-- The following is a message from President and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles --

It is hard to believe that it has been a year since the murder of George Floyd.  The callous disregard for his pleas for help and the value of his life leave an image that is forever seared in our memory.  Yet, we know this was not an isolated incident, but rather a systemic pattern of racism and violence against Black Americans that traces back to the first ship of enslaved Africans that arrived in America more than 400 years ago. 

While the world woke up to the cries of Black people in a new way on May 25, 2020, we know this was far from the beginning and far from the end.  This moment is fueling new urgency into the work we need to do as a nation to resolve the economic, political and cultural legacy of slavery.  This includes understanding the history we haven’t been taught about its consequences that are still with us—from segregation to redlining to mass incarceration—and committing to reversing these disparities.

Through the images the world now witnesses, we all have new visibility into a small part of the trauma and triggering that our Black team members regularly experience.  What we must hold on to is the support for each other and our community.  Together we can do our part to create lasting change that addresses systemic racism and its policies to prevent the violence and exclusion that continues to tear apart our families, loved ones and nation.

We believe in a future where everyone in L.A. County has access to a safe home in a vibrant neighborhood; where everyone, whether they live in Venice or Vernon, can succeed because we have dismantled the racist policies that keep people in poverty, and where homelessness is unheard of because we have invested in housing and care.

What gives me hope is how our organization is finally recognizing the centrality of racial equity and racial justice in our work on poverty.  As a leader, my failure is that we did not do this sooner.  While deep, real change takes time, we must all act with urgency to do our part.

We are proud to have played a role in moving with that urgency last summer and working with a diverse coalition of leaders, organizations and elected officials to put Measure J on the ballot.  This measure to “Reimagine LA” is the type of systemic change we need – to dedicate at least 10% of the County’s net revenues to racial justice priorities such as youth development programs, mental health treatment, alternatives to incarceration programs, housing, and investments in Black and Brown owned businesses.

This effort also includes our work to focus the CLASS Coalition and our Home For Good initiatives on equitable pathways to school reopening, shelter improvement, vaccine outreach, and intentionally focusing on a population of older adults who are even more disproportionately Black than the general population of persons experiencing homelessness.

And finally we are also working within our housing and economic mobility teams to identify new efforts that focus even more squarely on the intersections of race and poverty: creating models of affordable housing, providing targeted rental relief assistance in South and Southeast LA, and new models of governance to ensure our Black and Brown residents don’t get displaced outside of LA County.

Next week marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the deadliest events of racist violence in U.S. History – also a history not taught to us.  For change to happen, we must understand our history, name systemic racism and work together to change it.  Gianna Floyd captured all of our hearts when she said, “Dad changed the world.”  Let us all do our part to be a part of that change.