Say Their Names… – Justice Resource Institute

Providers' Council member Justice Resource Institute (JRI) strives to serve the needs of underserved individuals, families, and communities with compassion and dignity.

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(Addressing JRI employees)

Say their names: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and  Breonna Taylor….

As you know at JRI we have been focused on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, poor people, the homeless, immigrants, and those living with disabilities.

There is another, strongly related and shameful epidemic that has plagued this country since before its founding:  Violence and terror, up to and including murder directed at black and brown people in America. The recent horrific vigilante murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and the devastating death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, and the senseless killing of Breonna Taylor in her own Louisville home due to a botched warrant are graphic illustrations of the continuing violence perpetrated on our fellow citizens, based on the color of their skin.

These are are not “isolated instances”. These people are new names on a long, shameful list– reflecting systemic violence against Black men and women that dates back to 1619.  I quote Barack Obama from his searing, soaring, yet hopeful speech on race in 2008, when he was running for President, and facing race-based attacks on his qualifications. It is worth watching the speech on YouTube again, to remind us of what real leadership (and hope) looks like:

As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

 Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations.

That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities. A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

How, then, to respond?

  • We should work as hard as we can to elect individuals who share our values, who will support the legal and economic actions needed to confront and stem the tide of race-based violence and discrimination. This next election matters–at all levels–maybe more than ever before.
  • Work for racial justice in our own programs and advocate for it with the systems that we are a part of through our funders, regulators and trade organizations.
  • Each of us must decide for ourselves how to fight this epidemic of violence, and how to support groups that fight for justice
  • Yet we should do all we can to ensure that the response to this violence is not more violence—which is likely to do further damage to the very communities most at risk.
  • And remember—that while each of us decides what to do, we are all accountable to each other to slow the spread of the virus that is killing people of color at up to three times the number of other groups.
  • Be safe—we need you to be here to fight tomorrow

And finally—know that your work at JRI is part of the larger struggle for social justice.  That serving our communities is serving this greater good. By working here, you are part of the fight.

At JRI we stand–and act–in solidarity with the most vulnerable individuals impacted by this COVID-19 pandemic, and by the related epidemic of racism.

While acknowledging that my privilege protects me in ways I cannot fully comprehend,  I wish all of us–and our extended community–the peace and safety that we all deserve in these troubled times.


Andy Pond, President & CEO, JRI ”