• Thomas Jones

What I Love About America (Part 2)

Memorial Day weekend my thoughts turned to love of country, and the military veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. This blog post is a reminder of some of the many good things which make America worthy of our patriotism. There is no other country where I would prefer to have been born or to live. Here are some examples, large and small, which are cause for my optimism about America and our future as a multiracial and multicultural democracy.

One year after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, police officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder by a Minneapolis jury for pressing his knee against Floyd's neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds while Floyd pleaded "I can't breathe". This is the first time a white police officer has been convicted of a felony crime against a black police victim in Minnesota. The Minneapolis chief of police and senior training officer both testified against Chauvin, thereby breaching the usual "blue wall of silence" protecting police officers accused of wrongdoing. I love that America is moving towards increased police accountability for violence against African Americans.

The New York Times reported recently that Washington became the latest state to enact sweeping police reforms in response to the killing of George Floyd. The article noted that more than 30 states and many local governments have passed a series of reforms over the past year. At least 16 states have limited or banned officer's use of neck restraints, and at least six states have restricted use of "no-knock" warrants such as led to the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. I love that America is recognizing the need for reform of harsh policing practices against African Americans.

On May 23, 2021 CBS news show 60 Minutes featured a story about the 100th anniversary of the 1921 white race riot which killed hundreds of black residents and burned the prosperous Tulsa, Oklahoma neighborhood of Greenwood, which was also known as "Black Wall Street". CBS correspondents suggested that the white race riot was motivated in part by white resentment of Greenwood's prosperity. None of Greenwood's black victims received any compensation for their personal injury and property damage claims. CBS said this story has been hidden until recently behind a "wall of silence" in Tulsa. National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast a similar story on May 24 as part of its Morning Edition program, and PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) broadcast a commemoration program on May 31. I love that more media outlets are demonstrating increased commitment to telling the truth about America's race history.

In June 2020 St. Mark's Episcopal Church in New Canaan, Connecticut commenced a series of parishioner education and discussion forums on Race in America. The most recent segment was a four week history series titled "God, Race, and St. Mark's", which explored the local parish connection to slavery through clergy and parishioner ownership of slaves, and local manufacturing and shipping trade relations with the Southern slave-based economy. The series also examined the history of local community treatment of Native Americans, including the massacre of a Native American encampment in Pound Ridge, a few miles from St. Mark's location. I love that more communities are increasing efforts to foster honest discernment and discussion of race history in America.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a photo essay under the banner "The 4,978 Schools that Changed America", and a subheading "In the early 20th century a pioneering partnership between a black educator and a [Jewish] businessman brought new opportunity to the American south". It told the story of how Julius Rosenwald, president of retail giant Sears Roebuck, partnered in 1913 with Booker T. Washington, ex-slave and president of Tuskegee Institute, to construct schools for black children in the states of the former Confederacy. Racial segregation and severe underfunding of public education for African Americans was the norm, and approximately one-third of black children in those states gained educational access through Rosenwald schools. African American communities raised $4.8 million (approximately $48 million today) in matching funds to support Rosenwald schools, a testament to their desire for educational opportunity. Notable graduates of Rosenwald schools include civil rights leader John Lewis and author Maya Angelou. I love that America has always had examples of white and black collaboration in pursuit of noble goals, even in the midst of the bleakest historical periods of slavery and unbridled antiblack race hatred.

Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) is a non-profit which launched "MLT Black Equity Workplace Certification" in 2020. The Certification establishes a comprehensive framework for racially equitable workplace practices to which organizations can manage and hold themselves accountable. So far, 35 organizations have committed to this program, including such household names as Amazon, ViacomCBS, BlackRock, Hyatt, and Nike. MLT's goal over the next several years is to establish the Certification framework as a best practice across employer America, such that hundreds of leading companies, law firms, higher ed institutions, and health care systems will utilize this comprehensive approach to move the needle on racial equity and hold themselves accountable for progress. I love that the American business community is increasing its commitment to improving racial diversity and inclusion.

Do you know examples which make you optimistic about race relations in America?

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