Commentary: Racial equity will take work but we can change

Uncovering the biases we hold about one another and finding the courage to name them is the beginning.

By Rita Koll, Alexandria

Thank you, Inclusion Network and partners, for sponsoring “Time for Change” on Thursday, June 11. Speakers echoed the call we are hearing from so many places. Racial equity will take work. The time is now. And yes, it will take all of us. What does this mean, practically speaking, for local community members? Some of us have invested decades in the struggle for equity and civil rights. Some of us are new to the conversation. Here are several suggestions to consider:

Take a deep dive… into yourself! Uncovering the biases we hold about one another and finding the courage to name them is the beginning. It’s really OK to admit I have been wrong on race! I taught high school social justice courses for years, engaging others in public action and service. I figure I got it right about half the time.

Take another deep dive… into history. Few deeply understand the historical context of this moment. How has slavery morphed into new enslaving forms, from Jim Crow laws to mass incarceration? Who can fully comprehend the nature of trauma and how its impact seeps through each new generation? I assure you, your school textbooks were inadequate to the task of educating you! The film "13th" is an engaging and important tool for understanding this history.

Listen. Transformative change is not possible without listening to one another. I sometimes ask myself if I am even open to the possibility of being influenced by another. If we can open ourselves, if we can build relationships of trust, we have a chance at conversations that will change us. If you do not have the opportunity for conversations with people of color, perhaps begin by following Emmanuel Acho’s, “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man” on YouTube or Facebook. Acho tapes a series of short segments that respond to common questions and curiosities about black culture and identity. It is entertaining and informative!


Begin to notice. Who is the center of power and attention in your social circle, your workplace and your community? Who is included in the conversation? How are decisions made? Is racism denied or justified by who is given a place at the table? Alexandria resident Josette Ciceron hosts a talk series called “Voices Talk Show,” which explores these questions through round table conversation. It’s easy to access at or on YouTube. Subscribe to her channel and consider a donation so this important work will continue in Alexandria.

Take a risk. If you see it, if you hear it, own it! The times I have intervened when I observed racism in action were uncomfortable at first. It gets easier over time. Be completely direct and respectful at the same time.

Policy, policy, policy. Finally, support lawmakers and laws that further equality. Will this person or this law improve access to health care, basic services and the right to vote? If you are uncertain, ask those most impacted by the law. How about your company policies? Your school curriculum? Your lending policies or rental practices?

The work of individual transformation is not easy. The work of community transformation is not easy. The good news is our community, state and nation are waking up. And we can change.

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