We were already seeing the headlines, video footage, and testimony in the trial about the murder of George Floyd, when we heard the news of another Black man, Daunte Wright, killed by police right outside of Minneapolis. It has not even been a year since Floyd’s death, which set off worldwide protest challenging the treatment of Black people by police and the system of white supremacy. The images are hard to shake; whether it is Floyd pleading not to be killed as they remove him from his car or the nonchalant look on police officer Chauvin’s face while Floyd’s breath leaves his body. Watching and listening, we often feel the helplessness expressed by the witnesses; that we could not prevent Floyd’s – or Wright’s – death.
As groups that work for the common good, nonprofit organizations must not be neutral bystanders to the devaluing of Black life in this country. George Floyd could be a staff member, a relative or friend, one of our volunteers, a member of the community, a participant in one of our programs. Those of us working in nonprofit organizations must commit to acknowledging and addressing the ways in which anti-Black racism pervades civil society institutions.
When a verdict is reached, your organization might respond by putting out a statement or having a discussion at a staff meeting. But we suggest nonprofits start talking now and plan ongoing conversations about how this trial and the deaths of so many other Black people and people of color at the hands of institutions charged with protecting us affects the people we work with every day, and put in place strategies and action steps. Below are some ideas to consider:
Create Space for Support: It’s important to recognize that our staff, program participants, community members, and volunteers are experiencing a range of emotions as a result of the trial and verdict. It doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. In other words, we are in it together, but we are not experiencing it in similar ways. For many Black people and communities of color, the trial is deeply personal. We need to set time aside to meet as a staff to have conversations and to offer support to Black people who are particularly targeted and exposed by these events. And we can’t stop there – our program participants, community members, and volunteers also need space to talk, grieve, express their experiences and feelings.
Recognize the Impact: We need time to reflect on how often we have been affected by violence that we were powerless to stop. Too many people, especially Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, have experienced what it feels like to be dominated by others, to be targeted, to be afraid, to be enraged because your personhood has been taken away. Our country has a long history of dehumanizing people including immigrants, women, LGBTQIA people, and those with disabilities. That is why we do this work, and we need room to express what that means.
Connect the Dots: It is not just about what people face personally; it is the system. None of us can escape the impact of how structures and policies privilege some of us and scapegoat others. It’s important to understand the connections. We recommend creating a space to identify and discuss how the systems that enabled the murder of George Floyd relate to our own work. You might think it is obvious, especially if you work on issues of inequality or racial justice; but every group should take the time and care to recognize how the trial, and the continuous murders by police of Black people directly impacts the organization’s mission.
Define Your Role: We know that staff, volunteers, community members, and program participants will be affected by the murder trial. This offers us the opportunity to integrate what is happening in our work and the trauma that is evoked by the trial and verdict. Our organizations cannot resolve each person’s pain, but we can change our approaches to attend to the emotional needs of our co-workers and the communities we serve. And, we can respond to this moment by recommitting ourselves to practices that build solidarity, including meaningful connections with Black-led organizations. That means stepping forward and publically supporting the changes Black-led groups and communities are demanding. It may also mean changing the way we do our work.
Plan for the Future: We work in the nonprofit sector because we have a vision for the future. When the systems holding us back from racial justice are laid bare, as we see each day in the Chauvin trial, it reminds us of the importance of examining our assumptions and reimagining the ways our society can operate that supports, rather than challenges, our humanity. The ideas, desires, beliefs to create something new links us to the ways our work makes a difference and challenges us to think bigger about the transformations we can – and must – make. Acting brings that vision closer to making it a reality.
*We recognize that there are a few important ways to refer to the trial of Derek Chauvin. We have chosen the above title to reflect our desire to center George Floyd, his loss of life, and the impact of his murder on his community, social justice movements, and the nation at large.