Yet Another Black History Month Proclamation

Posted on January 31, 2022

a map showing redlining in Richmond, VA

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Nick Smith, local government alum & amateur civic futurist. Connect with him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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This Morning Buzz is for white people:

If your council is going to issue a proclamation declaring February as Black History Month, or if you’re planning some sort of social media post for tomorrow, you need to stop for a minute.

You need to look around and ask yourself, “what’s being done differently than the last time we did this?”

I’m sure your organization has some sort of Diversity Training where a third of the staff piles into a conference room on a Thursday when it fits their schedule and eats a boxed turkey sandwich while someone says “don’t be racist,” but what’s actually changing?

Are there any more Black voices on your dais since then?
Are there any more Black voices in your meetings?
Are there any more Black voices on your senior leadership team?
Are there any more Black voices in your office?

Are there any more Black voices in your ear at all?

Why not?

I know, I’m all too familiar with “the speed of government” and its pitfalls, but it’s been almost two years since George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered by civil servants, and no hiring process on the planet takes that long.

It was 400 years of way-too-slow and way-less-than-enough before that.

Local government, noble as the cause truly is, has been on the wrong side of too much Black history to blithely issue the same press release year after year after year like it’s helping.

Things don’t just bounce back 180 degrees at the stroke of a pen at the bottom of a contract or the bang of a gavel at the end of a meeting, but their arcs often can’t begin the long bend toward justice without them either.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in a place that’s actionably changing for the better, highlight the changes and lead by example.

If you’re not, find someplace that is, and advocate for that change in your own organization — because that’s the only way it’s going to manifest the change we need to see in our cities and towns.

It can be a new manager. It can be new housing. It can be new money for schools. It can be a new scholarship. It can be a new initiative to decriminalize homelessness. It can be a new plan to address the generational health impacts caused by redlining.

It can be almost anything aside from the same old “calling on the people of (wherever) to honor the history and achievements of” … yeah, that’s great, but you aren’t actually celebrating Black history unless you’re creating the Black futures that will shape human history too.

Just something to consider before the proclamation goes out.

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