“This is NOT the race article I’d been mentally writing for the past six weeks..” Kim Sandoval begins in this post she wrote on diversity and racism in the wake of the shooting in Charleston that killed nine people in a historic African-American Church. Kim shares the lessons she’s choosing to take away from this tragic event.
This is NOT the race article I’d been mentally writing for the past six weeks – and it breaks my heart. I moved out of South Carolina 17 years ago after completing my MPA program, but since Charlotte is just across the border in North Carolina, it’s easy to spend time in the state. So even though I no longer live there, I still have a deep fondness for SC and the shootings on June 17th hurt. This is not our South, is it?!?! ~ 9 people, IN A CHURCH?!?
As the man-hunt continued the next day I went to work and tried to be normal, when a friend and former classmate emailed and asked: “Did I remember Clementa Pinckney?” The State Senator and minister about whom they’d been talking in the news had been a classmate of ours – and I hadn’t recognized his name.
It’s nearly impossible, even in a small program, to stay in touch with everyone in your graduate program, so I’m not holding that against myself. I didn’t truly know him – we only had one or two classes together. What I remember, though, is his easy-going, but so pulled-together, approachable manner. He was already a member of the State House, but in class he was just ‘Clem’ – an administrator seeking to learn more to fulfill his mission like the rest of us.
Race is not an easy issue; our responses and responsibilities will continue to be equally tough as we battle racism at all levels of government. But for today, as Charleston, USC, and South Carolina mourn, here’s what I do have: We can all take a moment to step outside of our comfort zones. Approach, talk and get to know someone with whom you don’t generally interact. Whether it’s someone from a different race/ethnicity, gender or department – get past the facades…dig down and find out what that other person is really about. Don’t just go on what they seem, but reach out and find out who they are.
In the workplace, we generally can’t go to the level of free hugs, like in the photo that John Nettles took in Charleston. And if I (or the other person) missteps while reaching out, please redirect and educate me. I know I have unwittingly made my share of errors. Talking and listening is not much, but it’s a start. It’s the least we can do to remember – Susie Jackson, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor and SC State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney – the nine that were killed in Charleston.
Unfortunately, in government we try so hard to be effective and efficient, we sometimes miss the deeper perspective and personal connections. My hope is that by getting past the surface that we can start to chip away at our surface biases – be they racism, gender or something else – to better work with our colleagues and better serve our communities.