by: Jennifer Simpson
These last months have tested and stretched our world to the breaking point as we have faced disease, death, social isolation, economic devastation, and massive disruptions to daily life. Key milestones have been missed, years of hard work have vanished overnight for some, and far too many have said goodbye to loved ones from too far away. And yet, while in some ways the world has “all been in it together” as never before through the COVID-19 crisis, the impacts and effects have not been evenly distributed.
This disease has disproportionately affected communities of color and the elderly in large part because when you live in close quarters with others, social distancing is not an option. When your job doesn’t allow you to work from home, but your kids can’t go to school, you face impossible choices.
This disease, though, has only helped make more blatantly obvious the fraying of our social fabric. When access to good food, safe neighborhoods, quality education, decent jobs, and reliable health care are not universally available, every day is a fight for survival.
When bailouts for the biggest businesses are counted in billions, but the knowledge that one of your neighbors can have their breath squeezed out of them on the side of the road while begging for mercy is ever-present, the very notion of “justice” becomes distorted.
It has been 57 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in jail in Birmingham penning a letter that declared that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The protests that landed him in an Alabama jail those many years ago have evolved and changed some in the intervening years, but the underlying inequities persist and today, the sentiment that, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” rings truer than ever. We are all in this together.
Integrated Work was founded 22 years ago on the belief that our work and life are inextricably intertwined and that solving the world’s biggest problems requires partnership, trust, and faith in a common future. We have had the honor over the years of working with clients at the front lines of community health, environmental stewardship, and educational transformation and have seen again and again that intractable challenges CAN be overcome, and paths forward can be found. And, we’ve been humbled by the fact that as humans, we are never done… there is always a next step to be taken in the quest for a more perfect Union.
No one wants to see their communities burned and ravaged.
No one wants to live in fear and struggle every day.
No one wants to be ignored, dismissed, or demeaned.
Everyone wants secure shelter and hope for the future.
Everyone wants to know they will be cared for when they are sick.
Everyone wants their children to grow up trusting in their right to breathe.
We live and breathe our Ideals in all that we do at Integrated Work and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters calling us to rise once again to the challenge before us.
We condemn the systematic marginalization of entire groups of people that have made the “American Dream” a cruel irony for too many.
We condemn the failure to listen and do something in the face of countless acts of non-violent, peaceful protest over the course of decades.
We condemn the polarizing rhetoric and deliberate disinformation that has us point fingers at one another, rather than joining hands to solve a problem that is all of ours to bear.
The history of this country is fraught with paradox and contradiction. There has never been a time of perfect peace where we all lived as truly equal. That has always been aspirational—something we declared a belief in and have had to constantly work to live our way into.
2020 has thrown trauma after trauma our way, and still we have carried on. We are all hungry for what’s next and I think we also realize more and more that there is no “going back”… only building the path ahead.
There is no amount of “cracking down” that will restore an “order” that never existed.
There is no “winning” this fight in a way that doesn’t involve a true (re)imagining.
The good news is that within the crises we are facing together are the seeds of opportunity to build what is new and must come next.
Now is the time to forge real solutions born of deep listening to, and caring for, one another. Now is the time to acknowledge how deep the suffering must be to give rise to despair. Now, it is time to direct our anger at that suffering and its never-ending persistence, not at the symptoms of despair.
We live in a not-yet-perfect-union and we can choose to resign ourselves to that fact and watch the suffering worsen and our divides deepen, or we can see this crisis as this generation’s moment to take the next steps along the path to freedom and justice for all. This will not be easy work (it has never been) and will require us to listen, first, to the most aggrieved among us and to search, together, for constructive solutions.
We are committed to doing our own work alongside those we partner with and invite you to do the same. There is no shortage of “places to start” as we seek constructive solutions together, but we offer a few below—and invite you all to join us in exploring who we will be, what we will build, and what must be (re)imagined as we begin to heal.
Want to start a conversation about what you can do in your community?