Do Our Non-Profits Realize #BlackLivesMatter?

Change is a process. Having experienced the protest gatherings downtown this past Sunday (5/31/20), it seems our Muskegon community has had an essential moment of initial catharsis in response to the recent flare-up of racist policing (whether by officers or our fellow community members). What’s next?

Since we’re all here and have each other’s attention, I believe now is the time to begin taking stock of our situation together, before we resolve back into our respective silos of well-meant, but disjointed, change-making on our own old familiar terms.

I came across this article, from Vu Le at nonprofitaf.com, in the comment thread of a post which called out Grand Rapids non-profits—in general, not by name—for substantially missing the mark in their support of the black and brown communities they mean to serve. The post challenged folks to pay attention to what these organizations are doing, and what they’re not doing, right now.

It also included a list of local GR non-profits that the OP was more comfortable working with.

This is Muskegon, not Grand Rapids. I don’t want anyone to be confused on that point. There are significant differences in the actors and the circumstances of our respective situations. Still, the following article, presented as part of that GR conversation, resonates with me as I consider our conditions here in Muskegon.

I see the major theme of the article as well worth considering as we make our moves to respond to the present crises and the systems that engendered them. That doesn’t mean I know exactly the extent to which it pertains to each person or each organization that serves Muskegon. I do know it pertains to each of us in different ways and to different degrees; we will each have to make our own determinations.

I know many people in the local non-profit community who are doing commendable work. I have worked with some of them on occasion, and I have witnessed phenomenal sensitivity, creativity, intelligence, and simple kindness again and again. I consider many my friends.

Please understand I am in no position to judge those who have committed their daily energy and attention to this work of making our community a better place for all of us. I don’t present this article as a judgement, but as a question. Are we doing enough? Are we really getting to the heart of it? Can we be sure?

I’m asking for a very simple reason: we need your help.

We need your help coordinating conversations with the law enforcement community and policy makers. We need your help protecting our place in a community where we are not universally welcome, and not always able to withstand the forces that work to put us down and push us out. We need your help locating, accessing, and developing data to inform a more equitable reality. We could also use your help developing systems of our own for employing, educating, and nurturing the many talented people we bring as gifts to this world.

Lastly, I’d like to clear up two points I think the article obscures. First, black people can embody that “white moderate” archetype as well. As an example, in my own life I have been at odds with myself over how I show up in and for the black community, and especially how I don’t. How much of my life is spent working (and playing, for that matter) with non-black people? When I am doing work on behalf of black people, or even directly with black people, it’s often under the auspices of organizations run by people who are not black.

And I know the fact that I chose a white woman to marry is received as a slap in the face by many sisters and a shame by many brothers; and I do have some idea why. In considering the road that got me here—and I have had to review and reassess my journey from time to time—I am just so sure she’s a gift tailored for my growth, my work, and my vision…

What can I say? Love is love. 🤷🏾‍♂️

Examining the cultural landscape (perhaps you haven’t realized), it often feels like we may have escaped the plantation, but the plantation’s culture has spread its reach beyond the land where it was born. And it spreads as much in our own minds and hearts as in any police force, municipal system, or business (for-profit or non-profit).

The second thing is that churches are definitely part of the non-profit community too. Churches and church-sponsored organizations are often right on the front line of the service providers in marginalized communities, which is so often where you find us.

So if you’re a church goer or donate to a church, however sporadically, this message is for you too.

And with that, you can follow the link below to see the article for yourself. I hope you enjoy the read. And if you lose track of your joy somewhere along the way, please read on regardless.

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