By Karen Freeman-Wilson
Chicago Urban League President and CEO Karen Freeman-Wilson issued the following statement in response to protests that have erupted around the country following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25.
“Earlier this week, I had an eerie feeling that was reminiscent of the rise of water after Hurricane Katrina and before the levies broke in New Orleans. Like the combination of climate change, natural disaster and human disdain that gave rise to one of the most tragic events in our country’s history, we are now faced with a series of despicable human acts that have given rise to an explosion of anger, frustration and palpable grief in our country. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Laquan McDonald and countless others; and the daily effort to demonize Black men like Christian Cooper, Colin Kaepernick and others has always evoked pain, fear, anger and frustration in Black people and others who know and desire better.
Now those emotions have erupted into protests, some peaceful and some disruptive, not just here in Chicago, but all over this nation. It is also important to note that some bottom feeders have attempted to misappropriate well-intended actions for their own misguided purposes. The consistent message I have taken from this civil unrest is the same message delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world: The time for business as usual is over, and disruption must be the rule of the day. With this collective sentiment comes an opportunity for bold action to combat the racism and injustice that have plagued our community for far too long.
What are some actions that can be taken to address these concerns in Chicago and other communities? The need for police reform immediately comes to mind. We know that safer communities will require police and citizens to work together. While reform efforts are underway in Chicago and other cities, there is a certain urgency that must inform our work now.
We must equalize our educational system. Your zip code or socioeconomic status should not determine the level of your educational attainment. The solution to this quandary should not lie solely with government, but there is also a role for non-profit organizations, parents and volunteers to play.
We must remove the barriers that prevent people from supporting their families. Inadequate education is only one impediment. Despite marketable ideas, some Blacks find entrepreneurship elusive because they do not have access to capital, personal relationships that often give rise to lucrative business deals, nor the financial support to engage significant contracts. Blacks who have prepared themselves with training and education often find they are passed over for less qualified candidates who have the right contacts. Others need training and mentoring to gain employment. There is also the need for a living wage.
Adequate and affordable housing, culturally competent healthcare, and access to fresh food are all important components to combatting racial injustice. While there are a variety of ways to achieve these goals, success begins with the collective resolve to make a difference.
But it always comes back to race or, as W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass referenced, “the color line.” That is still America’s “Achilles Heel.” So much of this work starts with combating the individual
ideas that fuel the fires of institutional racism. And just as some of our citizens protest, others of us must use our influence to change those powerful institutions that must serve us better. I don’t know about you, but I am ready to start today.”
Karen Freeman-Wilson, President & CEO
Chicago Urban League