Donavan West: As society changed to face COVID-19, let's do so with 'RACISM-20' - Technical.ly Philly

Professional Development

Jun. 4, 2020 1:30 pm

Donavan West: As society changed to face COVID-19, let’s do so with ‘RACISM-20’

The president and CEO of the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ & DE on what we must all do to pick up the pieces of racism's ruins.
Donavan West speaks at an #OnTheTablePHL discussion in October 2019.

Donavan West speaks at an #OnTheTablePHL discussion in October 2019.

(Photo via Facebook)

This is a guest post by Donavan S. West, the president and CEO of the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ & DE. It was originally sent as an AACC newsletter and is reprinted here with permission.

As a human

As a Black man

As a Black, tall man

As a Black, tall man of similar age

As a Black, tall man of similar age, with a child

As a Black, tall man of similar age, with a child in this country

I’M NOT OK.

I responded in a moment of transparency to a concerned non-Black colleague. I explained to him that I saw myself in those cuffs, on the ground with officers squeezing the life out of me as I pleaded for air and asked for my mother in my final moments.

As a first responder (in a business sense) to this most heinous viral attack on the human race, I work tirelessly alongside people of every race to assist minority business through this unprecedented moment in history. However, I’m forced to face as a Black person that:

  • Thousands of us are dying at a disproportionate rate
  • Millions of us are being infected at a disproportionate rate
  • Millions of us are unemployed with no idea of what’s next
  • Trillions of dollars are being deployed but to places and spaces unknown
  • Thousands of businesses will close and never open up again
  • 24/7 coverage of the glaring disparities we face on every front of this pandemic

Just like Hurricane Katrina, this disaster appeared to be caused by something outside of our control that also impacted a population that represented a cross-section of society. However, what the hurricane also did was expose a deteriorated infrastructure that caused tons of life (both physical and financial) to be lost and/or displaced.

I share that to say that we are in the midst of another hurricane of global proportions and once again, a deteriorated infrastructure is exposed to demonstrate the host of racial and socioeconomic disparities we are subjected to along with its detrimental impact.

While all of this is happening, do you mean to tell me that I also have to be reminded that I am not able to:

  • Talk to a white woman about her dog without fear of incarceration? (Christian Cooper)
  • Jog and check out a house under construction like EVERYONE without fear of being hunted and killed? (Ahmaud Arbery)
  • Sleep in my house without fear that I’ll be killed? (Breonna Taylor)
  • Be detained by the cops without fear of losing my life? (George Floyd)

While I am the president of the African American Chamber of Commerce for PA, NJ & DE, I proactively engage with every race in an effort to identify common challenges and interests so that we can leverage new partnerships towards bigger impacts for the small business communities we serve. However, as I go into this new week, I and countless others have to adjust our mental and spiritual energy so that we can successfully balance what we’re going through while continuing to contribute in meaningful ways. IT’S NOT EASY.

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Now with a city in ruins, the constant sound of sirens in the not so distant background, we have to literally pick up the pieces. At the core of this strategy is DISCIPLINE and COMMITMENT. We must do the following to get through this:

  • BELIEVE: We have to believe that change is actually possible.
  • PRAY: We have to pray that our emotions don’t get the best of us and we fall into self-sabotaging behavior.
  • DEMAND: We have to demand criminal justice reform from our elected officials. This includes:
    • Overhauling our police departments
    • Assessing current leadership for competency
    • Assessing ALL police departments for cultural diversity and sensitivity
    • Facilitating sensitivity training
    • Terminating and prosecuting bad cops
    • Eliminating a cover-up culture (it makes everyone look bad)
  • VOTE: Participate in the voting process at every level. If we don’t see ourselves represented, participate in the process of developing and supporting future candidates but we must do our job and vote for the best candidate now.
  • BE COUNTED: Participate in the 2020 U.S. Census. We don’t count until we’re counted. Representation does impact the amount of money that comes to the state to support everything from childcare and workforce development to our roads and bridges.
  • BUY: Support local business. We have to support businesses that support us. If you don’t see the pain our people are going through, why should you see our dollars.
  • CHECK-IN: We have to check-in on one another to see how we’re processing this emotionally. We are a nation in great mourning and collectively we can’t breathe! There’s no space or opportunity to decompress — therefore, we must create it.

Dear non-Black people,

Please do your best if for some reason you’re still struggling to understand the spiritual, emotional and physical toll this is taking on the African Diaspora locally and globally. It’s not easy to see and experience the documentary of the racism that persist in the “greatest country on earth.” Tons of peaceful protest have been overshadowed by several, strategically provoked but significant violent and explosive outbreaks. Now as a result of that, EVERYONE is impacted, mentally and financially by these disturbing developments.

Create a space for your colleagues, friends, employees and supervisors to breathe a little. Silence doesn’t always equate to compliance in this situation. For many it just may be overwhelming and that’s understandable. Just know that you can’t stay still for too long. And if you’re wondering what you can do to help; perhaps just acknowledging that this isn’t just another hashtag would help. Perhaps moving your focus from the riots/demonstrations to the actual root cause would help. Perhaps joining us in a what I describe as a way of life against this current state we’re in would help.

Dear human race,

While we are in the season of changing our way of life to address this COVID-19 virus, how about we also change our way of life to address RACISM-20.

I’ll get off of my soapbox now and join my next Zoom/Skype/Webex meeting. Just give me a sec. I need to find my mask.

-30-
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