Who Are We Now? A Black Woman’s Meditation on the Second Anniversary

My husband is out of town. My son is at practice. I have a rare moment completely alone.

So I sink down on my couch and sob.

This catches me off guard. I’m not a crier. I’m a doer. I take action. I’m an activist. I run a California-based national philanthropy, where I try to be a changemaker. 

But truth be told, four years of Trump, an insurrection and two years of a pandemic and I’m not the woman I used to be.  Are any of us? I am shedding tears and losing patience. 

Just as I began to dread the two-year anniversary of the police officer Chauvin’s murder of an unarmed Black man named George Floyd, there was a terrible echo. A white police officer in Grand Rapids turned off his body camera before he shot Patrick Lyoya, a quiet eldest son, another unarmed Black man, in the back of the head. And now the escalation. The unthinkable Buffalo rampage fueled by a massive hate-stoking misinformation media.

As with George Floyd’s video, I have not watched these videos. Never will. At the ripe age of 57, I have been traumatized enough by white people murdering Black people. There are no words.

And so, in my silent house,  I sob.

Patrick will not go home tonight. His family will not hear his voice down the hall, as he announces he’s arrived home from the front doorway. His friends will no longer smile in anticipation when he’s about to deliver the punchline to his joke.

He has been taken. Snatched by the lying white supremacy that convinced that cop that he was owed nothing less than total submission. And even then, stop resisting = stop insisting that you have a right to be.

Pearl Young, a substitute teacher and grandmother of 10 who was murdered while shopping, won’t log on to Zoom to work with her special ed class. They won’t hear her laughter or receive her support and care.

Two years ago, all my friends in philanthropy insisted, this is not who we are. Our country can be better than this. Millions of Americans of all colors crowded into the streets to say Black Lives Matter. Perhaps the pandemic made us feel more similar than different. For a brief time, we were all in the same boat. We all suffered similar consequences for our actions, we all shared the same fears.

Two years ago, I called on forward-thinking colleagues in philanthropy to join me in setting up a fund for frontline racial justice groups – and many responded.  A dozen foundations strong, we launched the Democracy Frontlines Fund quickly, and I felt that things might be shifting at last. The response was fast and heartening, as we aimed to confront anti-Blackness in philanthropy. Together, we felt a great gust of hope.  

But now? Our good work goes on, but the world is changing all around us.  The shortest way to put it is that we are no longer us.  For people who are healthy, employed, immunized, with income and insurance, reality is vastly different than for people with dark skin, frontline or gig jobs, who pay the doctor out of pocket, whose rent just went up, who must produce papers if stopped.

These divisions of race, money and fear are being stoked by the far right in an election year.  On the left, we are seeing a racial backlash, an acrid tide of pre-blame for anticipated losses in the fall election.  Everywhere, we are seeing a national attack on voting rights and the intentional undermining of the pillars of our democratic system. And, there continues the relentless drumbeat of Black deaths by police.

This anniversary, like the moment sparked two years ago, calls for us to stand up. To push for real anti-racism, not corporate sloganeering about “diversity and inclusion” or empty efforts at tokenism.  And most importantly, we must declare that we have been changed and commit ourselves to that change. This means that we will no longer turn a blind eye to unconscionable injustice. That we will not allow more murders of Black men and women to be hushed up and forgotten.

What is important is to break out of the habit of blindness and to declare that what is happening now is not alright. That your comfort is not more important than Black life. And to speak up and bear witness. To accelerate the efforts we all promised two years ago to be advocates for racial justice.  To keep uprooting white supremacy wherever we work or live.  For me, that means the day-to-day work of chipping away at philanthropy’s racist past and building a future that is truly inclusive.

Patrick Lyoya is a young man we will never know. He is a Black man whose murder at the hands of the police was caught on video.  One more person not allowed to be.

So, I ask, two years after George Floyd’s murder: what has changed? The circumstances – or you?  What are we doing for justice now?  

Crystal Hayling is Executive Director of the Libra Foundation and Founder of the Democracy Frontlines Fund.