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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
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racial justice

Though we're all part of the same species living on the same planet, our experience as humans walking through this world can differ widely. Children see things through a different lens than adults. Women and men have different perspectives on certain issues. And because racism has long been an active element in our society, people with varying amounts of melanin in their skin face specific challenges that others don't.


As a white American, I don't instinctively know what it's like to walk in a black person's shoes. I can tell you about the legacy of white supremacy laced throughout our country's history. I can explain the far-reaching effects of slavery, lynch mobs, Jim Crow laws, redlining, mass incarceration, and more. I can intellectually break down the psychological and sociological impact of centuries of race-based oppression.

But I can't tell you what it feels like to walk through this world, right now, as a black person—which is why it's so important to listen to the voices of people who can.

David Summers shared a story on Facebook that reflects the experience of many black Americans—one that can help us non-black folks see through a lens we simply do not and cannot have. Perhaps that's why it's been shared more than 20,000 times. From the fear that any object he carries might be mistaken as a gun to figuring out how to smile at a stranger just right so he won't be considered a threat, the "black thoughts" Summers describes during his walk through a beautiful, white neighborhood—presumably a neighborhood most of us would consider "safe"—are heartbreaking.

He wrote:

"I took a black walk this morning. I took a black walk through a white neighborhood. When I take black walks, I think black thoughts. I am conscious of where I've placed my gun, my gun, and my gun. I mean, my phone, my wallet, and my keys. Because Peace Officers have a hard time telling the difference. I rehearse what I'll say if a concerned resident, or a law enforcement employee has questions about why my black body is walking through their white space. And I remind myself to make sure the law enforcement employee has his body camera recording. Sometimes it helps if there is video evidence to accompany the hashtag.

There is no way to be stealthy when you take a black walk. White neighborhoods are blanketed by a sophisticated security system comprised of nosy neighbors, Ring doorbell cameras, and white women walking their dogs. So, I've learned to notice the white world through my periphery. To be aware of the dangers without acknowledging them. There is an art to making white people feel safe. To say 'Good Morning' and flash a smile that shows confidence and deference at the same time. To being polite because your life depends on it.

I felt the squad car behind me before I saw it.

It moved deliberately. Not like the other cars mindlessly whizzing past. Its tires inched. Crept. Stalked their way toward me.

I kept walking.

"Don't take your hands out of your pockets," I thought. Or wait, maybe I should? Maybe it's better if my hands are clearly empty. But it's cold outside…maybe it's nothing. Keep walking.

The car rolled past me and made a slow right turn. I glanced quickly but didn't stare. The air is still. My ears tuned out everything but the slight scuff of my sneakers on the sidewalk and the fading sound of those stalking tires.

Almost there.

Suddenly the squad car re-emerged. It was a block ahead of me. It made a quick right turn, continued to the end of the street, and then waited. No more stalking. This was a show of force. This was a roar. This was a reminder that I was trespassing.

I kept walking.

"Don't take your hands out of your pockets," I thought. Or wait, maybe I should? Maybe it's better if my hands are clearly empty. But it's cold outside…maybe it's nothing. Keep walking.

The car rolled past me and made a slow right turn. I glanced quickly but didn't stare. The air is still. My ears tuned out everything but the slight scuff of my sneakers on the sidewalk and the fading sound of those stalking tires.

Almost there.

Suddenly the squad car re-emerged. It was a block ahead of me. It made a quick right turn, continued to the end of the street, and then waited. No more stalking. This was a show of force. This was a roar. This was a reminder that I was trespassing.

I kept walking.

As I approached the corner, the front window began to roll down. The occupant didn't speak. Didn't smile. Just stared. I was being warned.

I crossed the street and the lion trotted off. He had effectively marked his territory. The brave protector had done his job.

I however, couldn't help but wonder what I'd missed during my black walk. It's hard to hear the birds chirping, or to smile at the squirrels playfully darting along the branches when you're on a black walk. It's easy to miss the promise of a light blue sky, or appreciate the audacity of the red, yellow, and purple daisies declaring their independence from the green grass when your mind is preoccupied with black thoughts.

I took a walk through a beautiful neighborhood this morning. But I missed the whole thing."

Thank you, Mr. Summers, for sharing your "black walk" experience. Hopefully, it will prompt us all to ask ourselves whether our words and actions serve to reinforce or remedy what you've described.


This article originally appeared on 03.02.20

This article originally appeared on 09.02.20


When we hear about racial bias in education, we might picture things like disparities in school funding, disciplinary measures, or educational outcomes. But it can also show up in the seemingly simplest of school assignments—ones that some of us wouldn't even notice if we don't look outside our own cultural lens.

Ericka Bullock-Jones shared one such instance on Facebook, with her daughter's responses to questions on a high school ancestry assignment.

"My kids go to a pretty much all white school," she wrote. "They got an assignment yesterday asking them to talk to their relatives and document how their families came to 'immigrate' to the US. The teacher asked for details about the 'push and pull of the decision' and really made it sound like a light hearted assignment. Female Offspring was INCENSED. She is a beast - and I mean that in the best possible way. I wish I had a scintilla if [sic] her nerve, knowledge and courage when I was her age. This is what she put together to turn in for this assignment..."


