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Each day since George Floyd was killed, we wait

We were reclaiming our city and our power as citizens

Minneapolis is my home, but at this point, I hardly recognize parts of my neighborhood. There is so much destruction. Destruction of the places where our residents shop, eat and work. Burnt pieces of debris litter the streets and parks, even blocks from where buildings burned. The unrest and violence you’ve seen on TV have been much more horrifying in person.

One night last week, the gunfire was so close my daughter woke up crying. I was shaking. As a parent your first priority is to protect your child, but I felt helpless, and when the gunfire started again, terrified. I realize the terror I felt in that moment is nothing compared with what George Floyd experienced in his final minutes of life. No one should ever experience that type of fear, yet too many of my black brothers and sisters have – such as Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and Philando Castile. The list goes on and on.

Each day since Floyd was killed by police, we wait. First we waited for the arrest of the officers. Finally that wait is over, but the wait for true justice continues. And although there’s been progress, at night neighbors must keep watch over the block, waiting for daylight when we can feel a little safer and get back on the streets to continue the cleanup of what outsiders have broken and burned. We don’t understand why our city officials have not done more to protect us, our homes and our businesses. Now it’s reached the point where we are fed up and tired of waiting.

I felt a personal obligation to stop waiting and do more when I left my consulting job five years ago to help launch RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality), a national nonprofit with a mission to educate and empower the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations. A significant part of what we do focuses on improving relationships between law enforcement and the communities they are responsible for serving. In partnership with sports leagues and brands such as the NBA, NFL, NHL and Under Armour, we’ve been working in a multitude of cities – Chicago; Detroit; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; New York; Portland, Oregon; and Tampa, Florida. We’ve done this work in Minneapolis, including a program hosted by the Minnesota Timberwolves where in 2018 I led a dialogue with local high school students, Wolves players and staff, Mayor Jacob Frey, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other Minneapolis officers – some I’ve known since I was a child.

Since the murder of Floyd, I’ve thought about this day and the commitments that were made for change. Certainly, not enough was done. And now at this time of crisis and chaos, the failure of those in power, and frankly our American society, is on display to the world. Despite what feels like overwhelming despair, the people of south Minneapolis have decided we will no longer fail each other. We will no longer wait.

South Minneapolis is locally known as a diverse neighborhood. We are black, white, Hispanic, Native American and East African immigrants, many from Somalia. Throughout our neighborhood, you can expect to see Black Lives Matter and All Are Welcome Here signs in yards and windows. These signs didn’t just appear when Floyd was killed, although the number did increase. These last few days many of my white neighbors have stopped me to say they are sorry. Some have explained that they are not just sorry about the murder of Floyd, but for everything – the racism, injustice and betrayal of other human beings because of their race. At times these conversations have overwhelmed me to tears and also surprised me – I didn’t know how many people actually cared.

Now the south side of Minneapolis is coming together in a way I’ve never seen before. Hundreds of south siders gathered late Saturday morning at Powderhorn Park for a meeting hosted by our Ninth Ward council member Alondra Cano. The immediate goal: plan how we will unite to protect our neighborhood.

It’s hard for me to admit, but by the time my sister, father and I started walking to the park for the meeting, anxiety had started to consume me. Every loud noise startled me. I was suspicious of unknown faces in the neighborhood. Could the man driving in that truck with no license plates be one of the white supremacists who wants to destroy us? But as I looked across the lawn at the black, brown and white faces who had gathered, I started to feel hopeful again.

A request was made for someone to open the meeting. A black woman volunteered. Suddenly we were all singing with her. “I have not come here alone. I carry my people in my bones. I have not come here alone. If you listen, you can hear them in my soul.” It was beautiful. Although we needed it, this was not meant to be a healing meeting. Translators were requested – Spanish, Somali and sign language. Then the organizing began.

We organized into groups, block by block. We collected cellphone numbers to start group chats. Each block identified actions to protect and care for our people and homes. Every block designated a scribe responsible for sharing ideas back with those gathered in the park. Nearly all block representatives who got on stage for the report back not only shared their name and block but also their pronoun (she, he, they, etc.). As someone who works in the diversity and inclusion field, I couldn’t believe it. This respect for diversity of race, ethnicity, language and now gender identity was slowly restoring my confidence in our city. We were truly mobilizing as one people. We were reclaiming our city and our power as citizens.

It made a difference. We truly showed up for each other with neighbors keeping watch on their porches, a community fire and defense response crew, identification of trained medics and social workers across the neighborhood, and group text messages for each block to keep everyone informed into the early morning hours.

We are not done. We continue to connect with our neighbors each day. New tactics have been implemented, such as canvassing yards and alleys for matches, gasoline and other accelerants. Each block suddenly has its own investigation and SWAT team.

We’ve vowed that this community mobilization will not end with the current crisis but continue indefinitely. We must remain committed. For hundreds of years, much of the leadership of this country has worked to maintain inequities and the institutionalized racism that infiltrates every aspect of our society. The protests across the nation demonstrate that we’ve had enough.

Most people don’t realize that so much more is taking place than what you see in the news and on your social media feed. The mobilization in my community is just the beginning. We will not stop until there is justice for George. Not until there is change in our law enforcement agencies, government, schools, health systems and all other parts of our society that have disenfranchised people of color. We are united but we need you to join us in Minneapolis and in your own community.

Here are some ways to begin.

  • Start with yourself and those in your circles. We must each have the uncomfortable conversations about racism with our family, friends and neighbors. We cannot change without understanding, but understanding cannot be achieved in silence. These conversations are a form of action that can motivate you or someone you know to do more.
  • Vote for the officials and policies that will result in the necessary systemic changes. This means voting in every election, not just in November. Before you show up at the polls, learn about the people who are running and the legislation to be voted on.
  • Support those already fighting for social justice. There are a multitude of great organizations doing this work, but they need you as an ally. Donate, volunteer, share your resources and expertise. We all have something to offer and can play a role in reforming law enforcement, health care, discriminatory zoning laws and so much more.
  • Get your employer involved. We need to stop thinking this work doesn’t apply to companies of all sizes across all industries. Insist that your company is part of the change, from its internal culture to the work it does in the community. Go beyond the affinity or employee resource groups and form a racial equity and social justice committee that is actively taking steps to make change in the community. If you have a government affairs team, their lobbying should extend beyond getting a competitive advantage. Their influence with lawmakers can play a role in reform and ultimately the overall health, safety and prosperity of the entire community – not just the privileged and affluent.
  • Help those who are suffering the most. Our country’s history of oppression began the day settlers arrived. Our indigenous communities and other people of color are hurting. Ask them how you can help. Don’t assume you have the answers. Please don’t forget the business owners, many who are people of color, in Minneapolis and other cities experiencing unrest who now need to rebuild. Do your part to make sure they can return and don’t fall victim to gentrification.

Ultimately, work must be done on every level and by everyone, including you.

Kim Miller serves as Vice President of Programs at RISE, a national nonprofit that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.