Gupta and Wallace, 23 and 22, respectively, had roomed together at the University of Southern California, bonding over “Grey’s Anatomy” and their Christian faith.
Gupta called Wallace — and listened.
“We spent two and a half hours on the call, with me sharing my experience of how it feels when these incidents of racial injustice recur and there is no consequence or retribution,” Wallace said.
As a person of color but not a member of the black community, Gupta wanted to learn more, but she didn’t want to burden her friend. So she decided it was time for self-education. Where to begin? A dam had broken on social media, flooding it with suggestions of books to read, shows and movies to watch, podcasts to listen to, petitions to sign.
This desire led Gupta, with Wallace’s input, to create a Google document about how to fight racism. The document unexpectedly drew thousands of readers and this week was turned into a website.
“How do I not know a whole part of this story and this history? … I needed to do something. I needed to do something every day for the month of June” as a means of habit-forming, Gupta recalled. “Doing something consistently over time is how you change a behavior. It becomes a lifestyle over a one-off thing.”
Gupta began with two books she had seen discussed and that were already on her reading list: Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist” and Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility.” As a self-described “type A” personality who loves schedules and color-coding, she began planning out her assignments. After some time passed and she felt it was appropriate, she asked Wallace to weigh in.
“Once I started putting together my 30 days of reading that book each day and watching some of the resources on Netflix or PBS, I thought, ‘Huh, how can I make this more accessible for my mom, or my sister or my friends,’ ” Gupta said.
The result: “Justice in June,” offering three learning plans for anyone hoping to spend the month taking a step to “becoming an active ally to the black community.” Choose how much time you have per day — 10, 25 or 45 minutes — and the learning plan tells you what media to consume.
In addition to those two books are parts of the New York Times’s 1619 project, Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary “13th,” a TEDx talk by Peggy McIntosh titled “How Studying Privilege Systems Can Strengthen Compassion” and a presentation by writer Craig Elliott titled “Tips for Creating Effective White Caucus Groups.”
“I don’t want anyone to have an excuse for why they can’t learn even one thing about the black community’s experience. So that’s when I thought to compare this to Netflix, because everybody has been bingeing a series during quarantine,” Gupta said. “If you have time to watch hours and hours of entertainment, you have 10 minutes to read or listen or watch something related to the black community’s experience.”
The syllabus also helps lift a burden.
“It’s not the place or responsibility or job of those in the black community to educate people, but also there’s a lot out there,” Wallace said. “If you need a place to start, here it is.”
Though the document was intended for a small group of friends and family, it quickly was viewed by more than 190,000 users. Tweets about it were seen 1.7 million times. A construction company in Atlanta asked to use the guide for diversity training. Universities, consulting firms and community foundations soon did the same. A 65-year-old man named Sean, who is immunocompromised and couldn’t attend protests, sent a note to thank them for giving him a way to feel involved.
Other messages of gratitude poured in along with offers from academics and activists to help hone the syllabus further. They set up a GoFundMe to create a website, hoping to raise $1,000. They’ve brought in more than $11,000, along with offers from web developers to help build the site, with the extra money going to initiatives that directly impact the black community.
“That first week [after Floyd’s death] was extremely challenging. It was very heavy. I felt empty, just staring out the window or watching Netflix because I didn’t want to think about all the emotions that were going on inside of me,” Wallace said. “After this took off, I got way more encouraged, actually being able to see tangibly people who weren’t just doing performative activism … but instead diving in.”
She added, “It all started with a conversation.”