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Don’t Let “The Moment” Pass

In the past couple of months, so many local Black leaders and long-time Black activists have told me that this is indeed a moment like they’ve never seen.  The undeniability of racial inequity has torn the scales from many white eyes, rendering many of us belatedly horrified by the severe disparities that leave People of Color highly susceptible to death, disease and disenfranchisement.   I’ve witnessed a burst of energy, a push to capitalize on this sudden enlightenment of the masses before the moment fades.

But truth be told, the enlightenment is fading fast.  Although the families of George Floyd, Daniel Prude and countless others will continue to grieve through the holidays, the protests are now few and far between.  The echoes of chants have been swept by Fall winds from the hardened surfaces of the city.  So too, the reverberation of pepper-ball guns (over 6,000 shots were fired) and the acrid odor of tear gas. The election drama and COVID dominate the media now.

And this is where the tedious, plodding work of change must begin.  No fanfare, no high-energy rallies, no press conferences.  This is when the casual protestor might tend to settle back, feel self-congratulatory about having participated in a remarkable moment, and go on about life, privilege firmly intact. 

How will I respond?  How will you respond? 

I’ll assume you wish to be a part of the solution, of the healing, of the wrenching reset of the scales of justice.  If you struggle to find your place, here are a few suggestions:

There are local movements and initiatives that address racial injustice inherent in the housing markets in nearly all suburbs.  Many townships are now beginning to face the truth about the barriers within their building codes and zoning laws that uphold de facto and de jure segregation, e.g.: 

  • In Fairport, Mayor Matthew Brown has been shining a light on such barriers, with help from residents Tiffany Porter (Beingblackintheburbs@gmail.com) and Bill Wynne (wewynne1@gmail.com).
  • In Irondequoit, Town Board member Patrina Freeman (@patrina_freeman) has been addressing housing inequities, working with the Irondequoit Commission Advancing Racial Equity (ICARE).
  • In Brighton, Community Uprooting Racism in Brighton (@CURBrighton) has been working on justice issues for years with support from Mayor Bill Moehle.  And Brighton Allies for Racial Justice is a newly-formed group as well.
  • In Pittsford, Town Board members Kevin Beckford (kevin.beckford@rochester.edu) and Stephanie Townsend (stephanie.townsend@earthlink.net) have been teaming for a couple of years to challenge laws and attitudes that keep Pittsford very white.  They are original members of Pittforward which has been an active advocate organization for about six years.

If there is not an active group like that in your area, bring people together and start one.  You will need others to be with you.  This work becomes too challenging to attempt as a lone voice, especially as you raise the most indicting, provocative questions.  Ask for time with your local town council members, with your County legislator.  Speak with them about your values, and about what specifically you believe needs to change in your town.  Ask, for example:

  • What are the barriers to truly affordable housing? (Did you know there are apartments that come under the official definition of “affordable” and rent for $1,400 per month?)
  • Are people living at or near the poverty level effectively excluded? 
  • Are the zoning laws such that few People of Color, even those with moderate means, could afford to build there? 
  • Are the schools so starkly white (students and teachers and administrators) that a Black student would feel immediately out-of-place, a disincentive for Black families to move there in the first place?

Arrange to bring Shane Wiegand to town.  Shane has given well over 150 presentations in the area on the history and current realities of redlining, gentrification and urban renewal.  His basic presentation never fails to stimulate.  A sample of his session and his contact information are included in Resources below.

If the issue of equitable housing doesn’t resonate for you, here’s an offer:  In the past six years, I’ve been curating lists of articles, videos, books, facts, and quotes in about 15 categories related to racism.  One of those categories is “White Action,” 13 pages packed with possibilities.  I will gladly send you that document if you write to me at frank@staropoli.com.  The internet is also teeming with a burgeoning flow of more of the same.  Google “How to be a white ally.” 

There might have been a time when a sincere white person who had care, compassion and concern could claim with a helpless shrug, “I just don’t know how to get involved!”  Now more than ever, that can only be seen as lazy complicity.

Please reply to this post, telling us what you are doing or what you intend to do.  This may be helpful to others who need to hear more possibilities, or who might want to join with you.  More importantly, posting here will publicly commit you to act. 

I heard myself coin a phrase recently when talking with a Black friend.  I had asked him how he persists in all his activist work, given how disheartening it can be at times.  After listening for a while I said, “I hear a kind of patient urgency.”  His smile and fist-pump told me that resonated.  Find that sweet spot for yourself.  There is no time to waste.  Don’t let “the moment” fade in your life.  As John Lewis urged, make “good trouble!”  

Resources:

“Irondequoit establishes racial equity commission”  Rochester Business Journal.

“Moments of Interruption” 4-min. video by Cornel West, revered author and commentator on American society. 

“What Action Looks Like:  One Man’s Story”  Bill Wynne’s initiatives to dismantle racism in Fairport.

“Racist Policy and Resistance in Rochester”  50-min. video presentation by Shane Wiegand (shanewiegand22@gmail.com).

“A Just Economy Requires A New Civil Rights Movement”  Includes the distinction between de facto and de jure discrimination.

“How anti-racism is a treatment for the ‘cancer’ of racism”  PBS Newshour interview with Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi.

“The City/Suburban Divide in Living Color”  Blog post.

Showing Up for Racial Justice Rochester chapter has some resources and events you might find helpful.

