By Lynne Wester
At Donor Relations Guru we believe Black Lives Matter. Inclusion is at the core of who we are, both as people and as a company. We stand in opposition to all forms of racism, prejudice, bigotry, and hate, and are working every day to create an organization where the dignity of each and every individual is honored. We recognize our profound privilege and actively acknowledge it in conversations and work. Words are not sufficient enough to effect change now and in the future.
George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY. Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA.
So, we as a group are taking action. We will be hosting a free webinar on June 17 on how we can reshape and reframe our communications in the nonprofit industry to be more inclusive. Next week’s blog will be filled with resources from each member of the group on how you can make a difference at your organization. We actively donate monetarily and also provide support services pro bono for organizations involved in the movement. We continue to be active allies in the fight against oppression and injustice. Thoughtful people everywhere want to see justice and racial equity, and we all hope and pray for an end to the bitter institutional racism to which we all bear witness.
The COVID-19 pandemic has served a purpose to lay bare the inequities and disparities in our society. Now that many people are more aware, we can make choices about our behaviors. We commit as a company to be anti-racist, educated allies in the fight for justice everywhere. We will continue to choose the difficult path, to hold ourselves and others accountable, and to know that inherently we are flawed and imperfect. However, we will not let this stop us in the pursuit of inclusivity. We hope you will join us.
The story below is my story. It is deeply personal and for me, life changing. Please don’t let my story overshadow the above statement. It is simply here because it might help you better understand my vigilance for being actively anti-racist as a white woman. It’s by no means meant to be comparative or to focus on my experience, I only tell it in the hopes that you will understand.
Like so many young people, I can remember the day my educational life changed forever. I was sitting in a classroom my sophomore year in college at the university of South Carolina. The class was called "Surviving the Civil Rights Movement". It was an elective I took because many of my friends were taking it. In walked the professor, Cleveland Sellers, and his assistants placed three legal boxes on the desk in front of the class. Everyone became quiet as he leaned against the desk. He described in detail his horrific shooting and subsequent jailing in Orangeburg, SC decades before when he was about my age. And the boxes? The boxes were his heavily redacted FBI files. At that moment I knew I would change, I would learn, explore, and discover this mystery that had eluded me for years. The mystery was racism.
I am a child of the South, more importantly rural South. But that’s merely the setting of my story. I’ve lived all over the United States and seen blatant racism in NYC and Baltimore just like in the deep South. In my high school we were de facto segregated, from superlatives to the prom. My parents raised us to be inclusive and to appreciate diversity, to see color and appreciate it and not to discriminate. So, imagine my revelation when, because I had black friends, I was called a “N Lover” repeatedly in the hallways and at lunch. I didn’t understand the dynamics of small-town Georgia and had arrived there naïve and uneducated at the systems of institutionalized racism that pervaded my environment. I longed for friendships of all kinds. I longed to understand people who were not like me. I left small town Georgia and arrived in Columbia, SC seeking a larger, more diverse community, full of people not like me. And when I immersed myself into the culture of USC, I found so many people like me. After the first class in African American studies, I was hooked. My majors changed to Foreign Languages and my minor in African American and Ethnic American Studies emerged.
I experienced so much, from my first Black boyfriend being pulled from his car and thrown onto the gravel on the side of a highway by police, to me being pulled over because I had “too many black people” in my car. This in no means compares to their experiences, but it shapes mine. I learned so much from my education at USC. I learned the systemic origins of racism, I learned that it was ingrained in American culture and I learned of the massive financial gains of institutionalized racism. People who challenged me in classes became my closest friends; and helped me learn about the Black experience in America. I am not Black and will never understand what it is like to actively be hated for the color of your skin, but I can empathize and make sure I defend against it. A lot of those books on those reading lists you are beginning were commonplace in my life and they help us understand—I encourage you to read as much as you can and educate your ignorance. It took me years to undo some long-held beliefs I had. Every step is a start.
I left USC and entered the working world and found so much of this racism in corporate structures, near and far. I decided to go back to school for a Master’s, and in the meantime married a Black man. The active racism we experienced as a couple was both traumatizing and educational for me. We lived in Florida and constantly had encounters or experiences that reminded us of our interracial reality. Even though our relationship did not make it, the experiences I had are with me forever. My Master’s thesis was a 200-page diatribe on John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and slavery. I continued to read, educate myself, and vow to be actively anti-racist. I knew what I could do as a white ally throughout my life. I worked hard to combat racism in my everyday life. My close friends know these stories and know my passion for justice and diversity, many of you don’t. You see, you can be actively anti-racist and still not have it be your lead story of your life. My anti-racist journey has been more than 25 years and many lessons deep. If you are just starting yours, welcome, we are happy to help you educate and learn.
When I entered the nonprofit world, I was completely dismayed that the world of nonprofits was not diverse and inclusive, especially in fundraising. I continue to be flummoxed as I look into crowds at speaking engagements and see a sea of white faces staring back at me. I call out racist jokes in the hallways or non-inclusive practices of conference planners, I know my whiteness also means a segment of the population is lost to me. I work in my hiring practices, in my consulting practices, and every day of my life to champion inclusivity, to change institutionalized practices and more. I actively seek out speakers that don’t look like me, speak like me, and even agree with my views on fundraising. I ask you to do the same. I call out our professional organizations when they schedule events on Jewish holidays or have non diverse boards. You see racism isn’t just about white people and black people, it’s about all people. Right now, though, we must focus our efforts to truly have others understand that BLACK LIVES MATTER.
I could go on about myself and my story for pages and pages, but I’m out of tears and I’m out of time. It’s our time to take an active stance, be anti-racist and to speak out against injustice and institutionalized racism. I am here for a conversation with any of you who want to have it. Doesn’t matter who you are or what your beliefs, the first step is a series of very uncomfortable conversations and I’m here for them. I hope this story helps you better understand. I hope you do the work. I hope you know that we as a human race can correct the wrongs one step at a time. I’m here waiting, please join me.