“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Amid protests across the United States against the brutal killing of African-American George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, a video in which Floyd’s 6-year-old-daughter Gianna is heard saying, “daddy changed the world”, has gone viral on social media. Many of us have gone to the streets of San Francisco and other cities around the US and world to manifest our disdain for such brutal actions and the systemic problems of racism, discrimination and exclusion toward black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC). We need to change the world from here… as we say at University of San Francisco. Now it is time to go deeper in our engagement for social justice and, as President Obama invites us, to make this moment the turning point for real change through both protest and politics.
“There is no democracy with hunger, nor development with poverty, nor justice in inequality.” Pope Francis
The University of San Francisco (USF) and other Jesuit institutions have been promoting social justice following our four century legacy. Those of us who have been working on local and global social justice issues know that “to change the world” we need to promote values, education and capacity building. Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has been the pillar of all our actions and pedagogy enabling us to recognize diversity (see), analyze the complexity of our social structures (judge) and denounce systemic injustices (action). CST has advanced our awareness to work on social justice through human dignity and worker’s rights, solidarity, subsidiarity, option for the poor, care for creation, sustainability and the common good. The leadership and management education we offer in the Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA) at USF centers around these social justice principles and practices to change the world through the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The new generations of nonprofit leaders challenge the notion of white privilege often embedded in philanthropy. The MNA students through their class discussions and analyses want to unpack systemic injustices that exist in out society, politics, justice system, economy, education and health. DEI is a good tool for starting a dialogue, but it needs to go deeper into thinking about social justice, systemic racism and the dynamics of power and privilege.
“I think that change happens, typically not because somebody on high decides that it’s going to happen, but rather because at a grassroots level enough people come together that they force the system to change.” President Barack Obama
On June 3, 2020, in the midst of COVID-19 and the worldwide protests over Mr. Floyd’s death and the numerous marches for Black Lives Matter (BLM), the MNA students reflected on the issue of equity, social change and extreme poverty. We were honored to welcome Chuck Collins, President and CEO of the YMCA in San Francisco and a prominent African-American leader in the the Bay Area. His remarks helped us to read the current events with the historical lenses of systemic racism in America. He also helped us to reflect on our Jesuit education privileges and channel them toward true systemic change and world transformation. Here are some of his inspiring words:
The inconvenient truth of systemic racism
“Dismantling systemic racism is really important […] but the authority upon which the American narrative can speak is really challenged. We fought a civil war and we passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. That was 150 years ago but black lives still don’t matter in this country. We have been marginalized. We have been exploited. It’s uncomfortable even to have a conversation even as a black person because it is always an inconvenient truth.
The American narrative is built on a pack of lies. It’s not justice for all. It’s not freedom for all. It’s not economic justice. It’s not social justice. It’s not educational justice or health justice. This is what this COVID crisis really brings us to see. It’s a stark reality that who is really dying is people of color, and disproportionally is Black people and Latinx people. That’s who’s dying here. It is because the weight of history is on our shoulders without acknowledgment. And that is really tough to bear.”
Illegitimacies of White Narratives
“We are looking at a substantial crisis in this country because of leadership. And I would say that the leadership at 1600 Pensilvania Avenue is just an outcrop of what we have allowed to happen. And this is really the illegitimacy of our narratives. The legitimacy of white supremacy really does not exist. This country is really built on white supremacy. And this is an uncomfortable thing for anybody to say because we do not like to have a conversation around race. And as you know race does not actually exist at all. That is only one race that is the human race. We all know that and everyone here believes that. But we have radicalized and weaponized whiteness in this country. And it has been weaponized against people of color and in particular against black people and in particular against black men.”
Deeper Conversations beyond DEI
“Marco and I have been talking about taking apart the issue of equity. But I would sense to say that lots of that conversation is somehow quantitative and mechanical. We have erected lot of our systems around diversity and inclusion. We call it D&I work. In some way it is just a rearrangement because it does not really going deep enough into the systemic issue we got to talk about. Which is to get rid of white supremacy. And once we get rid of white supremacy we have to look at what else we have to go on as there is a heck of a thing we have to do because all the diversity and inclusion we can actually muster doesn’t change fundamentally the system but it helps us give us more leverage.”
As a leader of an organization I challenge myself on the notion of diversity and inclusion and equity. That lens is very important. It is a lever. It is a tool. But there is something different about systemic racism because it is a different part of the conversation. And as a person who deeply embraces DEI on a global level I know that it has taken us some distance because what it does is that it begins to open a conversation at least and hopefully, with that conversation, comes the opportunity to look at a different level on the things that need to change.”
Jesuit Education Privileges for Social Change
“You are earning a degree from one of the finest universities that is committed to social justice and I sense that each one of you choose to come to USF because of what it stands for. Otherwise you’re going to the series of trade schools but you didn’t choose a trade school.
You chose a school with its emblem that is about social justice, that is what they wake up to do and that’s a privilege and I think that is what we are really kind of looking for if this notion of how do you get in there? how do you create the discussion? How do you lean into that? And how do we not avoid the conversation around what our privilege is how do we use it for a better world. I think that’s who you are as a Don.
I think that’s why you chose to come to USF and not a trade school because you could’ve gone to the school online and you could’ve gotten whatever it is that they would’ve punched out but would not have given you these types of rich collegial relationships or what you mean to each other around this beautiful checkerboard of diversity, you know, that I am looking at right here, that you will become something better because of who you are together.
And so I think that the ability to kind of unpack our privilege puts us in a different position of pain but the sooner you do it, the earlier we begin to really think in that framework the more we can put power behind the intentions and collective efforts behind our will and we will change.”
Chuck Collins’ presentation and dialogue challenges us to go deeper into our realization of white supremacy and systemic change against systemic racism in our societies, our organizations, our sectors and our narratives. We need to go deeper on the issue of with us reflects the University of San Francisco’s core jesuit values for advancing the common good and diversity of perspectives for the education of leaders that helps create a more humane and just world.