Howard: Safe, strong communities requires putting people first

“The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in American society. We have to deal with it.” – Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis

Those of us on the front lines who work to build safe, strong communities in the Greater Austin area agree with Congressman Lewis. Nonetheless, there are no easy ways to “deal with it.” It demands commitment and difficult work – the time to act is now. Hate and brutality is a public health issue for us all, threatening the core of our human values and responsibilities.

One Voice Central Texas is a coalition of almost one hundred non-profit health and human services organizations working to ensure that everyone can reach their full potential. We stand together to strengthen our community by putting people first. That value bears repeating — people come first.

Collectively, we connect community members of all ages and circumstance to the social resources, opportunities, and supports they need to thrive. Our members work with families who seek permanent homes, older adults and individuals with disabilities who want to remain independent for as long as possible, youth transitioning to adulthood – and many others. Our members work every day to prevent violence, and many address the devastating impact of violence. As such, our organization finds all violence, including that which is perpetrated against civilians of color and against police officers, to be unacceptable.

If we only see the world through our own life experiences, history repeats itself. People of color and other minority groups are understandably hurt and angry – they’ve suffered centuries of discrimination. Police officers protect our cities, but they also face many challenges. As, Chief David Brown of the Dallas Police Department said, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve; policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

Too often, individuals, families and One Voice Central Texas member organizations work together to provide the building blocks to safe neighborhoods and streets, and then watch violence tear down the progress we’ve made. When you live on the margins of society, you see the world from a different lens. How do you have hope if you’re hungry? How do you find work when you have no place to call home? How do you find peace when you can’t find help for mental health issues? And, how can you feel safe in the face of discrimination?

One Voice Central Texas has a moral obligation to develop constructive solutions. This is our daily vocation – and we will not rest until we’ve all fulfilled our missions. That’s the same approach we must take to find common ground and create solutions to bridge the racial divides in our country and communities. As an organization, we have formed a Task Force to address diversity in our social service sector and we encourage others to examine their practices, explore undoing racism, and seek trauma informed care programming. It will take all of us, working side by side, to restore hope, trust, and build resilience. We all have a role to play in order to make this a true turning point rather than just business as usual in our lengthy struggle with racial injustice.

We expect public institutions and we invite every home, business and organization to pledge now to reflect, to explore, to engage and to seek change until Austin is fully integrated, non-violent, and welcoming of all people in all parts of town.

Visit our website to learn more and sign on to stand with us in support.

Howard is the 2016 chairwoman of One Voice Central Texas and executive director, Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO).

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