May 2023

Hightower: Horror can’t be unseen. Racial justice call strong 3 years after George Floyd’s murder

By Stephanie Hightower
Columbus Dispatch Guest Columnist

Today marks the third anniversary of the passing of George Floyd, a date and event that I can never forget. Similar to a childhood memory of hearing my mother cry out when she watched President Kennedy’s assassination nearly sixty years ago, I experience an immediate and vivid emotional response to “I can’t breathe.”

The lesson I try to take from these and other violent tragedies is that our losses can and should deepen our empathy and compassion for one another. Black, white, brown—we share a common understanding of grief and a collective commitment to use the depths of our loss to catapult us to a better place.

We can’t “unsee” moments of horror. We can only look for how they impact our views and the ways we work together to create a better world.


How has our perspective shifted over the last three years?

— Racial injustice again became a focal point. For example, a recent national survey by Edelman found that about 60% of Americans said they would not work for a company that didn’t stand up for racial equity. This means the eyes of our workforce read a lot more than a LinkedIn profile when choosing future employers.

— All sectors will be questioned. It’s not just government and private sector entities that have encountered greater scrutiny. In the nonprofit world, many funders and donors re-examined and revised their strategies to correct “philanthropic red-lining” where black-led organizations received fewer overall funds and significantly less general operating dollars. According to a 2020 report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, only 1% of grantmaking from the 25 key philanthropic funders was specifically designated for Black communities in 2016-2018, even though a combined 15% of these cities’ populations are Black.

— Likewise, all sectors will face skepticism when awareness fails to lead to action. In that same Edelman poll, a nearly equal number of people, 62%, rated companies as “mediocre or worse” on following through on a commitment to address racism in the workplace and community. Similarly, an update to NCRP’s report on community funding demonstrated that support for black-led organizations doubled between 2018-2020, but that meant only progressing from 1 to 2.4%.


New thinking

For your Columbus Urban League, the past three years have been a whirlwind. We helped keep 1,975 families in their homes through rental and housing assistance, put 900 teens in internships to gain real world experience and a paycheck, boosted 9,861 Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs, and so much more.

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