Growing up, I often felt out of place. I grew up in a small, rural, predominantly white town in Michigan where I was the only black female in my class. From 70s style racism and subtle insults, to full acceptance as a leader and respected peer, I experienced a wide gamut of reactions to my outward appearance. One day when I was 13, I was walking home from school and a group of boys hanging out on a porch outside started yelling “nigger” at me repeatedly. I had been broken up with or avoided because white moms didn’t want their white sons dating a black girl. On the other hand, I was voted Senior Class President, among other honors. I used to talk about this and be surprised by this contrast. How could one person be the target of both hate and respect in the same place? Growing older, I realized that this is a microcosm of the larger society. There’s both love and hate, especially around the issue of race and culture.
Our job is to amplify the love and diminish the hate. This society, with its conflicting messages and negative stereotypes of some cultural groups, can cause much confusion in people’s identity and hits to self-esteems. In 2005, Keri Davis, a young filmmaker, redid Clark’s 1940s doll study and found that, nearly 70 years later, we get the same results – black kids prefer white dolls, possibly showing that they undervalue themselves. Last week, I showed this video in a cultural competence training I did for a Chicago Westside school’s leadership and personnel. The principal cried as she talked about her “mind being blown” and “having no idea that this was still happening.” Under the guise of a post-racial society, many of us think that the constitutional principle of “we’re all equal” is a reality today when, actually, we’re quite far from that ideal. However, with mind-shifting experiences like the one the principal had, we can change this society and realize that ideal.
I started Become out of a passion to create social justice and realize the potential of thriving communities. We believe we get there through shifting mindsets, building skills, seeing and using the strengths that are already within communities, and creating movement towards the ideal. The answer to hard hitting problems that have come out of racism and injustice like violence, unjust incarceration, and the prevalence of preventable diseases, is right there in the community. We provide tools to unearth and apply these solutions with the people and organizations within communities for a socially just world.