(Addressing HMEA employees)
“Some of you know me. I’m a woman of color, born to a Cape Verde Islands immigrant family. I am the only light-skinned child in a family of seven children, and I’m one of two of my siblings born in this country. I have witnessed my brothers being harassed by police in front of our own home. I have felt fear from the looks of others, as a child, when I traveled through the rural South with my brown parents. I didn’t even know that I looked different from the rest of my family until my brother’s second grade teacher mentioned that my brother was a “black boy.” I have dried my daughter’s tears when she was called a N’er when she was seven years old. I know I have certain privileges that my daughter and my loved ones don’t because of the way I look. I worry about my family, I worry about the people I work with and for, and I worry about the people we support because of social injustice. The worry can be very heavy at times. I can envision someone’s knee on one of my brothers’ or nephews’ necks. The thing is, I will not let the worry turn to paralyzing fear. I will continue to speak up against racism and oppression of every type.
It is clear how COVID-19 has magnified the economic, health, and social inequities that exist throughout our nation for the majority poor, who are mostly people of color. Systematic racism manifests itself in many ways; income inequality, substandard education, inadequate housing, frontline low-paying jobs – often more than one frontline low-paying job at a time – and the lack of adequate health care are just a few. Numbers don’t lie: in our area, the highest numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 are in low-income cities and towns in Massachusetts and Rhode Island that are neighborhoods of color.
I am a woman of peace. I believe that people have freedom of speech and should exercise that right to peacefully demonstrate to express their outrage for the horrific murder of George Floyd. I also understand that there are opportunists who are taking advantage of this tragic event to destroy property and loot. I do not condone this behavior. However I UNDERSTAND that this violence is a culmination of pent-up oppression. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
I understand that the relentless negative effects of income inequality and systemic racism chip away at one’s soul and spirit. I understand the pain and anguish most felt and feel when, right in their living rooms, on TV, they see yet another unarmed person of color having his last breath choked out of him by a white police officer. The killer does not get arrested on the day of the murder, or the second, or third day, but on the fourth day after the murder, and only after pressure from an outraged public. Think about it: if this were your son, father, brother, uncle, or friend, what would you be feeling now? Anger, despair, exhaustion, hate, sadness, hopelessness… These feelings, on top of years of oppression, is what’s fueling the fires that we see throughout our country, fueling the anger that we see, and fueling the voices to be heard instead of silenced.
You can make a difference. First, use your voice against injustice and use your resources to support causes that fight against discrimination, inequity, and intolerance, like the NAACP, No Place For Hate, Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley, and many others. If you pray, please pray for each other, pray for open dialogue that challenges each of our biases and the beginning of how to dismantle systemic racism in this country.
In solidarity against racism,
Jule Gomes Noack
President & Coo”