During our Celebration of Black History Month, Black Communities Need Action to Accompany Pledges of Racial Equity
By Cierra Hinckson, Student Organizer and Lauren Footman, Director of Outreach and Equity
Following the death of George Floyd, America entered into a new moment of racial reckoning that caused public, private, and non-profit sectors alike to grapple with racial equity. This inflection point happened as the nation was already navigating two public health crises, COVID-19 and gun violence, which like police brutality, are disproportionately impacting Black communities. During this time frame many public commitments were made by groups such as corporations, nonprofits, and educational institutions to address racial disparities in their respective sectors, and Black communities around the country wondered if these commitments would materialize. Keeping these commitments is key because addressing police reform and ensuring socioeconomic mobility for Black communities are integral parts of reducing gun violence.
As we celebrate Black History Month this February, Black communities continue to struggle with systemic inequities rooted in racism. Recent CDC data reveals although only 2% of the U.S population, Black teens and men between the ages of 15–34 make up 37% of gun homicide victims. In addition, Blacks are 1.7 times more likely to die than whites from COVID-19 and 2 times more likely to be killed by police than whites These harsh realities drive home the point that Black communities need more than promises or pledges; they deserve meaningful progress toward racial equity.
In order to address the ongoing public health issues of gun violence and police brutality fueled by systemic racism, we need institutions to use the resources at their disposal to save the lives of the most vulnerable, which means including these same communities in the decision-making process. Moreover, it is important to have intergenerational representation from the Black community, as young Black people experience the brunt of many of these inequities and their voices should be amplified. From a young age, the school-to-prison pipeline criminalizes the behavior of Black youth at disparate rates. Black students, though only making up 16% of public school enrollment, account for 42% of multiple suspension cases. Moreover, those suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation are nearly three times more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system within the following year. Through zero-tolerance policies and carceral-like educational environments, many Black students are funneled into prison or juvenile detention centers instead of jobs or higher education. History has shown us that it is often young people who push our nation to live up to its fullest potential, and part of advancing racial equity is equipping young Black leaders with the tools to cultivate the change they wish to see in the world.
It is not by coincidence that Black communities are disproportionately impacted by the tragic combination of gun violence, COVID-19 and police brutality. Institutions need to follow through on their commitments to dismantle the underlying systemic racism responsible for these disparities. They should start by ensuring the voices of Black communities, specifically young Black people, are part of the solution-based conversations as we move toward a more equitable society.
To learn more about our initiatives that support communities of color and the next generation of violence prevention advocates, check out the Black History Month edition of CSGV @ Home with me, Cierra Hinckson, and our Virginia Student Organizer Kaaleah Jones.