Nisha Anand, CEO, Dream Corps
After 400 years, America is still just beginning to reckon with a society built on violence against Black people and communities of color. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others are just the latest evidence of the lasting impact of that brutal legacy – and demonstrate why we can’t go back to normal.
Racism does not stop at police brutality, and neither can our response. The COVID-19 pandemic pulled back the curtain on what has been there all along – Black communities and communities of color have long suffered first and worst from society’s many ills.
Many Americans today want to just go “back to normal” – to life before the pandemic and the protests. But millions more know that the old normal was unacceptable.
This is our moment to strike against the dark legacy of racism, unite, and forge a path forward.
In this moment, that looks like three things:
- Justice: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison brought charges against all four officers involved in the murder of George Floyd – and upgraded charges on Derek Chauvin to second-degree murder. These officers must be brought to justice and convicted for their roles in a murder that we all painfully witnessed on video. We call for accountability. We also call for healing and restoration for George’s family and communities across Minneapolis. These issues extend well beyond Minneapolis and into every corner of our country. Officers who violate their oath to serve and protect communities must be held accountable. It is only through justice and accountability that healing can truly begin.
- Legislation: We are mobilizing a diverse coalition of organizations and lawmakers to address systemic flaws in policing across America. We need legislative solutions that hold police officers accountable, ensure taxpayer dollars are spent towards actually addressing public safety, and put an end to police violence and abuses of power, especially against Black and Brown communities.
- Opportunity: We must build opportunities for Black and Brown communities to live, work, and thrive in a world that is #BetterThanBefore. Racism exists in every sector of our economy to limit opportunity for people of color. Our programs #cut50, Green For All, and Dream Corps TECH work to close prison doors and open doors of opportunity for people of color in the new green economy and in the tech sector.
Two years before his famous speech on the National Mall during the March on Washington, on June 6, 1961, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rose before the assembled graduates of Lincoln University, a historically black institution in Pennsylvania. As he rose to the crescendo of his commencement address, titled ‘The American Dream,’ he declared:
There are some things in our social system that I’m proud to be maladjusted to, and I call upon you to be maladjusted to. I never intend to adjust myself to the viciousness of lynch mobs…the evils of segregation and discrimination…the tragic inequalities of the economic system.
I believe that it is through such maladjustment, that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom of justice.
King understood what our leaders and too many TV talking heads do not.
For millions of people, “normal” was a state of death, misery, and fear. It existed only because too many of us let ourselves become adjusted to it.
To reach the heights of the American Dream, it is time to become maladjusted. We must dream big, and build something better than before. This is not news to anyone outside the corridors of power. Ask the people on the streets right now and they will tell you that the old normal was horribly broken.
In Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York, and numerous cities across the country, people are crying out for help for Black communities. From Appalachia to Los Angeles, intergenerational poverty, epidemics of addiction, pollution, and a school-to-prison pipeline devastated low-income communities. Small-towns and big cities alike suffered from too much death, too few jobs, too little healthy food, too much pollution, and too much despair.
Going back to normal would mean a return to constant police surveillance, harassment, and violence against Black Americans and other communities of color. It would mean a return to a system that lets the perpetrators of racist violence get away with murder.
We can’t go back to that normal.
Going back to normal would mean a return to the polluted air and dirty water that put millions of Americans, especially people of color, at greater risk from COVID-19 from underlying health issues. Normal left 2.3 million Americans behind bars in overcrowded prisons and jails, with few prospects for success upon their return back to community. Normal is people of color overrepresented in incarceration statistics and underrepresented in the high-tech careers that are now working to build our post-pandemic future.
In tough times like this, I look back at the history of our America’s founding reality. People gazed upon a land tarred by the genocide of native peoples, where only white men could own land or vote, while Black men and women were kept as property and considered 3/5ths as human. They looked at that ugliness and still somehow managed to dream of an America with freedom and dignity for all.
Have we really lost this ability to dream our way out of the darkest of moments? Is normal the best we can do? I do not think so for a minute.
I believe the spirit of dreaming is missing in too many state capitals, halls of Congress, and Wall Street boardrooms.
The dream is alive today in those who march in the streets – who chant “Black Lives Matter,” arms linked, because they can sense a fresh wind blowing in the ugliest of moments. It lives on in those on the margins pushing fiercely for change, and in young people daring to dream of something better. It lives with courageous voters willing to speak up and against their own party’s leaders to call for better. It lives on in those who dare to dream of alternatives to policing and economic systems that exploit and demean the dignity of millions.
We must learn to acknowledge the ugly parts of what America was at its founding, without giving up on the beauty of our founding dream. Some of us need to stop pretending that America’s best days lie in its past, and some of us need to admit that America could someday actually live up to all that it claims to be.
People think of the American Dream and picture white picket fences and nuclear families. That’s not it at all. For me, the American Dream is this idea that each new generation takes it upon themselves to pick up the hard task of re-founding our America, and bringing it closer to that North Star of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. That’s OUR American Dream.”
Dr. King knew that. Now, Dream Corps and our members are uniting to lift that banner once again. Over the coming months, we will be coming together to dream up and fight for a country that is better than it was before – because we can’t go back to normal.