Institute Director’s Message to the HDRI Family Regarding the Disregard of Black Bodies in The US

Over the past three months we have been fighting through a public health emergency that had already disrupted our lives in numerous ways with the interruption of the school year, the closure of businesses, an unprecedented level of unemployment, and the potential for social instability. The stark brutality of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis was the tipping point. The fear that his murder has left in many of our souls has awakened community outrage, battle fatigue, post-traumatic stress (slave) disorder, depression and anxiety in those, including myself, who were finally learning how to manage their trauma after losing Breaonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Botham Jean, Michael Brown, Redel Jones, Kenney Watkins, and Sandra Bland (and hundreds of others) at the hands of law enforcement officers.

The outraged community screams “#SAY-THEIR-NAMES” because they don’t want you to get distracted and forget. The outraged community screams “BLACK-LIVES-MATTER” because our history books call the atrocities suffered by our ancestors shipped to this land, IMMIGRATION. These outraged communities were born to recognize and groomed to understand that ‘other’ lives have ALWAYS mattered.

As a mother and educator, I fear for OUR children. As the Institute Director of Human Development and Relationships, and an African American female, I had several sleepless nights as I ponder what message I must send to our HDRI family and my position on race and racism in our society. I reflect on a well-respected scholar’s questions to her institution: “How will our young people [in our communities] react to the damming narrative of recent instances of African American men and women betrayed by the history of the country they love? How will their futures be affected by the events unfolding across the country? Will those who are African American, Latino, Asian, gay, bisexual, transgender be ever afraid to encounter police as they go about their lawful activities? Will our white students, faculty, staff, [stakeholders, and community members] understand their duty and opportunity in such a time as this?” (Simmons, 2020).

As a community psychologist, I have been trained to seek to understand the quality of life of individuals within groups, organizations and institutions, communities, and society and understand the reciprocal affect of communities on individuals. Researching unpleasant, undesirable, or problem situations in a community allows me to uncover ways to make improvements. As a member of the largest body of community educators in the country, meeting the needs and changing the lives of individuals every day, we are uniquely positioned and more powerful than we could imagine. Here is an opportunity to tap into that power. Here are a few ways in which I will move in that direction:

  1. Friends of Extension Recognition: Our HDRI colleagues have worked tirelessly in their respective communities to impact the lives of families and, in many instances, forged strong relationships with those who have had a long-standing history of advocacy in their
    communities. These are individuals that have worked side by side with extension educators to advocate for policy, system, and environmental changes and are not employees of the UW System. I desire to recognize these advocates on a state level annually.
  2. Radical Imagination Grant: Providing financial support to HDRI colleagues with developing programs designed to address changes in policies and systems related to inclusion, equity, and diversity. The allocation of this $500 grant will be awarded to one team or individual, annually, for general operating support who demonstrates efforts to mobilize people around a policy or system change and bringing awareness to policies and systems that continue to oppress and marginalize individuals and communities.
  3. Professional Development: I commit to working directly with OAIC and fellow Institute Directors to create space for professional development that is specifically related to issues of microaggression, white fragility, racial healing, advocacy and organizing, implicit bias, shaming & blaming, and social justice. I will also commit to providing ongoing opportunities to talk and reflect in safe spaces about issues that have a long-lasting impact on your personal and professional lives.
  4. African American/Black Extension Resource Group: I commit to supporting the reintroduction of the AABERG. This group serves as a resource open to all extension colleagues interested in fostering the success of African-American/Black colleagues by sponsoring programming and other initiatives that promote: career development, mentoring and guidance, recruitment, and retention; and networking and relationship building. The AABERG also aims to foster an environment at the Division of Extension that encourages participation in activities that are relevant to the African-American/Black community.
  5. Racism as a Public Health Crisis: The Wisconsin Public Health Institute, in May 2018, passed a resolution declaring that racism is a public health crisis. In support of this declaration I will intentionally seek out partnerships with organizations in the state of Wisconsin that have historically played a key role in addressing issues of inequality and violence prevention while demanding policy, systems and environmental changes such as The Urban League, members of the National Pan Hellenic Association, NAACP, The Human Rights Campaign, The YWCA, and others. I commit to signing on to the declaration and taking actions that are tailored to their specific contexts.
  6. This week has been very difficult for all of us for many reasons. I walked away from Wednesday’s amazing reflection circle attended by 380 fabulous colleagues, inspired to lift my voice, strengthen my posture, and feel confident that the UW MADISON Division of Extension believes that “Black Lives Matter”; that others should not dictate the limits of our ability to act, and that injustice is intolerable. I ask that our HDRI family Spend 8 minutes and 46 seconds a day, the time it took for a police officer to kill George Floyd, reflecting on your voice and your contribution to changing the narrative that ‘hate wins.’

It only takes 8 minutes and 46 seconds to ignite a movement.
#BlackLivesMater #ElevateMelinatedVoices #SayTheirNames

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