Speaking Out and Making Change

Writing this blog has been difficult this week, as our country cries out in pain and anger and demands change of our institutions. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police in Minneapolis and Louisville have inspired global protests, including in all 50 US states. There are hundreds of thousands of people demanding justice in cities all over the country, including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Wilmington, and more in North Carolina alone. All of this is, of course, in the context of the systemic racism experienced by people of color – violence from police, but also disparities in every major health and wellbeing indicator, the trauma and chronic stress of interpersonal and institutional racism, and the reality that to many Americans, their lives matter less than their white counterparts. And I want to make it clear: Black Lives Matter, and it’s our responsibility as individuals and professionals to change the systems we work in to be anti-racist and anti-oppressive.

Working for a governmental organization is hard right now, as someone whose partner, best friend, and colleagues are Black. I recognize the complicity of all of our governmental institutions in racism, simply because of our nation’s history as one built on genocide and slavery. And I honestly didn’t know what to write about for MPA Matters that would not seem either tone deaf or overly political. I was worried not only that my words would not be sufficient, but also that they may not be appropriate for this platform. However, I argue that as we MPA students work in our PWEs this summer, that it is our duty to not only observe government’s functions and build our own skills, but also challenge the assumptions on which these organizations rest.

That challenge may not be the same for everyone; as an employee of the School of Government, my work must remain understandably policy neutral in order to engage elected officials and administrators from all corners of our state. And ncIMPACT’s work, including all of the projects on which I am working, are focused on making the lives of vulnerable populations, including Black North Carolinians, better, safer, and more prosperous. I can take some comfort in the fact that my efforts will effect some change, for individuals and communities if not the systems themselves. However, there is so much more to be done, personally, professionally, and institutionally, to address my and our roles in white supremacy and anti-black violence. My hope is that after the protests are over – when police have put down their tear gas and rubber bullets – that we all maintain the same level of urgency we feel now for change, unity, and the value of Black lives.