15 thoughts on “Don’t Let “The Moment” Pass”

  1. Thanks for this challenging post, Frank. I do sense urgency in people who have long been aware of racism and now feel that the time has come to become more deeply and actively involved. We are encouraged by the intense presence of the younger organizers and want to seek ways to support.
    As a result of the Free the People ROC protests this summer, a group of older supporters have organized a group we call Elders (the name African Americans use for older folks) and Allies (the name those of us who are white have chosen.)
    We have bonded in a group that meets on Zoom once a week and plans simple actions that seek to keep the Black Lives Matter movement alive for folks in our city. One of our growing witnesses takes place on Saturdays from 12 noon to 1PM on various corners in the city and in Honeoye Falls. We simply stand with signs that say Black Lives Matter so that those in passing cars are reminded that this issue is still alive.
    Anyone interested in joining us can contact me: Barbara Staropoli at bstaropolissj@gmail.com
    Thank you

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  2. Hi Frank, I am a member of the RocACTS Education Task Force. We have undertaken to hold Monroe County Superintendents to commitments made by them in a letter they all signed, in which they promised to promote anti racist education in their school districts. https://fairport.org/2020/06/a-message-from-monroe-county-superintendents-stand-against-racism/

    We are currently in the research phase, looking for allies in a number of suburban districts and assessing progress in these districts. As a resident of Penfield, I have joined PARA (Penfield Ant Racist Alliance). https://www.facebook.com/penfieldARalliance/about

    PARA is an inclusive, antiracist, multicultural, educational, community-focused group that recognizes the destructive effects of racism on all members of our community. We commit to full participation, shared power and holding each other accountable.
    · We invite diversity and inclusion in all its forms.
    · We champion antiracist structures, policies and practices that maximize the potential of our community.
    · We demand a future without racism and oppression that empowers all members of our community to use their creativity in an equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment.

    To achieve this community we demand:
    · A school district that actively recruits and retains diverse faculty and staff.
    · A school curriculum for every grade level which reflects and educates a complete American history, acknowledging past and present trauma caused by racist policies and practices.
    · Ongoing antiracist Professional Development for faculty, staff, and administration to include implicit bias, microaggressions, cultural sensitivity, and trauma-informed pedagogy, provided by specialists in these fields.

    We will foster a grassroots organizational structure for community participation. Look for more to come on this soon.

    Forward this to friends and neighbors who will work with PARA to stand against racism. There is work to be done. Join us.

    This group is currently made up largely, though not exclusively, of parents of kids in the district. We are looking for support from community members in addition to support from parents and teachers. Please join us.
    Our next meeting is at 8PM on Wednesday, Dec 2. Please email me for the link. jmsimson41@gmail.com

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  3. REACH Advocacy, Inc. formed in response to the late 2014 demolition of a local homeless encampment. Since 2015 REACH operated a temporary wintertime shelter successively at four different locations. COVID-19 restrictions forced closing its shelter at 720 West Main St. presently. REACH partners now with other groups serving the homeless sheltered at local hotels.

    REACH realized after its second season that the root cause of housing vulnerability remained unaddressed — namely, the lack of affordable homes for persons living around 30% of the Annual Mean (Median) Income for Rochester (about $10,000). REACH advocates for changes to the systems that keep people housing deprived. It championed the modification of housing codes and is now laying the foundation for communication and fund-raising efforts to build an urban tiny home village with support services.

    Home ownership is a socioeconomic boost. The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) awarded REACH funds towards its housing goal. Home ownership stabilizes neighborhoods and affords low income individuals the ability to pass along wealth. Stable housing reduces stresses affecting overall health. REACH works with Catholic Family Center’s YouthBuild Program to create these affordable homes while acquiring advanced manufacturing skills. Used as infill homes where zombie homes once stood permits inclusion in local suburbs thereby improving educational and social equity opportunities.

    To learn more about REACH, contact https://reachadvocacy.org.

    Submitted with approval from REACH Advocacy, Inc.

    John E. Curran
    11/28/20

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  4. Frank … I sent this recent post to over 100 in my net (apologies to those who have already seen it!). This is yet another tremendous resource guide you have pulled together and done in such a way to encourage participation at both a community and individual level. It can’t be stated enough that all politics and great initiatives begin at the local community level so hopefully others will be incentivized thru your post to persist in their great work while others perhaps step up and out for the first time … it doesn’t take much to do something/anything as you’ve noted. All the best on your continuing anti racism efforts!

    Bill

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  5. I will continue to work on structural racial equity changes in the criminal justice system. I will also work on structural changes that address underlying poverty and mental health issues that impact youth.

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  6. Hi Frank, For the past 6 years I have been active in Roc/ACTS..the past 4 on its Poverty/Jobs Task Force as its Recording Secretary. We have been the vehicle for bringing such speakers as Shane Weigand, Jim Murphy, Bruce Popper and many other frontline activists to the attention of the community. Deni Mack and Bill Wynn are two activists who have benefitted from this work. The problem now is, of course, the Covid 19 pandemic and its huge disruption of our efforts. We haven’t had a meeting of our task force since last March. In fact, I haven’t heard a thing from our chairman, Larry Knox. I feel my talents are best used in this capacity and am hesitant to disconnect now. The thought of starting something totally new without the backing of an already established organization with a working policy as to how to proceed is very daunting. My health is another issue I am facing. I had total knee replacement surgery in July and despite physical therapy and regular challenging weekly exercise, I am still not back to what I used to consider good health. Thank you for your frequent updates. I am so grateful that our past efforts are resulting in the Black Lives Matter and other racial equity efforts. I am looking forward to the resumption of my activities with Roc/ACTS ..especially our housing advocacy..once the Covid vaccine becomes available. God bless. ❤️🙏 Anne Kriz

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. Thank you for writing, Anne. The situation you’re describing is true for so many organizations now. I’m surprised ROCActs hasn’t moved to a remote platform like Zoom. You might ask about that. Be well yourself!

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