many of those leading the call for change are much younger than that. They are following in the footsteps of Bill Russell, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Muhammad Ali – all heroes of mine and many Black Americans. They are using their voice and platform to drive change.

This is what changemakers do. This is what they always have done. And this is why I have hope for the future of our country. Young people will lead us all to a better place, and the Y will be with them.

With the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington taking place today, I am reminded of the words of another hero of mine, the late, great John Lewis. During the 50th anniversary celebration, he said it doesn’t matter whether a person is “Black or White, Latino, Asian American or Native American, whether we are gay or straight. We are one people. We are one family. We are all living in the same house – not just the American house, but the world house. And when we finally accept these truths, then we will be able to fulfill Dr. King’s dream to build a beloved community, a nation and world at peace with itself.”

Dr. King’s dream feels unreachable some days, but I continue to believe we will get there one day – and we’ll be led by young people who demand a more just and equal society. I hope you share this belief and see an important role for the Y in making the dream a reality. Let’s keep working.

Sincerely,

KEVIN WASHINGTON
President and CEO
YMCA OF THE USA