May 31, 2020
Several years ago, our team at the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities was called upon to provide support at an institution in Virginia after a public racist incident.
Our work began with a series of facilitated forums and focus groups so that my colleagues and I could better understand the experiences and emotions associated with the event to then help the institution’s stakeholders craft a relevant, customized and sustainable action plan. Over the course of 16 sessions, we heard a wide range of responses, including shock, fear, outrage, shame and overwhelming sadness.
What struck us about those sessions was that a large number of participants stayed behind to speak privately with one of our facilitators. Time after time, these individuals wanted to confidentially share previous incidents of racism they had observed or experienced at the institution.
We learned about many more examples of racism that had taken place over a relatively short period of time, few of which were widely known and most of which had not even been reported. As a result, acts of racism at that institution were understood by those in positions of power to be individual, isolated anomalies.
If known, the perpetrator would be punished and a statement of condemnation would be released before leaders went back to “business as usual.” However, we came to learn that racism in fact was far more pervasive and embedded into many aspects of the institution’s culture.
Similarly, it is naïve — and frankly dangerous — to interpret recent experiences of African Americans in the United States as individual, isolated incidents. The beliefs that contributed to the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Ga., are linked to the threats made by Amy Cooper toward Christian Cooper in New York City.
And these incidents are reinforced by structures that have led to disproportionately high infection and death rates among people of color due to COVID-19. They are supported by data showing that black-owned small businesses have had significantly more difficulty securing Paycheck Protection Program loans. They are amplified by vast differences in children’s access to food and technology that school districts across the country desperately are trying to alleviate in the midst of this pandemic.
Many have stated that COVID-19 itself does not discriminate. Some say that racism is a thing of the past. But the disproportionately negative impact of COVID-19 and so many other societal issues, on black people and communities of color in Virginia and across the country, reflect clear patterns of discrimination and inequity — not individual anomalies.
Similarly, it is striking that most white people, when asked, say they are not racist. How, then, does interpersonal and institutional racism persist with such devastating consequences for people of color? Many of the answers can be found by looking at the patterns.
White people who begin to intentionally look for the patterns will start to see them everywhere. That certainly has been my experience. I see it in the demographic makeup of those students tracked for honors and gifted programs in local schools. I observe which of my neighbors have to rely on public transportation, and who has access to a car or can make the choice to work from home. I notice it when reading the newspaper, watching television and speaking with colleagues. It shows up in the criminal justice system.
As noted by Beverly Daniel Tatum, the renowned psychologist and president emerita of Spelman College, racism is like smog. Even if some of us aren’t consciously aware that it is around us, we are breathing it every day.
Those of us who have privileges solely based on our race must therefore use our access to interrupt, question, challenge and dismantle the very structures that grant us unearned advantages. When we fail to recognize the patterns, we are failing to recognize the complete lived experiences of our neighbors of color.
There are so many places to start in this work, and the pervasiveness of the issues means that there is plenty yet to do. Seeing the links across acts of racism large and small is critical.
Ignoring or minimizing the problems won’t help to solve them. Instead, this is yet another moment that compels us to take personal and collective responsibility to address the scourge of racism in America.
[This op-ed was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch]
May 1, 2020
What would a response to COVID-19 that centers inclusion and equity look like?
It’s a big question, and one that the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and many others are exploring. The issues that have been amplified by this pandemic are broad and complex:
- In the education sector, there are massive concerns about food insecurity for students, disparities in technology and internet access, and a need for specialized services for English language learners, students with disabilities, and many other populations.
- The medical field is grappling with which people have access to tests and equipment, how implicit biases impact quality of care, how pre-existing conditions and social determinants of health influence the wide disparities in outcomes, and much more.
- We are seeing clear divides between who in our communities can work from home and who is required to go out in public.
- Reports about small business loans show greater access for those who have existing banking relationships and who have more stable financial positions, deepening existing class divisions.
- Older adults are experiencing higher rates of social isolation.
