Community leaders answer the question: How do we fix what is broken?

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“Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin


As our administration transitions, the actualization of pivotal change becomes inevitable. Collectively, we have become witnesses to a series of historically monumental implosions that strategically force us to face an abrupt reckoning. If there is one thing that the stark reality of world-wide protests, economic crisis, COVID, and unsubstantiated election result contention have made blatant, is a continual and consistent delineation, separating the wheat from the chaff, in its unmasking of the truth. As we purposefully attempt to reassemble delicately shattered pieces with the aim of creating fortified and lasting effects, Black and Brown community leaders are asked a poignant question. “In your opinion, moving forward how do we fix what is broken?” The following are their responses.


McKim

James T. McKim Jr. 

President NAACP: Manchester, NH

Managing Partner of Organizational Ignition 

Chair of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism & Reconciliation

“First, we need to truly understand what is broken. We need to tell the truth about our history and who we are at the national, state, and local levels. Our education system does not do a good job of this. History is told by, and the educational system is designed and controlled by, those in power. The fact that this country has been built upon and continues to operate under a model of white normalcy (aka white supremacy) stems from the control of those in power who were (and still are predominantly) white males of European descent.

Those in power were (and in many cases are still) not inclined to treat people of color equitably as described in The Bill of Rights and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights – even if they wanted to. People of color have not been treated with dignity and are disadvantaged in living life. This model has resulted in disparities in the areas of education to healthcare to wealth creation which COVID-19 has laid bare. The fact that these disparities exist is the evidence that our relationships manifest in individual interactions (culture), and group interactions (institutional policies, institutional procedures, and governmental laws) are broken.

Second, we need to proclaim the dream of where we want to be. We know that groups of people most efficiently and effectively achieve a goal when they have a vision of where they want to go. We need to create a vision of how we can and should live – a new model. Many have used the notion of “Beloved Community,” first coined in the early days of the 20th century by the philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, as the new model. The Dream and new model many of us proclaim and strive for, is, as Dr. Martin Luther King described in his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, ‘I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’

“Third, we need to Repair the Breach – make changes to our interpersonal relationships, culture, institutions, and laws that we learned about telling the truth about who we are. We need to make those changes in a way that we move toward the dream we have articulated. This means reparations, and, note, that reparations are about much more than just money. Reparations are just as much about restoring dignity and respect. Using the model described by the Public International Law & Policy Group, reparations are a great way to understand the breadth of what is needed. This includes changing policies and procedures to be more equitable. Not just equal, but equitable – giving people what they need to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, changing laws to be more equitable.

How do we affect this repair? By practicing the way of love. Loving neighbor as self, as our culture. Ensuring that our policies and laws define how we as a society love each other not only repair the breach but perpetuate equity so we don’t break what we just fixed.”

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Ramas

Dr. Marie Ramas MD

Medical Director of Gatehouse Treatment Center in Nashua

“We cannot forget the very important minority groups that are in the state, besides the fact that the state is mostly white. As a state, we have to broaden what our idea of diversity is, and I’d argue to say that the first question needs to be how do we reach those priority groups? What is the definition of a priority group? For me, the definition is those who statistically are most vulnerable if they get infected. Those who are most at risk are not getting adequate treatment when they do get infections. The NH COVID Dashboard shows that Black people are dying at twice the rate as their white counterparts and Latinos at an astonishing 3x the rate.  I think it is one of the priority issues that we need to tackle as a state.  

“The state already has the COVID-19 Equity Task Force that has been in engagement for several months now. That is a group of hundreds of people who are interested in making sure that the voices of those populations of communities that are not represented can be addressed, and plans set in place to level the playing field regarding social determinants of health. That’s a good first step. The governor also created a COVID-19 Equity Response Team that submitted a whole document that talks about how we can reach minority groups, the groups that have disparate outcomes. But the hurdle that we need to jump over now is taking all these great ideas and putting it into action.

“Now that we understand the disease process, we understand to some extent the populations that are most affected, we need to reach those populations. We also have to remember that we have a historical context of mistreatment of our Black and Brown communities. So, we are in a situation where the people that are most at risk also have a healthy warranted level of skepticism towards the medical community. I think one thing would be that and we haven’t necessarily done this as a state yet, is acknowledge that our Black and Brown communities in the state have a reason not to trust new and evolving treatment plans because historically our communities have NOT been given the best care due to false assumptions fostered within the medical system. 

“Because of these recurrent trends in lack of care, we still have a worse life expectancy, we still have worse treatment outcomes, we still have higher death rates from even COVID in the Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities.  Before we, as a state, can tackle the issue of equity, we must first admit the historical contributions that lead to the inequities. I think we also need a venue where Black and indigenous people of color, new Americans as well, would fall under this category, have a place where they can get information that is relevant and culturally appropriate for them.

“New Hampshire is doing a good job from the top down but,  particularly, when there is an issue of trust that has been breached, historically between communities we need to be vetted, and we need to have people that are trusted in the community to let people know that “it’s okay” to have questions and concerns. I hope as a Black family physician in the state I can help ease some of the worries, share some stories, and collaborate as a community of color as well.”

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Lett

Woullard Lett  

Regional Lead New England Region UUA

“I think the question and the answer are both rooted in the culture and values of the people and purpose that founded this country. The United States experiment was grounded in the refusal of the British colonies to submit to the will of the mother country’s demand to end African chattel slavery. The way to fix the current brokenness is to repair the foundational damage of American society. That requires a reckoning with the misdeeds and injuries of the past. The way out is back through. We can start with reparations for the descendants of Africans enslaved in the U.S.

“Reparations are about repair. Both those who were injured by the evils of African chattel slavery, and continue to be injured by its vestiges, and those who were twisted through their active involvement and by their advocacy and/or complicity in the ignominious activities have been harmed. Whether it is an inferiority complex or a superiority complex both are at odds with reality, and steals a bit of the humanity of those affected. Reparations require full repair, not just economic amends. We fix what is broken in society by repairing it. Reparations offer us full repair.” 

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Hebra

Jada Hebra   

Senior Vice President & Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer – SNHU

How do we fix what’s broken?

  • Start with yourself: Be honest with yourself – what are you doing and have been socialized to do that perpetuates oppression and dominant narratives? Commit to your own unlearning, changing bad habits, correcting unfair biases, and checking your own assumptions over time.
  • Keep Learning: Admit what you don’t know. No one knows it all, so start with what you know the least about and read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a film. There is an abundance of good information and counter-narrative out there. Round out your understanding of the world with it. Because once you see, you can’t unsee. Talk to someone you disagree with and listen to understand their point of view.
  • Use whatever power and influence you have to change unjust policies, practices, and protocols.
  • Get civically engaged and build connections across differences.
  • VOTE.
  • Divest in colonial endeavors and invest in those that lift up the left out—vote with your feet and patronize businesses owned by disenfranchised people.
  • Speak up. Interrupt the smallest injustices because they snowball into major ones when left unchecked.
  • Use your sphere of influence to tell untold stories that show the brilliance and beauty of disenfranchised people. 
  • Never, never, never,  give up (Winston Churchill).

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Constance Cherise is a freelance writer and contributor for Turner Classic Movies. See her work here.