October 30 2018

Over a 72-hour period of time this past week, we witnessed three hate-driven events.  In Kentucky, a white man with a history of violence shot and killed two African Americans, after failing to achieve access into a black church nearby.  Mail bombs were sent to Democratic leaders, supporters, and CNN News by a man with a history of spewing hate-filled rhetoric against Democrats and minorities.  And finally, a horrific massacre of 11 people worshipping at a synagogue in Pittsburg.

Words are difficult to find.  Even words like “tragic,” “heartbreaking,” “devastating,” and “outrageous” cannot capture where the troubled and divided soul of our nation now finds itself on the spectrum of hate, racism, and bigotry.

Yes, our prayers, thoughts, and reflections are indeed with the victims of these events, and their families.  But beyond that, what are we compelled to do?  How to act?

Some thoughts from The Talmud are helpful: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.  Do justly, now.  Love mercy, now.  Walk humbly, now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

I, and we, are limited in what we can do to determine what resides in the human heart.  But we can and must endeavor to act to recognize the fundamental humanity of ALL people – even those with hate in their hearts – and regardless of race, religion, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, or ability.

When these kinds of tragic, painful and de-humanizing events occur, I feel compelled to speak out, as others do; “silence” as a response to these events suggests complicity with, or acceptance of, bigotry and hatred.

At the same time, condemning such acts of hatred in strong language – or even, in a more positive frame, calling for greater racial healing and reconciliation – feels insufficient.  I am left with the question of “what is the work that we must do,” in between now and whenever it is that I must struggle with crafting the next statement to be released after the next soul-numbing act of violent hatred?

Through the lens of our work – meaningful community wellness, health equity, and Health4All, our Board of Directors recently approved another decade of commitment beyond 2020, work intended to strengthen the capacity of community and grassroots leaders to act and lead in pursuit of fundamental humanity and wellness for all Californians.  Humanity and dignity for all remains the “what,” and “people power” is asserted as the “how.”

The above-mentioned words from the Talmud remind us of the criticality of the work: the “doing” and “walking” humbly.  I’ll close with a reminder to me, and to us, about the “power” to keep in mind, and it is defined by my favorite Dr. Martin Luther King quote:

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

In sum, while calls for love and healing are necessary as a counter-narrative to events of hate, the work must be about People Power.  From our vantage point this means People Power as voting, civic participation, community organizing, youth engagement, coalition-building and the support of alliances fighting for inclusion and equity.  As Dr. King notes, People Power implementing the demands of justice.

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