The following message was sent out to OYA staff today from OYA director Joe O’Leary and deputy director Nakeia Daniels.
We are writing to acknowledge the pain and upset many of you are feeling in the wake of the events of the past few weeks. We are speaking of the long string of outrageous racist incidents and racially motivated killings this year alone, culminating in the unnecessary and deeply disturbing death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The protests that continue to impact cities across the nation have only added to the strong emotions we’re all feeling.
We Know the Black Community is in Pain
First, we want to say to our friends, coworkers, and youth of color: we know you’re hurting. Every time there’s a racially charged incident or a senseless police killing, such as that of George Floyd, it brings up the trauma of blatant and cruel racially-motivated encounters you or your loved ones have had. You worry that it might be your brother, sister, wife, child, or you who is the next one to be victimized.
It brings up the frustration you feel that when you share your experiences of oppression and systemic racism, and they are routinely denied, minimized, and ignored. And your anger that the conventional pathways to change have not worked. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar observed in an op-ed he published in the LA Times on May 30:
“The black community is used to the institutional racism inherent in education, the justice system and jobs. And even though we do all the conventional things to raise public and political awareness — write articulate and insightful pieces in the Atlantic, explain the continued devastation on CNN, support candidates who promise change — the needle hardly budges.”
Give Your Friends, Co-Workers, and Youth Some Space
We know these events are upsetting, whether or not you are a person of color and no matter your political views. We ask that before you engage with your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and youth of color, that you ask if they wish to engage. If they do, we ask that you listen more than you talk. Do not expect them to share their views or to educate you. Give them space, recognize their pain is deep, and that they may not want to talk about it.
Remember also that they are acutely aware that communities of color, particularly Black communities, are suffering the ravages of COVID-19 at much higher rates than any other community. And that in spite of that, these issues matter so much that they and their allies are choosing to protest anyway.
What to Do?
These times are confusing and upsetting on almost every front. It can be paralyzing when you don’t know what to do, or how to feel. When the future is uncertain, all one can do is focus on the next right thing. Sometimes that’s a big task, sometimes it’s as simple as showing someone you care.
That’s why we do the work we do. Yes, it’s true that we are part of a system that disparately impacts people of color and has been used, historically, to silence and oppress them. We acknowledge this openly because we are working to make OYA more equitable every day. The work we do to keep communities safe, and to help young people learn and grow into positive, contributing members of society is more important today than it has ever been. And knowing that our work helps others helps us, a little bit, in these times of strife and uncertainty.
OYA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative (DEI) Work Matters
We know that the work we’re doing on our DEI initiative hasn’t touched most of you yet. We’ll have more to say about our progress on that and our next steps in the coming months.
But no one will disagree, today, that it’s timely. True, the issues that are foremost in our minds right now seem huge: racism, injustice, the health of our communities, the economic impacts of COVID-19. And in that context, OYA’s DEI initiative may seem tiny, a small effort.
But recent events have shown us all how important it is. Moving ahead with our DEI work is more urgent than ever.
We are so grateful to all of you for showing up, every day, and bringing your best selves to work. We thank you for your faith in a better future for the youth and families we serve.
In a time like this, that alone is precious.
Oregon Youth Authority
Oregon Youth Authority