- Inequities connected to transportation access, law enforcement, and criminal justice are in the news regularly.
- There has been a surge in intimate partner violence.
- Anti-Asian harassment, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia are on the rise.
Put simply, COVID-19 does not affect everyone equally. People of Color, immigrants, individuals experiencing poverty, older adults, people with disabilities, and other populations that experienced discrimination prior to the pandemic are most negatively impacted today.
Therefore, a comprehensive, inclusive, and equitable response must address the root causes of these inequities and engage those most impacted in co-creating solutions. We at VCIC are eager to work with partners across the Commonwealth in this critical, transformational endeavor. There is no more important work if we are going to achieve a recovery that includes everyone.
March 23, 2020
The Standing Together Steering Committee of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities offers these reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic:
These are turbulent and anxious times. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended so many of our lives. We have little clarity about the path ahead. And to make matters more challenging, we are also being asked to keep ourselves away from our normal support systems and communities.
We implore our community to stand together in this moment of crisis by:
- Rejecting bigotry, practicing solidarity with targeted communities (in particular communities of Asian descent), and treating each other with compassion, empathy, respect, and trust. This virus is not of a people, a geography, race, ethnicity, age or social class. We are all in this together.
- Respecting the advice and guidance of our experts who are working endlessly to minimize the impacts of this crisis. Practice social distancing and follow regulations regarding public gatherings. Stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
- Being creative in our ways of building community, providing support, and, if relevant, practicing our faith.
- Supporting those who are most vulnerable, not only to illness, but also to economic displacement. Refrain from hoarding goods and supplies also needed by others in the community, give as generously as possible to local relief efforts and emergency funds, seek out ways to safely volunteer your time and talent, advocate on behalf of those whose lives and livelihoods have been upended by this crisis.
- Offering words of encouragement and hope. Call or write to those who may be isolated or suffering. Share messages of gratitude, joy, and kindness on social media. Be gentle with one another.
This challenge confronts all of us. By standing together, we will not only overcome it, we will come out the better for it.
March 18, 2020
Effective March 18, 2020, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ State and Hampton Roads Offices will be closed until further notice. All staff members will be working remotely and can be reached directly via email. Staff members will be checking voicemails left at 804-515-7950 on a daily basis.
As noted previously, the Interpreting for Language Justice (March 14-15), Teachable Moments Educator Summit (March 19), and RVA Table Talk (April 2) programs are postponed with new dates to be determined. We are also now postponing the April 1 Standing Together Religious Leaders luncheon. The Tidewater Humanitarian Awards Dinner scheduled for March 25 will now take place on June 15, 2020. We will continue to post schedule updates on social media and our website.
While this moment presents new and unexpected challenges, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities remains committed to our important mission. In particular, we stand with members of the Asian community who have faced increased marginalization and bigoted language. It is going to take ALL of us to get through this crisis, and we call upon leaders to model inclusive practices that do not unfairly or unjustly target others.
We also recognize that this moment amplifies long-standing inequities along lines of race, socio-economic status, and ability status. Even when Virginia is not experiencing an emergency of this kind, it is clear that a person’s identity all-too-often influences their access, opportunity, and outcomes. VCIC is committed to working ever more vigilantly to eliminate these injustices, and we look forward to partnering with all Virginians to advance a more equitable, inclusive, and successful Commonwealth.
March 14, 2020
With a deep commitment to the well-being of our staff members, volunteers, program participants, and partners, and in accordance with the Governor’s request for “non-profits to limit large public events, effective immediately,” the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities will be postponing the following upcoming programs:
- Interpreting for Social Justice training (March 14-15)
- Teachable Moments Educator Summit (March 19)
- Tidewater Humanitarian Awards Dinner (March 25)
- RVA Table Talk (April 2)
We are communicating directly with registrants and vendors for each of these programs regarding alternate plans. Additionally, VCIC staff members are working to reschedule all contracted program clients through the end of March. Decisions about programs currently scheduled in April and May will be made at a later date.
