Statement from New President & CEO Audra Wilson
June 4, 2020
Social justice champions around the country are coalescing to confront yet another national crisis that disproportionately impacts people of color. But let’s be clear – this is a crisis about Black lives. And Black lives matter.
This week, I returned home to the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, after preparing myself for weeks to resume the type of advocacy centered on economic and racial justice that has propelled my legal career.
But I had not prepared to assume the helm at the very moment our country erupted in the wake of the most recent spate of unmitigated violence perpetuated against Black bodies: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and an ever-lengthening list of individuals whose lives were taken because of the color of their skin. I had not anticipated that immediately before my first day of work, I would witness images of hordes of people, fed up by being humiliated and devalued, spilling into the streets across our nation. And as a Black woman, I did not anticipate having to reconcile my own ire and exasperation before greeting my new team.
Perhaps at no time since our inception has the work of our organization been as crucial as it is today. The impact of COVID-19 has underscored the ways that racism, bias and discrimination are woven tightly into our health, social and economic structures. The legacy of this structural racism frequently denies Black people opportunities for quality education, employment and affordable housing – and further pushes Black communities into our criminal legal system through harmful policing.
At the Shriver Center, our work is about advancing economic and racial justice. We pursue changing laws and challenging practices that perpetuate structural racism – and today, we double down on that promise. But we don’t do this work alone. Though we play a convening role among lawyers, advocates and policy shapers, we recognize that Black leaders are in communities every day, organizing their neighbors, empowering and bolstering youth, and challenging unjust systems and the officials who enforce them.
In moments like these, there is one very important thing that social justice advocates often fail to do. Though repulsed by overt manifestations of racism, we mistakenly believe that we are immune to its effects, impervious to its insidiousness. Many white advocates use their good intentions and altruistic motivations to avoid self-assessment. And when advocates of color step from behind their professional gentility to identify racial or ethnic blind spots, they are often met with indignation from white peers whose privilege compels them to bristle at even the possibility that they themselves, could unwittingly harbor latent prejudice or bias.
For the Shriver Center, we cannot achieve our goal of combating poverty and racial injustice without identifying and addressing our own inequities, both personally and organizationally. That is why I will support our staff as we navigate this journey of self-reflection and change our internal practices to support everyone equitably.
We must move beyond words and directly into action in order to live the values we espouse. As such, I will embark upon an immediate reassessment of our goals and strategies to ensure that they are aligned with the most pressing needs of the communities we serve. I will bridge relationships I’ve carried over my two-decade career and also meet new allies as I listen and learn. And over the long term, I will guide a strategic plan in partnership with our team to look at how our values manifest into the agendas we pursue, how we conduct business, and how we carry forth the mission.
Black Lives Matter. To our Black communities – including our colleagues, donors and partners – we hear you and will continue to listen to you. We will use the tools of the law to advance your vision and eradicate the barriers that block you as we continue to stand with you.
Our laws and policies must support people by ensuring fair work at a living wage and by providing the income supports families need to be successful.
Everyone deserves access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare no matter their income, race, gender, or where they're from.