The top of the assignment reads:

"Your objective: Learn a little about your family history by talking to parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles, etc. Go home over the next few days and talk to family members to discover as much information as you can concerning how your family came to live in the United States. As you gather information, type the information you learn to the questions below. Find as much as you can and be prepared to share with the class next week during our Zoom call on Wednesday."

The image shows the questions the teacher asked in bold, with the students' answers underneath them. Two of the questions were crossed out by the student and reworded to fit her ancestors' reality. It reads:

"Who is my first ancestor to come to the United States?

My first ancestor to come to the US has no name. They most likely had an African name, but there are no records of this ancestor because they were not treated as human beings.

Which side of your family is this?

Both sides of my family are mostly black.

Where did they migrate to the United States from?

Where were they taken from?

They did not migrate to the US, they were forcibly ripped from their homes and packed in ships similar to sardines (see pictures). They were stolen from Africa.

Where in the United States did they migrate to?

Where were they sold to?

They were most likely sold somewhere in the 13 colonies.

What brought them to the United States?

They were forcibly relocated to the US by slave ships and white men who wanted to profit off of human trafficking to build their country on the land that they stole from the indigenous people, which they all did under the delusion that they were entitled to do so."

Ericka Bullock-Jones/Facebook

The assignment assumes the dominant cultural narrative in the U.S.—that we are a nation of immigrants and that our ancestors at some point along the line left a faraway homeland in search of a better life and found it here. But that narrative completely erases the experiences of the millions of descendants of enslaved Africans, in addition to the descendants of Native Americans whose ancestors have lived here for thousands of years.

This 15-year-old succinctly and boldly showed that, intentional or not, this assignment was designed only with non-Black and non-Native students in mind.

Bullock-Jones shared an update with the email that the student sent to the teacher with her assignment as well as his response.

She wrote:

"History Assignment Update:

Today is the day the students were scheduled to present their homework assignments to the other classmates via Zoom. The teacher postponed the presentation. My guess? I suspect he may have caught wind of her completed assignment making the rounds to thousands of people here in the US as well as abroad.
Before Female Offspring submitted her work to him, she sent an email directly to the teacher. It is below:

Dear ____ Good afternoon. I am unsure of whether or not it came to mind when creating this assignment that not all students come from a line of descendants whose history involves voluntary immigration. As an African American, my family history involves somber deep rooted wounds involving enslavement and exploitation which (as you know) continues to constantly weigh heavily on our shoulders. I want to make it clear that I understand that history is not always pretty and in this class we will learn and gain a deeper understanding of tragic historical events. The topic of this assignment it not something I take lightly. I am telling you all of this in the hopes that in the future you might give assignments like this more thought before asking these types of things of your future students.

Monday, the Female Offspring had office hours with the teacher. He was apologetic, conciliatory and complimentary of the assignment she turned in. He told her that it was insensitive of him to put her in that position. He said that he would need to re-evaluate the assignment, after having assigned it to his students for many years. He complimented her on how she had chosen to answer and re-frame his questions. Finally, he told her that it was the BEST response to the assignment that he had ever received and he's been teaching for more than 15 years. I assume that when he said her response was the best he'd ever received, that means that she'll be getting an A.

Right on, Female Offspring! Keep up the good fight!"

Indeed, keep up the good fight. We all need to learn to look outside our assumptions, challenge the dominant cultural narrative when it erases other Americans, and courageously speak the truth. Kudos to this student, and good for her teacher for hearing her, acknowledging the impact of the assignment, and committing to reevaluate it. (And also for giving her an A—she certainly earned it.)

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
True

Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

You may never have heard of President and CEO of the Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI) Linda Goler Blount, but for over 25 years, she's been doing the arduous and yet vital work of assuring that Black women achieve health equity and reproductive justice.

Sometimes working behind the scenes securing funding, and other times in front of the cameras or on Capitol Hill fighting what can feel like a Sisyphean feat to move her organization forward in its mission. Blount is resolute in her battle against two of the greatest risk factors to the health of Black women are racism and gender discrimination.

UP: What are some of the biggest challenges facing Black women today -- vaccine hesitancy, preventative health, maternal mortality, diet, stress… etc?

LB: Stress is the number one health issue for Black women. Obesity-related syndromes such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease have their roots in stress -- and microaggressions trigger stress. We know there's a causal relationship between stress and weight. Black women have about 15% more cortisol in their bloodstream than white women. It changes their metabolism. If you give Black women and white women the same low-fat diet, Black women will lose weight more slowly and if both groups eat a high-fat diet, Black women will gain weight more quickly. We can see this in the DNA level. So, we focus our programs on asking women how they feel about being a Black woman in this environment at this moment. Because if we don't understand that and more importantly, if providers, policymakers, and corporate leaders don't understand that, then we're not going to make the kind of progress we need to improve health outcomes for Black women. And equity is a long way off.



UP: Talk about the connection between racism and the health of Black women.

