“Supporting Diversity” is Not Solidarity

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid, so it is better to speak,”

  —Audre Lorde

The focused eyes of a black, male, police officer moving rapidly from face to face scanning for a potential threat is what I remember most vividly from the demonstrations that took place in NYC in 2004 during the Republican National Convention. We, meaning thousands of people and myself took to the streets to protest oppression, racism, police violence, and anything that infringed on the human rights of all people. We were a united front, we were angry and we were ready for anything to go down and nothing was going to stop us. Now, 16 years later I can still see the eyes of the black, male police officer and I wonder about his wellbeing, how must he be feeling this week, every week, and how it must feel to be navigating through a world where he is seemingly hated for his blackness, being a police officer and still having to show up for work in the face of unrest in a country where he could lose his life for simply breathing. He may be one of many black police officers that bring diversity to the force but it doesn’t mean that his colleagues stand in solidarity with him just because he is a cop. Does diversity even matter if the moment he takes off his uniform he is just as susceptible to being pulled over at the same rate as black civilians? Omar Edwards died at the hands of a fellow officer who thought he was a criminal, so not even off-duty black cops are safe.

The Bergen Pac Performing Arts School is located in the heart of Englewood, NJ. Englewood is a diverse town with a mix of white, black, Latino, Asian, and everyone in between. The public school system is heavily black and Latino with a significant portion of the students receiving free and reduced lunch. BPPAS has a unique opportunity to be of service to the students of town by providing scholarships to their dance school, musical theater camp and dance intensives lead by some dynamic instructors. However, as recently as summer 2019, there were only a handful of children from Englewood public schools enrolled in programming at BPPAS, and I am not sure why that is. Their school demographic does NOT reflect the “community’s cultural diversity” and “at this troubled moment in time,” they are STILL tone-deaf by talking about their commitment to diversity rather than EXPLICITLY stating that Black Lives Matter, they are taking a stand against racism and they are standing in SOLIDARITY with the families of those who have lost their lives due to police violence. It took them a week to make a statement, and I am not sure if they would have said anything if I didn’t publicly call them out. I am not sure that this community-based organization would have said anything about #BlackOutTuesday if they hadn’t received my emails or the emails from other parents or it was it because everyone was doing it too? The CEO, Director of the PAS school, nor any people in prominent positions of power attended the march for black lives in Englewood this past Saturday. They are in our community, but they ARE NOT community-minded and their statement is a reflection of that.

This country literally had to enforce a law that ensured workplaces and schools would promote diversity because some establishments really believed it was okay to exclude oppressed groups of people. That was the source of diversity for many places…they had to follow a law TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY. Wow. Now, when I hear corporations boasting diversity I take a look at what percentage of their executive staff or board of directors has people of color who have a voice to promote change within the company. I take a look at who is on the frontlines, their racial makeup, and do they have a voice within the company? Back to my original point, you can have diversity but if all of your people of color are in positions that have no power, then that’s honestly bullshit and by no means in alignment with solidarity at all. Community-based organizations like BPPAS have to do better than saying scholarships are available, putting out weak statements that are absent of meaningful words truly addressing what is happening now and create a plan to be more visible and present in a community that is hurting terribly at this time. This is a great opportunity to build bridges with people in the community who need to know you stand in solidarity with them, this is the time to put together a board that reflects the racial and socio-economic demographic of the city that you’re in, this is the time to hire staff who reflect the makeup of the town, and most importantly the students enrolled should come from genuine outreach done in the public schools. Stop hiding behind your statements that mean NOTHING BPPAS and take action to prove to this community that you stand in solidarity with us.

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