Our Opportunity to Make History
As we wrap up a month dedicated to celebrating the historical contributions, culture, and excellence of Black America, I want to pause to reflect on this unique moment in our nation’s history.
Recent media stories are touting a Black Renaissance. Comparable to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, today’s movement emerges from a foundation of racial justice activism. We’ve watched Amanda Gorman succeed as the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. History. Stacey Abrams was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for driving historical political change by organizing Black voters. And the Black Lives Matter movement, also a candidate for the Nobel Prize, has been commended for its mobilization of people worldwide to fight racial injustice. Collectively, these and many more cultural and social justice advances, rooted in the Black community, indicate a potential to move this nation forward.
Parallel to these bright indicators of progress are stark warning signs of an economic stall out, if not a complete reversal of progress. We see reports of the declining Black middle class. More and more young Black families are falling into poverty because of inequities and racist policies brought into the light by Covid19. The pandemic is wreaking havoc. Not only is it disproportionately infecting and killing Black people, but it is inflicting socio-economic harm, resulting in higher rates of unemployment, lost income, and business closures. The combination of the pandemic and the recession have exponentially exacerbated the preexisting conditions of income inequality, lack of health care, and food insecurity in Black communities and other households of color.
Every day at GLIDE, in the shadow of billion-dollar tech companies, we see the results of generations of inequity, racist policies in housing, health care, policing, and mass incarceration. Thirty-seven percent of San Francisco’s homeless identify as Black or African American while making up only 5 to 6 percent of the city’s population. At GLIDE we see a much higher percentage, with all groups identifying as Black, Indigenous, and people of color making up about 75 percent of the clients we serve.
Yet, in the face of these disturbing indicators, we have an exceptional opportunity to make a historical change. There is a collective alignment of the drivers of progress. Political and widespread demand for change is now aligned with an unprecedented commitment of public and private resources flowing into the fight against systemic racism. As I write this, the Biden-Harris administration is developing new policy solutions for inclusive economic growth, criminal justice reform, and other efforts that can drive systemic change and permanently lift more Black Americans out of poverty.
We have never before seen this level of diversity, engagement, and alignment towards demanding and creating racial justice. We must recognize the precariousness of this moment and harness the political will and commitment across government, health care, education, and industry, and align public, private, and philanthropic resources to create sustainable solutions. This is how we will disrupt cycles of poverty and bring about lasting change.
As we celebrate and champion Black history and excellence, let us remember that our collective action today determines how this moment will go down in history. We have a chance to make a lasting impact on our nation’s next chapter. We must train our focus on the work necessary to ensure a beloved community and a more equitable future for all people. At GLIDE, we are committed to this, not just in February but every day.
Karen J. Hanrahan
President & CEO, GLIDE