Where do we go from here? Thoughts from ICOY CEO Andrea Durbin on our nation’s political instability and enduring racism

Publisher: Andi Durbin

Illinois state capitol building

My dear colleagues and friends,

Over the past two days we have witnessed actions across the country that illustrate both the promise of the United States and the peril that our country is in. I have been heartened by the election wins in Georgia in the face of active voter suppression but disgusted by violent insurrectionists in Washington, D.C., attempting a coup to overturn our elections. The evidence of pervasive racism lies plainly before us in the widely disparate treatment of the rioters whose actions have resulted in the loss of life and the peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters who were tear gassed this summer for a presidential photo opportunity.

Tuesday, police in Wisconsin evaded accountability in the shooting of Jacob Blake – yet another in the long list of police shootings of Black people without justice or reparations.

Also on Tuesday, a newly elected congresswoman from Illinois’ 15th Congressional district approvingly quoted Adolph Hitler, saying he was right about youth. She represents all or part. of 32 counties stretching from Champaign to the southern tip of Illinois.

I am disgusted. Horrified. Enraged.

You may be feeling that way also. And I recognize that for many who are Black, indigenous, or other people of color, that you may also be feeling exhausted or traumatized.

Perhaps you are wondering what this means for us, for the children, youth, and families we serve, and for the work we do day to day. Answers are elusive for all of us at this moment, but I do have a few thoughts that I would like to share with you.

First and foremost, the central challenge of this time is to confront and resolve the racism that has been built into the very foundations of our country. While slavery may have ended more than 150 years ago, we as a society have permitted and even encouraged disparate treatment of Black, indigenous, and other people of color that continues to this day. As a coalition, we say that Illinois only succeeds when all of its children and youth thrive. What are we doing to construct a new foundation that is free from racism? We see the evidence of racial inequities and disparities in every single system we work within – education, health care, child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral health, among others – and in every single problem we seek to address, including poverty, violence, addiction, homelessness, trauma, and despair.

I know it is difficult to even think about systemic reform when we are in the middle of a pandemic and struggling to keep our workforce and the people we serve safe and healthy. But this is not the time for incremental reform. It is a time for reckoning and righting wrongs. It is a time for acknowledging and cherishing the essential humanity of every person we serve, and for answering these questions:

  • What do we owe to each other?
  • What can we do to interrupt hate and division and instead cultivate love and inclusion?

We also say we believe in restorative justice. What does that look like in our organizations and in our communities? How can we practice and model that approach to justice and healing? How do we take the lead in raising these issues up, even when we might be uncomfortable, or when change threatens our contracts or our careers? Do we have the courage to think differently about our roles and responsibilities in living out our missions and living up to our ideals?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. Instead, I invite you to join with me and with leaders from Black, indigenous, and other communities of color to care, reflect, and work through these together. It may be difficult and painful. But the kind of hate displayed this week is intolerable. We are each called to this moment. How do you respond? How do we respond as a coalition and as a community?

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.


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