No matter the demands of the week—and there are often plenty in providing others enough food or rental assistance or help finding a job—our staff meetings are generally filled with enthusiasm and joy. The Arm In Arm team of staff and volunteers are a diverse group of extraordinarily dedicated people who simply find ways to overcome obstacles and continue caring for people in need.
But last week’s staff meeting was different.
We had all seen the video of the senseless and appalling death of George Floyd, so during check-ins on Friday the typically bubbly infectious desire in our staff to do more good was replaced by a profound quiet: “I’m just so sad and frustrated and hurt for my people today,” a young African-American staff member began. Another staff member, a Latino-American man, offered, “No offense to anyone else, but people of color have been dealing with this far too long. The trust in the system, in the authorities, is just not there.”
And then after the violence over the weekend, another staff member, a Latina-American woman, remarked with a tear in her eye, “This is our home, this is my city, these are the stores I went to when I was a little kid, these are my people…”
What can we say? What can we do? How can we be agents for positive change away from the generations of systemic, institutionalized racism, and racial injustice – directed especially toward African Americans – that has gone unchecked for far too long?
Monday was a day to listen, to be present, to be as together as we can be during a pandemic, and to try to learn from those who are suffering most.
Last Sunday night, the neighbors living near our Hudson Street pantry had heard tear gas canisters exploding, rubber bullets ricocheting and helicopters flying overhead, but on Monday morning in that same neighborhood kids were out skateboarding, people were running errands. One of our neighbors stopped to help us at the pantry. Another of our neighbors brought us some supplies that we needed and, beaming, showed off his new puppy. Yet another neighbor stopped his car, rolled down the window and called out to us, “You know Arm In Arm is good in this neighborhood, right? The violence last night was not from people in this neighborhood, but from somewhere else.” Another one of our staff then tried to ride a skateboard at the invitation of its owner, a neighborhood kid who looked about 10, and they both had quite a laugh when our young staff member, who looked so smooth riding that skateboard at first, finally tumbled off into the middle of the street.
The amazing resiliency and undaunted display of kindness that I experienced on Monday in the neighborhood around our Hudson Street pantry offered a perfect example of what we strive to become in our Arm In Arm slogan, Better Together.
I am grateful that Arm In Arm, in simply continuing, no matter what, just doing what we do—bringing together very different people who find their common humanity in offering food, assistance and help—might be a place of healing in times such as these.
But we are committed to do more.
Injustices multiplied so greatly have created a wave that is pushing against all of us—especially those of our staff members, leaders, partners, and neighbors who are people of color.
Arm In Arm is a small thread in the larger fabric of our community; however, we nevertheless need to proceed with urgency and humility to openly and unambiguously stand against racial injustice which is so antithetical to our values as an organization and as members of this vibrant community. At our next staff meeting we will engage in a discussion focusing explicitly on race and discrimination and how we can play a specific and concrete role to better serve our entire community, especially those who are treated most unjustly and feel most marginalized and vulnerable in these trying times.
I will share with you our ideas in the weeks to come.
Please know that Arm In Arm feels the pain of a suffering community and will do all we can to be a place of healing and hope.
David R. Fox