By Suzanne Anarde, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) Chief Executive Officer and RCAC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee

RCAC stands in solidarity with the fight for racial justice. We all watched the protests that arose after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. We have heard the names Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, Adrian Medearis, Oscar Grant, and the others who lost their lives through senseless brutality. We hear the voices crying out in pain and calling for justice in the face of continued actions by individuals that dehumanize and devalue our Black brothers and sisters. We feel the emotions that stir in us: the unease, despair, sadness, anger and stress.

It is not enough to watch, listen and feel whatever emotions come to the surface during these trying times. It is incumbent on us to do more than make statements. We must hold ourselves accountable in the call for racial, economic and environmental justice and stand against police brutality. Our work with rural, Tribal and Native communities, and our humanity, demands it of us.

Each of us, every day, has a responsibility to learn more about the history that brought us to this point. Our work calls us to dig deeper into the systems of oppression that have occurred over centuries, leading to the unrest we have seen these past months. These systems disproportionately impact people of color, and have impacted Indigenous communities since before there was a United States of America.

RCAC envisions vibrant, healthy and enduring rural and Native communities throughout the West, but justice is required to achieve that vision. We have long prided ourselves on our passion for rural, Tribal and Native communities and that passion must include compassion, honesty, humility and an ongoing journey towards cultural competency.

We value the strength, resilience, cultural richness and pride that our communities represent. But we cannot do our daily work in a vacuum, ignoring the factors that lead to the very challenges we need to resolve: unemployment, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, inadequate housing and homelessness, which both cause and are the result of poverty. We must acknowledge that privilege, unconscious bias, institutional racism and appropriation exist and we must be intentional in addressing those unacceptable conditions through our work. Equity cannot be achieved without embracing the knowledge that inequity is real.

The change that we desperately need starts with us, not the communities we work in and care about so deeply. Can we stop for a moment and learn more about the experiences of those who live there, their history, their dreams? As we interact with coworkers from different backgrounds, can we set aside our own biases, open our hearts and just listen? It may be uncomfortable. It may be awkward. It may bring things to the surface that we may not want to hear or feel. But it is absolutely critical to do so in order to learn, grow and empathize.

It may be tempting to go back to business as usual. We mustn’t. Silence is complicit but words are empty without action and change to give them meaning.

As we move forward, let us not close the door on this moment or the raw emotions we are feeling. Let us take our responsibility as agents of change seriously, ensuring that our actions and words, individually and collectively, reflect the growth, the learning and the desire to be better that are evolving from the events happening in our country.

We have begun and are committed to reviewing our internal policies to ensure we are providing a safe, inclusive and equitable workplace for our staff. As the organization moves into a new strategic planning phase, we acknowledge that it is not enough to create a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion “section” of the plan; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion must be incorporated throughout every element of the plan.

Make no mistake, you must expect unfinished business because this work will never be “finished.” But RCAC pledges to keep doing it … in solidarity.