VOICES OF THE 21st CENTURY
When pondering my contribution for the next Voices of the 21st Century book, it didn’t take me long to decide to tell a story in the voice of my young grandson.
He was born in March 2020 as the pandemic was spreading throughout the world — as mask-wearing, social distancing, and staying at home become the norm. He was born shortly before the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. He was born into a world where his home country was being plagued by two viruses, one biological and the other systemic.
The decision to write my story through Cairo’s voice was prompted by a question my daughter asked me as she prepared for a Black Lives Matter march in Pittsburgh shortly after George Floyd’s death. She, her sister, and a cousin represented the third family generation of protesting for the same thing — our birthright to exist in the skin in which we were born. As the realization seeped in, she asked if I thought Cairo would someday have to march in protest for his birthright as an American citizen.
That moment prompted my decision to use my work as an antiracism platform on behalf of Cairo and my other grandson, Zane, who is now thirteen years old. I developed two streams of work through an antiracism lens. The first is my story in Voices of the 21st Century: Resilient Women Who Rise and Make a Diifference, entitled “Musings of a COVID-19 Baby.”
In the story Cairo describes himself as a “melanized baby boy born into a world plagued simultaneously by two viruses — one biological, one systemic. Both have the potential to end my life prematurely, to cause me irreparable harm, or to otherwise kill my dreams and aspirations.” He goes on to say, “I was born into a resilient family where they all look at me — even when I struggle to crawl and walk as babies do — and see so much more in me than meets the worldly eye.” The story is written as an indictment against the forces of a racialized society that has the potential to harm rather than nurture Cairo based solely on the color of his skin. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once remarked that a person should not be considered on the basis of skin color but on the content of character. But what happens when the perceived content of their character is tainted by myths, stereotypes, and racist ideologies that exists in a racialized society?
The synonymy of Blackness with criminality is not a new phenomenon in America. Documented historical accounts have shown how myths, stereotypes, and racist ideologies led to discriminatory policies and court rulings that fueled racial violence in a post-Reconstruction era and has culminated in the exponential increase of Black male incarceration today.
Smiley, Calvin John, and David Fakunle. “From ‘Brute’ to ‘Thug:’ the Demonization and Criminalization of Unarmed Black Male Victims in America.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, n.d.
Virtual Social Impact Mastermind
The second stream of work I developed is Social Impact Mastermind: A Transformational Journey Towards Antiracism. This social impact mastermind springs from my belief that cultivating change from within is the transformative power of being human. I designed it specifically with a white audience in mind.
From a social impact perspective, the mastermind is based on the proposition that race is a social construct built from the thoughts, ideas and beliefs lying within the hearts and minds of people. With the current climate of structural inequities (social, health, economic, education), it is a human rights imperative that individuals examine their own hearts and minds to uncover race-related personal beliefs, bias, micro-inequities, false superiority, and privilege that show up in everyday interactions between people.
For all these reasons, overcoming systemic racism and miseducation requires systemic and institutional change coupled with deep introspection and individual transformation. That is, transformation built on a platform of personal accountability and responsibility, particularly from individuals who hold those myths, stereotypes, and racist ideologies in their own thoughts, ideas and beliefs—either consciously or unconsciously. My intention is for participants in this journey to walk away with a personal transformational strategy of continuous awareness, reflection, and action towards antiracism.
Testimonial from the mastermind pilot with OMA Pittsburgh members and supporters:
I am honored to serve on the board of directors for OMA with Anita and I am so grateful to have attended her program on Antiracism. Her brilliance, compassion and gifts of guiding/teaching and leading others opened pathways for participants ( including myself) to explore, uncover and work through their own issues to enable growth and transformation in being antiracist. We have all experienced many storms and I am grateful for this opportunity in remembering the truth she so eloquently and compassionately speaks. I am amazed at her ability to guide each of us to work through our own layers of generational racism to be mindful and present to the different choices we can make each day fueled by truth and awareness.
Thank you from the depth of my heart and soul for the gift of you, your wisdom, your teachings, and your compassion. It is beyond the time for everyone to look deep within and begin their own journey of transformation and healing and stepping into ownership of the choices we all can make to live each moment as an antiracist person and remember our collective humanity. —Gail Hunter, President of OMA Center for Mind, Body, Spirit in Pittsburgh PA
Now, what about you? Which person do you see in yourself? The one who paints a picture of Cairo and Zane as criminals? The one who sees them with limited rights, deserving only an inferior position in life? Or a protector of the future of Black boys just like them? To protect their future is to protect your own future as a nurturing human being.
It begins by cultivating change from the inside out. This, I believe, is the true power of being human.
Anita D. Russell | Life Coach | International Bestselling Author | Speaker
Anita is the Founder/Principal of The Place to SOAR, a social enterprise dedicated to cultivating change through daily growth and personal development for the purpoise of unleashing human potential. She is the Global Business Connector for Women Speakers Association Pittsburgh PA. She is also a member of the U.S. Coalition of Black Women Businesses and board member of OMA Pittsburgh.