Emerge Summit Breakout Session Recap: Moving Racial Justice Forward

A couple weeks ago, Metro EDGE held their annual Emerge Summit, this time taking things virtual. The 2020 Emerge Summit theme was #ELEVATE. The central focus of the summit was how to elevate ourselves, our careers, and our communities.

One of the breakout sessions, Moving Racial Justice Forward, was centered around how to elevate our communities and the role racial justice plays in doing so. The panel of presenting speakers for this breakout session included Jackie Cole, Kendra Lewis, Judy Robinson, Nailah Pope-Harden, and Veronica Beaty. Each bringing their own unique perspective to the conversation, this breakout session left a lasting impact on those who attended.

Prior to the discussion, three questions/statements were posed to the participants: (1) Do you know what you can do to move racial justice forward? (2) I am familiar with Sacramento’s racial justice work. (3) I am familiar with structural racism and racial covenants. The goal of this conversation was for people to better understand the intricacies of systemic racism. Continue reading to learn more directly from our panelists.

Jackie Cole- Racial injustice stems from the earliest days of systemic racism. Understanding and combating racial injustice has no destination. It is a perpetual learning process that will continue to force uncomfortability, learning and growing. Racial injustice is a decision. Our decisions not to make a decision is a decision. Every choice we make is a reflection of our reflection in this process. Silence only favors the oppressor, never the oppressed. Cole challenged participants to reflect on the choices we are all making in this space.

All of this goes back to the very beginning- it starts with slavery. Any time there has been an opportunity for prosperity for people of color it is usually within the system that keeps people of color from making any large movements forward. The structures that our societies were built on were built in a way to stifle the level of progress for people of color. An example of that is what is referred to as a racial covenant. After World War II, the federal government made the decision that any developer seeking funding from the federal government would only be allotted funding under the notion that they were not to sell their homes to people of color. This set the foundation for decades of racial segregation among our communities, and dictated the composition of different neighborhoods across America.

Here in Sacramento, you know where those communities are- Land Park, Curtis Park, East Sacramento, El Dorado Hills, etc. You can see the way resources have been allocated or denied from specific communities based on government investments. Where we have our distribution of tree canopies, providing shade and healthy air, are only found in our affluent communities. Where we see our social ills- rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, asthma- can be followed along those same trajectories in marginalized communities. Our systems have been designed to keep marginalized communities oppressed and out of our conversations. 

Judy Robinson- Racial biases have been harmful from generation to generation. As a planner, we look at land uses and give developers permission to build centers.In many cases, more affluent communities are mobilized and advocate for an outcome that would favor them, while perspectives and potential impacts on marginalized communities get disregarded. . You can look at affluent communities with an assortment of grocery store options and disadvantaged communities in which residents have to purchase food at a 99 Cent store.

How do we look at these things with a new lens? How do we find the areas that have been predatory and get a better sense from these communities of what their challenges are? One of the important ways to find these things out is through the census. As the leader of the 2020 Census, we (Judy and her team) have approached it with a cultural and language justice lens.

When we built the census, we engaged all of our community based organizations and translated the census into 13 different languages. We used an approach that engaged individuals from a place of “people matter.” In Sacramento county, this approach of engaging has never been done. The biggest question we asked ourselves this year was- how do we communicate with one another? We needed to up our game.

This year has forced me to reflect and to get uncomfortable. Am I a racist? Do I have explicit or implicit bias? Am I judgmental? What are the differences? How does all of this influence my thoughts, my actions, and my beliefs? What do I take to my workplace? How does this impact the people I am around, my values, people that I trust? What is the white privilege that I take for granted?

We have a responsibility and with that, a lot of opportunity. Judy challenged all participants to take a deep dive into personal reflection, to speak up, and to find our opportunities for change. How can we use all of our personal reflection to impact policy? Judy challenged us all to understand the difference between equality and equity.

Nailah Pope-Harden- In a pre-George Floyd world I would try to approach conversations about race that made people feel comfortable. Now, it is liberating to be able to have these conversations candidly and call out white supremacy, white fragility, etc. There is a lot of great work that we can do if we are all willing to take up the mantle, be uncomfortable and stretch ourselves.

The environmental, economic and political factors that race bring to any issue compound every issue. “When America gets a cold, the black community gets pneumonia.” For small things that happen in our country, if you compound those issues with black communities or any community of color, those communities are set back even further. This is any issue. If we solve climate change but we still have racial inequality then we are just going to perpetuate the same system we spent so much time dismantling. If we are not willing to talk about race when we are talking about moving any other conversation forward, we are going to continue to reinforce the same system we have today.

I understand that I am at the intersection of being both a woman and black. There are political implications for what that means. At so many points in my day, I have to constantly negotiate how I navigate spaces. In the book, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that 30% of his brain, at any moment, was spent on safety.

In the new HBO series, Lovecraft Country, black protagonists pose the question: What is scarier- haunted houses, ghosts, monsters or racism? In most cases, you’re going to lean towards racism. In the latest episode they ask the question- what would a life uninterrupted look like? The question brought me back to that 30%. What would a life for people of color uninterrupted look like? If people had that 30% back.

How different would our country look if all people of color, all women, all of the “isms” did not have to navigate safety or figure out how to feel comfortable? Think about how much progress our country would make. Think about how much innovation has been lost. Think about all of the thought pieces, technology and art we are missing.

At some point, people of color are going to be the majority of this country. We will have a majority of our country, who at some point, has their brain space spent navigating how to feel safe.

Nailah ends her conversation with this thought provoking question- “What would our world look like if everyone was uninterrupted? That is what is at stake here.

This blog recap was written to help people identify areas to engage in questions around how policy and civic actions impact Sacramento’s different communities.