All of us at VCIC regret any disruption that these schedule changes cause. We look forward to once again supporting schools, businesses, and communities across the Commonwealth to achieve success through inclusion as soon as it is safe and responsible to do so.
At VCIC, we are committed to supporting an equitable and inclusive response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are so fortunate to be connected with leaders across Virginia who share that commitment.
Through our #VCICHumanitarianSpotlight series, we are interviewing past VCIC Humanitarian Award recipients who are demonstrating important leadership in response to COVID-19.
Dr. Danny Avula
This interview is with Dr. Danny Avula, Director of the Richmond City Health District and Henrico County Health Department. Dr. Avula is a 2019 VCIC Humanitarian Award recipient from our Richmond Chapter.
Mr. Gil Bland
This interview is with Mr. Gil Bland, President & CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, Chair of the Virginia African American Advisory Board, and a 2015 VCIC Humanitarian Award recipient from our Tidewater Chapter.
Dr. Michael Gillette
This interview is with Dr. Michael Gillette, founder of Bioethical Services of Virginia and a 2006 VCIC Humanitarian Award recipient from our Lynchburg Chapter.
Ms. Tanya Gonzalez
This interview is with Ms. Tanya Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Sacred Heart Center and a 2018 VCIC Humanitarian Award recipient from our Richmond Chapter.
Mr. Steve Kast
This interview is with Mr. Steve Kast, President and CEO of the United Way of the Virginia Peninsula and 2011 VCIC Humanitarian Award recipient from our Peninsula Chapter.
Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg
This interview is with Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg, Senior Rabbi at Ohef Sholom Temple, and a 2012 VCIC Humanitarian Award recipient from our Tidewater Chapter.
Dr. Angela Reddix
This interview is with Dr. Angela Reddix, Founder, President, and CEO of ARDX, and a 2018 VCIC Humanitarian Award recipient from our Tidewater Chapter.
Dr. Thelma Bland Watson
Mr. Sterling Wilder
Cancellations / Rescheduling
The following programs and events are being rescheduled or cancelled as noted:
– Interpreting for Social Justice training (March 14-15) – new dates to be determined
– Teachable Moments Educator Summit (March 19) – conducted online
– Tidewater Humanitarian Awards Dinner (March 25) – rescheduled to August 26
– Standing Together Religious Leaders Luncheon (April 1) – cancelled
– RVA Table Talk (April 2) – rescheduled to July 20
– AIRVA Meeting (April 6) – cancelled
– Tidewater Chapter Meeting (April 6) – rescheduled to June 29
– Interpreting for Social Justice training (April 16-17) – new dates to be determined
– AIRVA Meeting (May 4) – cancelled
– Lynchburg Humanitarian Awards Dinner (May 28) – cancelled
– Standing Together Religious Leaders Luncheon (June 3) – cancelled
– Educational Equity Initiative Retreat (July 13-16) – cancelled
– Harold M. Marsh, Sr. Connections Institute (August 3-7) – cancelled
Yes! Effective March 18, all staff members are working remotely and can be reached directly via email. Staff members will be checking voicemails left at 804-515-7950 on a daily basis.
- The Tidewater Humanitarian Awards Dinner scheduled for March 25 will now take place on August 26.
- The Lynchburg Humanitarian Awards Dinner scheduled for May 28 is cancelled.
- The Richmond Humanitarian Awards Dinner scheduled for October 26 will take place virtually.
- Plans for the Peninsula Humanitarian Awards Dinner scheduled for February 25 will be confirmed by December 2020.
Please contact Katie Hathaway, Events & Communications Manager, with questions.
Contact your VCIC staff liaison to reschedule or cancel your program. There will be no cost for any programs rescheduled or cancelled as a result of COVID-19. If you do not know your VCIC staff liaison, email contact@inclusiveVA.org.
In most cases, yes! However, some VCIC programs can be more easily adapted to an online platform than others, and we want to maintain the quality and integrity of our work. Contact your VCIC staff liaison to explore this possibility for your program.