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Local African American Leaders Respond to Protests

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Editor’s note: These excerpts, focusing on local leaders, were taken from a longer article first published in the Virginia Mercury a Richmond nonprofit, nonpartisan online news outlet covering state government and policy.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond

We are a nation in crisis. But I am not expecting us to stay here. The expectation is to protest peacefully. After we protest peacefully, let’s sit at the table where our voices can be heard and where people can dissect and process what we have to say.

Let’s get to work to make a difference so that for the next generation — the 6-year-old granddaughter that I have, and my little adopted son … that generation of young people will live in a better America, a better society, and a better commonwealth.

The Rev. Tyrone Nelson, member, Henrico County Board of Supervisors

Black people are hurting. And we’re not going to be able to sweep this up under the carpet or go along as business as usual. …

On one hand I’m frustrated and I’m tired and I’m sad and I’m angry. But I also realize that I’ve got a responsibility, as do all of us.

So today as I’m sitting behind my computer, frustrated, angry, tired, mad, I’m also typing an email to my colleagues, and I’m saying, I’m asking for us to have a community review board, I’m asking for us to rename any building that has a Confederate name, I’m asking for us to look at all our policies. …

So this is my challenge: Be angry. Make your anger move to righteous indignation. And then let’s take advantage of this moment that we have and let’s do something. Let’s not be here again. Let’s stop empowering people to murder black people.

Cynthia Hudson, member of the state NAACP and chair of the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in the Virginia Law

The NAACP president at the national level has said very succinctly, and it sums it up for me: We are done dying.

I’m a little bit done talking. I want to act.

Janice Underwood, Virginia’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer

All week many of us have been in Zoom meetings or watching the protests, and we’ve been on the brink of breaking down and we’re angry.

I’ve wondered why the murder of George Floyd has been especially heartbreaking, and I realize that it’s because we all witnessed, in effect, a 21st-century version of a lynching.

But similar to Eric Garner, I believe that we have all been so viscerally impacted because we all can’t breathe. We’re angry, but in the words of Cynthia Hudson, we’re ready to act.

So yes, this is painful for all of us, and it’s painful for the black community in particular because of our historical connection to lynching and as victims of violence at the hands of white people. And despite all of this, like so many others, I feel the world around us is simply waiting on the next news cycle to change, and we fear a return to ignoring white supremacy in plain sight.

I weep and intercede on behalf of the Floyd family, and on behalf of your family and my family, and on behalf of every life that does not yet matter.

I am exhausted by being black in America. …

None of us can do this by ourselves. But if you want to know what you can do right now, what can you do to help, let’s start by acknowledging that all of us are at different levels of understanding these racial dynamics. And especially for our youngest residents, our children, this may be the first time they are seeing and experiencing such painful things. So helping our children, our friends and neighborhoods, requires a commitment to leaning – and I mean leaning – into our discomfort and privilege.

These conversations will create emotions of confusion and defensiveness and guilt and anger and fear. But these are normal and necessary human responses.

I ask you to listen to one another. We must treat each other with respect and listen to each other. Listen to your friend. Listen to your coworker. Listen to that relative or neighbor who needs to share their experiences or their pain, because we are in so much pain.

Secondly, learn how to be a genuine ally, not a fake ally – how can you be a genuine ally in this work and help your friends and coworkers and relatives and loved ones and neighbors to avoid stereotyping and criminalizing and undermining people of color. …

And finally, you can start by educating yourself about the racial dynamics that we are all experiencing by having conversations, but also by reading books and watching films about anti-racism to gain a new knowledge, a new language, a new confidence to be able to talk about it in your sphere of influence. …

We are all in this together. Step by step and day by day, we will rebuild our commonwealth and emerge as a national exemplar for inclusive excellence and racial equity. I believe it in my heart and I hope you do too.

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