While we know statements are never enough, we here at Groundwork Rhode Island wish to publicly and explicitly affirm our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement and the families of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Attetiana Jefferson, Philando Castille, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tony McDade and the many others who have wrongfully been murdered by the police, and in the recent case of Ahmaud Arbery and others, White vigilantes. It is telling and enraging that in just a matter of weeks since the murder of George Floyd, which catalyzed a truly global movement calling for change and accountability, we have had to add more names to the list of Black and Brown people whose lives have needlessly been cut short.
As an environmental organization that works primarily in Black and Brown communities, but has primarily White leadership, the hurt, pain and frustration hits home. The reality again knocks down our door to remind us that many of our staff, youth and adults we work alongside, and their families are not safe in the communities in which they live. Structural racism – including police violence, environmental and health disparities as demonstrated, most recently, by Covid-19 infection and death rates, mass incarceration as the go-to response for any and all social ills, and too many other examples – continues to take the lives of Black and Brown members of our communities. We must more fully understand the privileges that are bestowed upon White people, including the peace of mind and pursuit of happiness that all of us, regardless of skin color, should be able to expect and enjoy. The need for change and the dismantling of racist systems that oppress our communities is now.
While Groundwork RI is part of a nationwide network that has also expressed its commitment to anti-racism both internally within our organizations and externally in the communities where we work, we realize we are far from perfect in putting anti-racism into practice and dismantling White Supremacy culture. As part of the greater Providence community we must examine our efforts, shift as necessary, and be part of the broader fight to fix these injustices.
As part of our 2020 Green Team youth program, for example, we will add stronger curriculum components that not only focus on how racial injustice connects to environmental injustice, but also on reimagining what community safety could look like. We will work with our youth to ask: What makes a community “safe”? What resources are actually needed to make a community thrive? Who is helped and who is hurt by the public safety system as it currently stands? What are ways we can help change systems of oppression starting with ourselves and our neighbors? While we recognize it is never easy to change old systems, we also recognize that when enough people understand the roots of the problem, we can work together to dismantle what’s not working and build up what will.
It is easy to feel despair in times like these, but the movement for Black lives has never been stronger, and real change is on the horizon in many cities across the country, which should give us all hope for the future. All of us who care deeply about justice must keep up the pressure for change. Groundwork RI’s goal is to be even more involved in this movement as we move forward – deepening our commitment to listening to the needs, experiences, and solutions of Black and Brown communities as we strive to live up to our mission to create healthier and more resilient urban communities in RI through environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. Groundwork RI will seek out ways to work collaboratively with organizations locally that have been doing the work to end police violence as well as the violence of the wider criminal justice system. Too many of the people we work with on a day-to-day basis have been hurt by these institutions; we cannot ignore the need for systemic change while also continuing to support individuals who are working to improve their own lives.
It is also important to separately acknowledge the courageous activism of Black Lives Matter, and other unaffiliated organizations and individuals, for organizing such a strong, diffuse movement, based on necessity, but providing inspiration for people around the world to demand that governments and institutions live up to their stated moral principles.
Lastly, we can all take action in our own lives, in the everyday decisions we make: where to shop, where to donate, how to get involved, and how to make our communities better. A number of local sources have compiled lists of Black-owned businesses in the area as well as organizations that are working to end systemic racism, police violence, and to support the leadership of Black and Brown people, which we encourage everyone to read, think about, and act upon:
– The Staff and Board of Groundwork Rhode Island