Notes from Susan: What Can We Do?

By Susan MacLaury

I am a white woman old enough to remember the summer of 1967, which Wikipedia notes, ironically, was often referred to as the “Summer of Love” in homage to hippies. It was also the summer of escalation in Vietnam, and an ever-increasing racial injustice that reached a breaking point that June. Cities like Newark, NYC, Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis – 159 in all -were ravaged by demonstrations that became violent, amplified by police responses that ultimately escalated.  Sound familiar?

By that August, President Johnson had established the Kerner Commission to study the causes of the unrest. It concluded that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal,” and recommended increased aid to African-American communities to prevent further unrest. My, how far we haven’t come.

You ask yourself what you can do to help, to try to make a difference of some kind. In my case, I worked with kids of color as a social worker and taught racially diverse college students as a professor. For the past 15 years I’ve been executive director of a non-profit that “shines a light” on underserved kids and families around the world in an effort to foster support for their communities. It’s very satisfying, and has an impact, but is only the first step in the difficult work our society needs to undertake to effect the kind of change we hope for and need.

This is Shine Global’s 15th year, and to celebrate we’re hosting a series of our films. I think they’re wonderful, love seeing them again, recall working on them and the outreach we did with each to bring their message to schools, community programs, cultural centers, and even to Capitol Hill to try to change laws. But they are only one piece in a very complex puzzle.  We use our films to educate and spark conversation and to inspire more actions by people who can make a difference.

So much more must be done. And while I may truly despair over racial injustice, I still come to it from a position of white privilege. I will never have to fear being stopped by police. I never had to warn my children to avoid them, or at worst, be 100% compliant if stopped by them. I assumed they would protect me and my family should the need arise. I never feared being turned away from renting or buying because of my race nor was I ever passed over for a job because of it. I was able to live in safe neighborhoods and send my children to good community schools. I cannot know the despair felt by persons of color. Not ever. Here we are – 53 years later, and it’s still dangerous to be a person of color and embarrassing not to be. Where does this end?

As I was preparing to write this piece my assistant, Sean, sent me a link that I believe gives us a starting point when we ask ourselves: What can we do?  Here’s how you can help. We can look at our own feelings, attitudes and behaviors. It starts with us.

True change will depend on each and every one of us.