America can break your heart.

photo by Jeanelle Austin, Racial Agency Initiative

The police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor break our hearts. The devastation of their families and so many families and communities breaks our hearts. Our catastrophic failure to overcome racism and murderous, racist hate, breaks our hearts.

To be an American is hard. Sometimes, to believe in the American promise is hard.

That promise is that every human being has equal, inalienable rights and liberty; that every American citizen has an equal right and a responsibility to vote and participate in governing this sprawling, messy republic together. That promise is always here, as it is now. It has never been delivered.

These past weeks and days we are reminded—if we needed reminding— the evil of racism that has ever been intertwined with our national journey is one of the most powerful forces holding America back from delivering on its promise.

Once again, we witnessed white Americans with power use that power to murder, threaten, and mistreat fellow American citizens for one reason: because those fellow American citizens are black.

Once again. And again. And again.

A few months before American Promise was founded in January 2016, Reverend Clementa Pickney, Senior Pastor of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and a Virginia State Senator, was murdered along with eight of his parishioners while gathered in fellowship and prayer in their church.

Then, three years ago, white racists waving flags of those who waged war to destroy America  – flags of Nazis and Confederates —marched through Charlottesville, VA. One of these men murdered a woman who stood up to them.

In between and since, there have been so many repetitions of this evil, and millions of daily acts of inflicting pain, prejudice, and exclusion against Americans of color. After the Charlottesville violence, we wrote to you:

In our anger and sadness, we commit anew to the work that all of us as citizen leaders must do to deliver our American promise of human liberty, equal citizenship and effective self-government. When we make that commitment, and act on that commitment, in every town, city and state in America, we will leave no room or place for Nazis and racists to tear us apart.

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” You may recall that guidance from Mother Jones as quoted in the moving address from Nina Turner, former Ohio State Senator at our first National Citizen Leadership Conference last October. Ms. Turner reminds us that our path as Americans is not always easy but that we take heart from those who came before us to work and sacrifice to keep our American Promise. We take heart from those who stand up to Nazis and bullies, and we are more committed than ever.

We must do more

Now we say that we have not done enough. We must do more. We must overcome this evil or we fail in our mission at American Promise and in our national calling.

Our mission stands on the American promise that we are all created equal: we unite and empower Americans to build a strong republic and healthy democracy. Our focus is on winning a Constitutional amendment that breaks the power of concentrated money in our political system to exclude and lock out most Americans from real representation, voice, and participation in the decisions that shape our lives and futures.

To pursue and achieve our goal, we must combat our racism in our nation. We must stand, learn, and work with every American who is committed to end white supremacy ideology and practice. When we do that, we are standing, learning, and working for the American promise. This is not a “distraction” from our goal; this is our goal: an America where we do not abuse power to lock out, silence and destroy our fellow Americans.

What can we do?

A few months ago, the Bridge Alliance hosted a workshop called “A Sankofa Moment: Looking Back to Understand Race & Democracy Moving Forward,” with Jeanelle Austin, founder of the Racial Agency Initiative. She explained: “The Sankofa bird is a powerful image adopted from African American traditions to symbolize the need to look back in order to move forward. The United States is in a critical moment for democracy and race relations. But we’ve been in this critical moment since the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Ms. Austin, who earned her Masters-Divinity in Christian Ethics from the Fuller Theological Seminary, works to empower all those—and there are many—who ask, “what can I do?” and sincerely want to help but do not know how to do so. She uses leadership coaching in racial justice to empower us to “pursue racial justice with joy” in any and all aspects of our lives. Her approach empowers us to use our different strengths, interests, and areas of focus to advance racial justice as we pursue our work and goals.

Earlier this month, we were fortunate to engage Ms. Austin as a consultant to empower our team to make good on our promise to all Americans. We will be working with her to evaluate our strengths and embed the pursuit of racial justice into our individual work and programming so that we can empower all Americans to create a more just, equitable and representative democracy. That is our work, and that is the sometimes-hard road we walk. And that is how we finally will deliver the American promise to govern ourselves as free, equal citizens in this beautiful republic.

Thank you for your perseverance. Please do let us know your thoughts and ideas.

Resources

NAACP – https://naacp.org
Black Lives Matter- https://blacklivesmatter.com
5 Ways to Show Up for Racial Justice – https://www.kqed.org/arts/13881199/5-ways-to-show-up-for-racial-justice-today
An Anti-Racist Reading List – https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/books/review/antiracist-reading-list-ibram-x-kendi.html