This trifecta of crises has awakened a lethargic nation. Today, more Americans than ever before understand the depths of societal inequities and systems failures. This expanded awareness should be leveraged to reconstruct a more just society rather than merely “recovering” a flawed one.
A recent study from the Greater Washington Community Foundation found that African American residents of the Washington region are more than twice as likely to say that economic conditions are getting worse, they are finding it very difficult to manage financially and are very worried about paying their rent or mortgage. More than half said they could survive for only about a month or less if they lost all current sources of income. Black residents were also 10 times more likely than white residents to feel discriminated against when police interactions occurred.
This paints a grim picture of a status quo to which we cannot return. This moment in time is an opportunity to reshape how and where resources flow in our communities so we can build more equitable systems leading to a more resilient region as a result.
Despite the challenges that inevitably accompany change, we all have a part to play in imagining a new normal for this region that is intentional and uncompromised. We see this as part of a broader community approach that features three fluid phases.
The first phase represents immediate responses to pronounced community needs. These responses typically reflect the relentless actions of individuals and organizations who wish to meet the demand for basic necessities and social services. For example, we have seen support from more than 700 local businesses, foundations, individuals and families who have contributed $7.5 million to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to help families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The response phase for the novel coronavirus will need to endure, especially as reopening has been staggered, return to full employment slow and the confluence of crises will take us in unknown directions. We must move with the same level of urgency in responding to police reform, the crisis of our democracy and the long list of preexisting inequities as we did to the coronavirus.
In the second phase, we must begin to (re-)engage with one another by aligning efforts to more comprehensively support those in need. Strategic partnerships and alliances should be pursued with haste during this phase. Such collaborations must be inclusive by design and meant to cut cost, deepen efforts and innovate. It is during this phase that allied voices in advocacy and strategic communications, as well as deeper investments in social justice and community organizing, are needed to ripen the conditions for change. As we work to revamp inequitable systems preventing communities and individuals from achieving economic mobility and security, we must engage our entire community in shaping local policies and priorities to collectively co-create a brighter future for our region.
The third phase is where we can collectively and significantly reconstruct the systems that hold societal problems in place. While this assertion might seem audacious, comparable feats have been achieved in the past. Take, for the example, the period following the emancipation of slavery termed the Reconstruction era. During that time, national laws were rewritten and the Constitution was amended to guarantee basic rights to the formerly enslaved and provide a level of access and opportunity to millions of African Americans. For nearly 12 years, Reconstruction generally worked — until it was overturned by those who wanted a return to a racially structured status quo.
Reconstruction 2.0 should be considered if we are serious about reconciling our past and building a new future. The third phase is the time to proactively determine what about an existing system no longer serves our community well and figure out ways to retire it; to note what about a system should be conserved through policies and institutional processes; to redress past wrongs with political and economic expediency; and to innovate new solutions where populations are being underserved. We must intentionally redirect private and public dollars throughout communities to create a more equitable and inclusive region.
Now is the time to take action that will guarantee our region’s recovery is not a return to the status quo but rather a transformation of the systems that have prevented our communities from achieving their full potential. We must meet this unprecedented moment in time with an equally unprecedented commitment to reconstructing our region so that it offers equal opportunity for all residents to thrive.