Thursday, June 4, 2020
Today was to be the first day of our two-day conference, WMCAT 20/20 Exploring Conflicting Visions for our Future. While we could not come together in physical space to have these very important and relevant discussions around community prosperity, what remains clear is the need for this essential dialogue.
The last months have challenged us, our community, and the systems that perpetuate disparate outcomes. We are unpacking the heaviness of not just this past week, but the weight that this is not new – that these struggles and frustration and anger are not emergent but, in fact, ever-present. Yes, it’s about the protests of the past weekend, and another death at the hands of the police. But it’s also about the complex people, systems, and structures that are intersectional and rooted in hundreds of years of oppression and racial injustice.
There is nothing easy here.
Change is not going to happen quickly or quietly … it never has. Substantive change won’t show up in the package that feels comfortable … it never has. Instead, it will challenge the very core of our beliefs and force us to ask ourselves if this is really what we want … it always has. It will appear to be on the horizon and then disappear like a mirage … it so often is.
Our society, even the people who are the most negatively impacted by these inequitable systems, has grown familiar with its headwind. The pressure is consistent. When the wind changes – for better or worse – we are left off-balance. This is one of those times. What can we do? We can do the work.
What is the work that WMCAT is committed to?
We are committed to making space for the vibrance and importance of young people wrestling with complex ideas, shaping and sharing their authentic selves.
We are committed to doing our work with entire families, centering all we do around their lived experiences, celebrating how everything they have done and all they bring with them is valuable.
We are committed to doing our work with the community, connecting people and building social capital, convening those interested in meaningful conversation and impactful change, and engaging in conversations that do not shy away from complexity and discomfort.
We are committed to doing our work within systems, large and small, pushing them to examine ways in which their policies and practices are perpetuating injustice, in an effort to support the people, the families, and the community for which we care so deeply.
And to accomplish this work, we are committed to nurturing partnerships built upon true empathy, ensuring our actions reflect the reality of our partners and not our own assumptions of what they might need.
We are committed to giving ourselves grace, knowing that we will miss. We will not make every shot we take. We will fall short, we will make mistakes, but we will not stop trying, we will not stop asking questions, we will not become complacent, we will not stop challenging the status quo, we will not say, “good enough.” No matter how many misses or mistakes, this work is too important. Our families, our community, black and brown lives are too important to stop.
President + CEO
West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology
We have postponed, but not cancelled, the WMCAT 20/20 event because providing the space for challenging and meaningful conversation is essential to affecting substantive change. Our commitment to elevating voice includes amplifying the work and words of other organizations and people that challenge our assumptions, move conversations forward, and inspire deeper thinking. Here are a few excerpts of statements this week from community:
I encourage you to say, “Black Lives Matter” and mean ALL Black Lives.
Black Christians, Black Felons, Black Trans folks, and Black Atheists.
Black Artists, Black Families, and Black Single Parents.
Black Business owners, and the displaced Black people downtown.
The Black Lives who riot, and the ones who are peaceful – all deserve to live – Period.
– Marcel “Fable” Price, executive director, The Diatribe
While art alone can’t fight systemic racism, we acknowledge that museums have long privileged white Western narratives while leaving other histories untold. We have an obligation to do better. We are committed to listening, and will continue to take action through diversifying GRAM’s permanent collection, exhibitions, and future programming.
– Grand Rapids Art Museum
WE STAND WITH THOSE WHO PROTEST RACIAL INJUSTICE. We are listening. The protests in our community have rung out loud and clear. We have heard from our neighbors of color that they are tired of the status quo dominated systems that have protected white supremacy. We see this not only in the mistreatment of people of color by some in law enforcement, but also in the racial injustice evidenced by disparate health, educational, economic and housing outcomes for those same neighbors. We will continue to listen to and stand with those who stand against this reality.
– Inner City Christian Federation
This work does not stop after we send an email or when the protests are over. The work is continual and requires that we intentionally choose to be anti-racist in how we do business and how we support the Black community.
This is why we must continue to advocate for our clients as they navigate a system that often discriminates against those who are poor, those who are Black and Brown, those who struggle with immigration and language barriers, and those who are otherwise made to feel “less than.”
– Health Net of West Michigan
Essential Needs Task Force staff and partners are both deeply saddened and outraged by the repeated injustices thrust on people of color in America throughout our nation’s history. We join in the collective mourning brought about by senseless killings and we commit ourselves to dismantling racism and all systems of oppression in the Kent County community.
– Kent County Essential Needs Task Force
When Black and Brown bodies are destroyed, we are told to wait patiently, and that safety will come soon. Institutions do not leverage their power or take sweeping actions, and communities themselves do not have the institutional power to wield. There are no reparations, and there is no restoration… Although we don’t have immense institutional power, our community claims it’s power through care and love for one another. We continue our work boldly and ask for you to join us in seeking an end to violence, in all of its ongoing forms.
– Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities
“Interrupt and dismantle harmful or inequitable practices and policies, eliminate implicit and explicit biases, and create truly inclusive, culturally responsive, antiracist school environments for adults and children.”
This is our promise to the community. You have my full commitment to use the access, voice, privilege, and authority I have to create change.
– Kevin Polston, superintendent, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools
We applaud the efforts of those who were peacefully protesting and stand united with them as our nation has significant work to do on racial justice and equality.
We recognize the emotional pain that so many people are experiencing and want to assure our students and families that we have counseling and support services available to them. Parents may call 616-819-2100, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., to access support services. If support is needed after hours, parents may call 616-351-0002.
– Grand Rapids Public Schools
At Arbor Circle, we are saddened, enraged, and ashamed that across the US we continue to dehumanize BIPOC- Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. At Arbor Circle, we see you. We will not sit back and watch the perpetuation of such social injustice. It is our job to bear witness to racism’s profound social and emotional impact, help facilitate healing, and elevate the voices of the unheard.
– Arbor Circle
It is easy to view last night’s events as a reaction to what occurred in Minneapolis. It would be easy to see the frustration and pain as solely connected to the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd. These avoidable, violent murders serve as a catalyst for the days of protest across the nation, but police violence, police brutality, and policing in Grand Rapids is a problem and has been for years.
– Linc Up
The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan stands with our Black & Afro-Latino community. During the extremely difficult times it is okay to have many conflicting feelings or feelings of distress.
– Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
We can no longer ignore what has been in front of us as a city, a country, and the world: for far too long, people have failed to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter. They always have. They always will. And so I need to let all of my brothas and sistas know that I see you and that you matter. Always have. Always will.
– Joe Jones
Tired and Suspicious – In times like these, the feeling that is most pervasive for me is exhaustion. I feel really tired. In trying to unpack this a little more, I am beginning to recognize that much of my tiredness stems from being in a heightened state of suspicion. Particularly towards white folks who talk “equity” language.
– Kyle Lim, Urban Core Collective