On Saturday June 13, the African Leadership Group team was preparing for a Health and Wellness Forum over the video platform Zoom. In these difficult times, we believe we need to keep our communities informed and offer resources to help them learn about and cope with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, as we started our planning meeting, shortly before the event was to begin, something awful and upsetting happened.
Fortunately, just a few of us were online at the time, discussing logistics. Suddenly someone took over our call, scrawling vile, hate-filled racist words on the screen and began blasting racist music as well. We lost control of the meeting, and had to sign off.
Fortunately, we were able to create a new, secure meeting and conduct the forum as planned. But the event was deeply unsettling.
We all know that racism and hatred is alive and thriving in our world, and in this country, especially at this moment in our collective history. It’s one thing to know that on an intellectual level. It is another thing entirely to experience it on so immediate and visceral a level.
Recently, ALG member Averyl Kwena wrote of her experience with job discrimination. Averyl’s experience is typical of the kinds of issues we confront frequently among our members. If it’s not job discrimination, it might be an issue with banking, or housing, or education.
Here is an excerpt from Averyl’s essay:
As an immigrant from Africa, who grew up being told that America was the land of milk and honey, all this has turned into bitter herbs as George Floyd’s death depicted for many African Americans the life they have lived for over 400 years in this country. The system has had its knees on their necks.
Systemic racism is engraved in America so deeply that it will take a long time for changes to be made.
I speak from experience being a woman of color who has been trying to find a job. I have sent out my resume to more organizations than I can name but have also gotten more rejection letters than I can count to the point I even get scared of reading my emails because I already know what they will say.
I have walked into businesses with a ‘we are hiring’ sign, picked up applications and filled them out, only to have them tossed in the trash the moment I turned my back. I have spoken to a business owner who promised me the job and told me to send in my application, only never to hear anything back from them
I have been called over the phone and told there were open positions in establishments I had applied to but the moment they heard my accent they hung up on me. All this happens even though the hiring signs are still outside the windows and the banners are still hanging. of course this makes me wonder:wasI not called back because of my accent or my looks?
Avery’s story is all too common. But here is the message I want to send to our ALG family: Nothing will keep us from doing our important work, promoting economic, educational and social health among the African diaspora; providing leadership opportunities and training; helping with legal and immigration issues; and creating a large, loving family made up of many nationalities, faiths, and cultures, so that we might all lead successful lives in our adopted home.
This is the week immediately following Juneteenth, a holiday that marks the end of slavery and which has long held an important place in the hearts of our African American brothers and sisters. Like them, those of us who are African immigrants have had the experience, like Averyl, of people hating on us because of the color of our skin, or our accents and ways of speaking and dressing.
But we must all push through these obstacles, and to continue supporting one another, doing our work, and, most important, spreading our message of love, unity, and community. We must retain a positive outlook, and we must not let anything deter us.