Two years ago I took a step into the unknown. I accepted a cabinet leadership role as an
Executive Diversity Officer at the community college where I had been working the previous three years. Our country was facing a racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd. Streets across the country were filled with protests; many were peaceful, some turned violent and others were hijacked by different interest groups.
Concurrently abroad, while the world at large was on lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries showed support to the Black Lives Matter movement that was unfolding at home. Quickly, the movement became a source of division along the traditional political entrenchments of left and right. To add fuel to the fire, public health restrictions such as mask mandates were also politicized and furthered the distrust and divide in our communities.
In the midst of this dysfunctional political discourse, organizations and boards started holding space for conversations and trainings on race and equity. Colleges, universities and agencies began hiring Chief Diversity officers. It was a momentous time to be in leadership in this field, even more so to step into it. I was excited, hopeful and nervous. As I walked into the unknown and opened doors I never thought I would open as a child growing up in West Africa, I met a sea of people. Some incredible, with hearts of gold wanting to see a world where racial disparities are no longer. Others, who felt overwhelmed and paralyzed as they noticed and faced for the very first time, the mammoth of racial inequity that was hiding in plain sight all along. I also met people who for a number of reasons, disagree with the premise of current racial inequity and see it as leftist propaganda. I met people with great intentions and whose zeal was only outmatched by their own racist blindspots. I met relational bridge builders who suffered a great deal for speaking against white supremacy. I also met peace makers and educators who suffered emotional distress at the hands of those who believe incrementalism is revoked. I met pastors who lost half of their congregations when they challenged the idolatry of white christian nationalism. I also met change makers who rolled up their sleeves and tirelessly worked to implement changes to dismember the mammoth of racial inequity.
Two years later, after countless trainings and conversations, some successful equity programs and impactful policies, the unknown remains unknown. As I look at the landscape and reckon with the size of the mammoth before us that still needs to be dismembered, the unknown remains unknown. The unknown is still very much unknown as I sit at a panel of black visual artists at an art exhibition and hear their pain, distrust, cry and hope for a new tomorrow. The unknown is dishearteningly still unknown when I find myself still having repeated conversations with the same people about the reality and pervasive nature of white supremacy ideology. The unknown is alarmingly still unknown when the battlefront has now shifted to a challenge of critical race theory and books that provide critical awareness about the reason for the mammoth in front of us.
As I stare at the unknown, despair tempts me by asking: Is there ever going to be an end to this? Is there a light at the end of this tunnel? Is this beloved community that Martin Luther King Junior dreamed of ever going to actualize? But, I also hear from the depth of the unknown a voice calling me to step out further, more free, more vulnerable and more courageous. A voice of hope; a voice of restorative healing. A voice that reminds me of one group of people I met on this journey. A group of people who although they have suffered the injustices of racism and should have every reason to have a chip on their shoulders, wake up day after day, healed from their wounds, with the hope that change is gonna come and sing the blues as witnesses of truth, love and justice.
So I step deeper into the unknown towards that voice…