Commentary: Racial Equity Challenge is underway

By Tierra Fair

In the days following George Floyd’s murder, I found myself emotionally and mentally exhausted. I was tired of turning on my computer and television only to see more Black people being killed. I was tired of living my life “business as usual,” while other people took action — marching, protesting and, yes, rioting. I watched from my window above Market Street in Wilmington as storefronts were torn to pieces. I remember feeling the same sense of frustration and anger that many of the protesters were clearly feeling.

Shortly after this and other protests around the world, the United Way of Delaware gathered leaders from more than 100 community organizations across the state to say, “Enough is enough.” From that conversation sprang the Delaware Racial Equity & Social Justice Collaborative, which quickly got behind the launch of the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, powered by the United Way of Delaware and YWCA Delaware.

The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge is an online personal journey that encourages participants to explore the negative effects of implicit bias, racism, microaggressions and structural racism in major institutions on Black Americans. The goal of the challenge is to foster awareness, understanding and conversation to identify and eliminate the policies and practices that enable systemic racism in Delaware. With resources from previous equity challenges and from other United Ways and YWCAs around the country, Delaware volunteers and staff created the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, which is now underway! Our desire is to present material that is thought-provoking, challenging, diverse and uplifting. Not only will participants learn, but they will be asked to take action to address situations about which they feel passionate.

When UWDE President and CEO Michelle Taylor asked me to spearhead the effort and the volunteers creating the project, I had no way of predicting the breadth and magnitude of the response that the challenge would receive. It has been unbelievably inspiring to see how ready people are to grow, to be vulnerable and to have authentic conversations. I believe systemic racism cannot be eliminated without this kind of honest introspection and interaction. But I also believe there are people in America who want to see genuine change in themselves and their communities, yet many don’t know how to change or where to start. The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge could be the beginning of that self-realization and community change.

Why do I think that? It is time that we get real about how microaggressions, over time, can negatively impact the mental health of Black men and women. It is time to acknowledge that stereotypes of Black people, replayed constantly in the media, seriously warp society’s view of Black people. And it is well past time to understand that America’s education, criminal justice and welfare systems are not just unfair sometimes, but they are unjust all the time, stacking the odds against people of color and low socioeconomic status.

My friends and I often say racism isn’t rocket science. People should just stop being racist, right? Problem solved. But I’ve grown to understand from conversations within the challenge that racism and implicit biases are ingrained in us over a lifetime of interactions; changing these biases requires concentrated effort. And this challenge is not justfor white people. We have allbeen conditioned to believe and perpetuate a racist system, so we all must learn who we are and how the system works against us.

Looking back on my earlier feelings of emotional and mental exhaustion, I realize now that this is no time to sit idle in ignorance. Now is the time to stop, listen and learn. I believe that systemic racism will end when every individual makes a conscious effort to change themselves, when every individual chooses awareness over ignorance, speaks up over silence and evolves over sameness. It won’t be one conversation or even one challenge that eradicates racism. But this conversation is a giant step in the right direction. If we don’t do this, who will? And if we don’t do it now, when will it happen?

Emails for the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge started going out to registered participants Aug. 17 and will continue (Monday-Friday) through Sept. 14. If you haven’t registered yet, all the episodes are archived; it’s easy to catch up. A private 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge Facebook group gives participants a place to discuss the content and engage with other challengers. And all participants will be invited to a virtual challenge summary event.

Please join me and over 7,000 other individuals from around the world who have accepted the challenge. The conversation may at times be uncomfortable. “Uncomfortableness” can drive revolutionary conversations, and revolutionary conversations can drive revolutionary change.

To join the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, visit deracialequitychallenge.org.

Tierra Fair is the community engagement director for the United Way of Delaware.