LB: In 1992, Arline Geronimus published an article on "weathering" where she discussed that Black women are literally aging faster than white women. Between two women, one Black and one White, both age 65, although they may look the same, Black women can be five to seven years older biologically because of the effect of racism and gender oppression. Fleda Mask Jackson found a causal relationship between experiences of racial and gender discrimination and low birth weight and premature deliveries and maternal deaths. We understand the biological response and what that does to the body, but not the psychological impacts. And I'm really interested in the everyday experiences of Black women and what that does [to the body]. When you have to have that talk with your 16-year-old son about driving and when the police stop him. When you see people not getting promoted or things said at work that are just out and out racist. When you go to a store and you're followed around because you're Black and they assume you're going to steal something. We don't have a full understanding of what that does to us.

UP: What are some of the changes in the health of Black women from when the organization started versus today?

LB: Our roots are in self-care. BWHI started 38 years ago with groups and sister-circles talking about health. Then over time with reproductive health, in particular, the organization needed to deal with policy and structural barriers that prevented us from practice to self-care. The changes have been on evidence-based strategies and calling it out when Black women are not included when drugs, therapeutics, and devices developed without the involvement of Black women as both as participants and as researchers.

More recently, we began working to change the narrative around how we talk about data, gender, and race, and how we tell the story. If we don't start changing the way we use language, then we're never going to understand Black women's health. People will say, 'Black women die 42% more from breast cancer than white women.' But, that doesn't tell the whole story and what a reader is left believing is that this data is the way it is because these women are Black or Latina. It's not biological or genetic, it's the lived experience.

UP: What can Black women do today to change their health outcomes?

LB: We talk a lot about meditation or prayer, and breathing. Breathing is critical. The 5-7-9, where you breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and breathe out for 9 seconds. This can literally reduce cortisol in your bloodstream. We've got to take time for ourselves. Be intentional about separating yourself from stuff that isn't good for you. For me and my team, we try to make it a point to take breaks. This work can be overwhelming. When you're talking about dealing with hundreds of years of oppression and people who want to keep things exactly as they've always been, but who say things that are very different. I try to keep perspective. But it's hard because there's exactly one organization to do this work and if we weren't here to do it, I don't know what would happen.

UP: Can you give a couple of anecdotes where the health outcome of a Black woman was impacted by one of the BWHI programs?

LB: I would say around screening and mammography. In 2015, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) had this brilliant idea to raise the age of mammography for women from 40 to 50 years old. So, in 2016 we worked with several members of Congress on the PALS Act aka Protecting Access to Lifesaving Screening to get a moratorium on recommendations for women to begin screenings at 40 years old. Because if this became policy then insurers would stop paying for mammograms under 50. I attended at least 30 meetings, testified in front of Congress, I met with HHS, and other than the one Black person who's on the USPSTF, I was the only Black person in the room. It was disheartening, but not surprising. But, these recommendations are based on science. So, here I am face-to-face with my former colleagues at the American Cancer Society who want to raise the age. So, I told them, 'I know the data.' These studies were done in Sweden and Canada and there's not a Black woman in them. Black women get breast cancer 5 to 10 years younger than white women. This highlighted a Black woman's organization and science and that we know the data just as well as you. While you may interpret it one way, let's look at the complete story. You're talking about applying a body of evidence to a group of people who had nothing to do with its creation in the first place.

UP: Do you feel a sense of pressure because, at this moment, the door of interest is open concerning the health and wellness of Black Americans?

LB: It's an exponentially greater level of stress. We talk all the time about having this open window and being afraid it's going to slam shut. Like, white people are going to be over this. 'Okay, you've had your moment. We invested millions of dollars and you all need to be happy. So, let's get back to the way things were. Just shut up and dribble.' But, while feeling that pressure, there's not a whole lot that can be done in the six months, nine months or even in a year, so we have to keep the conversation going. Right now, we're creating a corporate index so that people can look at corporations and say, 'Well, here's your statement from last year. Now, what are you really doing?' If we don't keep pressure on these folks they get to ignore and pretend they never said what they said.

UP: Are there celebrities or well-known figures you would love to partner with BWHI? Any specific initiatives?

LB: Having Serena [Williams] talk about maternal health would be amazing. We need women across the lifespan. We need Oprah and Alfre Woodard. All these women for whom health is critical and understand the significance of the health of Black women. If we are successful, I think we also need to get Black men involved in this work.

UP: What can people who're reading this do to move the needle forward on the health of Black women in their lives and/or communities?

LB: They can learn about BWHI and the issues as they really are not what they read, but understand the context in which Black women live and what that means for their health. So, they don't fall into the trap of blaming the obese Black woman or blaming the woman with hypertension and being mindful of the language they use when they're talking about race, gender, and health. It takes understanding to get to a level of compassion. And for those who have resources, they can contribute.

UP: Who are some of the women you look to for inspiration?

LB: I'd say Civil Rights activist Gloria Richardson. She's always been the symbol of what can be done by a Black woman. I want to be the Gloria Richardson of epidemiology and I can say to these scientists, 'Talk to the hand,' in the same way she did holding off a national guardsman with a bayonet in his hand and [a fierce side eye].