What Can I Do?

By: Kay Philips, Chair YWCA Pacific Region Advocacy Committee

Twenty years ago after the Rodney King beating, many asked “What can I do?” and the Mid-Peninsula YWCA in Palo Alto wrote this piece and distributed it to the board, staff, members, and community. Now, as we face the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, and again many ask, “What can I do?” we have updated the list in the belief that each of us can do something on the path to racial understanding and justice. It starts with committing our personal power to the journey and never giving up.

This short list suggests ways we can all use our personal power to bring about change, and to begin anew to address racism head-on through education, programs, and action. The journey can start with a simple step, such as reading a book.

  1. Read books for understanding racial issues and perspectives. A good current book is “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.
  2. Give a book which reflects diversity to your children, grandchildren, school, day care center or library. Ask your librarian for suggestions.
  3. Better yet, read a book to your child/grandchild, to your child’s class or day care center or with your book club.
  4. Write to your candidates. Ask what their position is and what legislation they would
    support (or not support) regarding immigration, affirmative action, hate crimes.
  5. Write to your police chief. What training is provided for sensitivity to cultural and racial diversity? How are public grievances handled? What is their procedure for group demonstrations? What is the process for avoiding racial profiling?
  6. Write to your City Council and HRC. Does your city have a human relations commission? What issues are they working on? Attend a meeting.
  7. Contact your school superintendent. What kind of training is done for cultural sensitivity and bullying? At what levels? Are there written procedures for name calling, bullying? Ask for a copy.
  8. Go to city council and school board meetings. Is the make-up of the elected officials
    diverse? Do they represent your community’s diversity? If not, why not?
  9. Sit in on court proceedings for a full day’s calendar at your courthouse. Who are those brought up? For what kinds of crimes? Are the judges, attorneys, juries diverse?
  10. Speak up! Don’t let racist remarks slide by. Practice responses to common put-downs ahead of time so you will be prepared. Don’t be afraid to discuss issues and take stands.
  11. Contact your television stations and sponsors. Keep postcards by your tv set and send them to shows and sponsors with kudos to shows with good racial/ethnic diversity and messages or complaints about offensive shows. Or email them.

AND, DON’T FORGET TO SEND CONGRATULATIONS to the companies, newspapers, candidates, community leaders, teachers, parents, and youth who are speaking out and working towards racial justice. Tell them you appreciate it!

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