This Cannot Be Normal: A Call to Action Now

By Robert Phillips, President and CEO, Alluma

“He cried for his mother while the murder unfolds!! If it wasn’t for the cellphone, Chauvin would still be at home feeling justified because of George’s skin tone!!!” - LL Cool J

Over my adult life, I have been either witness to, or a participant in, trying to rebuild community after yet another example of our country’s dehumanizing treatment of its Black and Brown brothers and sisters resulted in a wave of pain and anger. My first experience was in 1989 with the Overtown Protests, after an African American man was shot by a police officer in the predominantly black community of Overtown in Miami, Florida. It’s gone at a pretty steady, disheartening clip since then: 1991 in Crown Heights; 1992 in Los Angeles that spread throughout the country; 1996 in St. Petersburg; 2001 in Cincinnati; 2005 in Toledo; 2006 in Fontana; 2009 in Oakland; 2014 and 2015 in Ferguson which spread throughout the country; 2015 in Baltimore; 2016 in Salt Lake City; and now 2020 in Minneapolis-St Paul, which has once again spread throughout the country.

Each and every time we go through all of this, I feel it so deeply, so personally as a Black man. The shameful comments about our behavior. The disrespect of our feelings, ambitions, and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to us.

It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts badly. Like that sick, sinking feeling I get when I’m walking down the street minding my own business and someone looks at me like I’m a nightmare.

This should never be life as we know it. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. None of us deserves this kind of abuse in a country that promotes liberty and justice for all. None of us.

It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many Black men have felt when someone has accused them, or forced their opinion of who and what they might be on them, when they’ve done nothing but exist—something that we know happens in countless places every single day.

Many of us thought all of that was ancient history, because so many have worked for so many years to end this kind of humiliation and violence and abuse and disrespect. But here we are in 2020 and we’re hearing these exact same things every day. We are drowning in it. And many of us are doing what we have always done: trying to keep our heads above water, even pretending like this doesn’t really bother us.

Maybe we don’t want to believe that there are still people out there who think so little of us as human beings. Too many are treating this as just another day’s sensational headline, as if our outrage is overblown or unwarranted, as if this is normal, just life as we know it.

I need to be absolutely clear: This cannot be normal. This should never be life as we know it. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. None of us deserves this kind of abuse in a country that promotes liberty and justice for all. None of us.

This moment is about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong. And we simply cannot endure this, or expose our children to this any longer—not for another minute. Because consider this: If all of this is painful to us as adults, what do you think this is doing to our children? What message are our children hearing about who and what they should be? How they should treat their neighbors, their friends, their family? What lessons are they learning about empathy, about their value as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations?

In this moment we have an opportunity to turn America into a model for countries across the globe, pushing them to reduce inequity, insisting that they give more basic human rights to their people. We have an opportunity to become a beacon of freedom and justice and human dignity. Now is the time for all of us to stand up, say enough is enough and provide the help that people need when they need it.

The inequities experienced in race or ethnicity or income or education have been in full view for years, and have only been amplified by the disparities spotlighted by this pandemic. Inadequate and unequal education and living conditions have not just harmed non-wealthy, rural, racial and ethnic communities generally, and Black and Brown communities specifically - in complex ways, they’ve also bred contempt and anger for the lack of empathy.

Today, we have all the power we need to determine the outcome of this moment.

Meaningful progress in addressing these issues is unlikely without addressing their root causes. Policies on education, childcare, jobs, community and economic revitalization, housing, transportation, health care, and land use bear on these root causes. And the current shortsighted political focus on reducing spending in these areas will actually make bad matters worse by magnifying the burden these communities carry and widening the social, economic, and political impact of inequity.

Right now, today, we have everything we need to stop this insanity. While there was a time we were often powerless to change our circumstances, today, we have all the power we need to determine the outcome of this moment.

We have knowledge. We have voice. We have technology. And we, as decent human beings, can come together and declare that enough is enough. That we will no longer tolerate this kind of treatment of anyone in this country. But the declaration is just the beginning. We need to gather together at the local and state levels to make real change happen. For all of us involved in tearing down the fabric of inequality — working in healthcare, education, workplace, criminal justice — it will be in coming together that we move forward. And we must do it now.

Robert Phillips leads the strategic direction, fiscal stewardship, daily operations, and overall management of Alluma as CEO. A healthcare advocate and philanthropist, Robert joined the Board of Alluma (then Social Interest Solutions) in 2006, and became President of the Board and CEO in 2017. Follow Robert on LinkedIn and Twitter.