Actions Speak Louder Than Words
The deaths of three Black Americans – Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd - have compelled millions to act. Some have been surprisingly vocal. They are protesting in the streets, sharing moments of silence, and holding strategic planning meetings. And yes – some are expressing outrage and hurt in the form of violence. Others have been less assertive, but still effective. They are talking to co-workers, sending social media posts, researching, and watching documentaries like "13th"and "When They See Us.” Why? Because this is a call to action! We are in the midst of historical events that succeeding generations will read, learn, and compare to the civil rights movements of the 50’s and 60’s.
Maybe you are sympathetic to the cause, but still uncertain what to do. How can you respond? I have three words: empathy, inclusion, and opportunity.
Empathy. We need to understand that our country is reacting to the deaths of HUMANS – fathers, mothers, sisters, aunts, and close friends. I believe a lot of our nation is just now beginning to empathize with people of color. Allow your empathy to grow into action. If you see something wrong, do your best to make it right; don’t be a bystander. Try this, close your eyes and try to place yourself in the "running shoes" of Ahmaud Arbery before his death. Imagine his fear. Let empathy fill your heart and then your mind.
Inclusion. The Black Lives Matter message is reaching more people than ever before. Has America always included and afforded the same rights, freedoms, and choices to all of its citizens? Do we all get to choose our education, neighborhoods, or even restaurants simply by being human? I believe our nation has not reconciled with the impact and results of slavery, the Jim Crow laws, and frankly, the lack of love for all human life. If you are a leader, parent, professional, or board member, seek out people who don’t look like you or may even make you uncomfortable. Invite them to the next big brainstorming session, lunch, gaming event, coffee, etc. Build new and strong relationships. For me, that means meeting with members of my local police department. I am honestly uncomfortable with them and that feeling needs to change for me and my son.
Opportunity. “Now” does not mean next year or even tomorrow. It means today. Use all the resources you have to create opportunity. You need to become more informed, aware, educated, and better prepared for the hard conversations. Know your rights as citizens. Contact your family, friends, and co-workers. Talk to the experts you know, like your HR department, the community action team, or diversity groups. Work with them to take practical steps toward change to open paths for all people.
This is a call to empathy, inclusion, and opportunity. We must start doing what is right, not just talking about what is right.
Kirby Addison is a member of the VT military computer department and the Joint Diversity Executive Council representing Black/African American guard personnel.
Processing Systemic Racism
State Equal Employment Manager
A majority of Americans view the death of George Floyd as a symptom to a much deeper problem. But for many of us, this step forward of acknowledging racism as a systemic issue is overwhelming. It is difficult to wrap our heads around such a formidable problem because it feels beyond our control. It is far easier to think of racism as the bad acts of a few.
For much of my career at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, racism took on more tangible forms, like when we litigated a case involving a tenant whose African American daughter was accused of making the pool “cloudy” supposedly because she put chemicals in her hair. The landlord expressed her dissatisfaction by posting a sign on the gate to the pool which read, “Public Swimming Pool, White Only.” I readily recognized the racism in her action.
A Source of Pride
VTNG Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
The Supreme Court recently delivered a landmark decision for the LGBT+ community, giving more reasons to celebrate June as Pride Month.
Why is this such a historic event? Nearly half the states in our country have no legal protection for LGBT+ employees. Now, based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act will protect employees in all states from firings and other adverse employment decisions because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Under Title VII, it is unlawful to discriminate based on sex. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion, explained why the law also covers sexual orientation. He gave an example of two different employees who are attracted to men. One of the employees is a male and the other is a female. If the male is fired for no reason other than liking males, but the female isn’t fired, then the male employee is being fired because of his gender.
I think this quote from William Eskridge, a Law Professor at Yale, sums up the decision best: "LGBT people have come a long way in the last generation; the country has come a long way in the last generation; and the Supreme Court has come a long way in the last generation." The ruling was a 6-3 win!
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, also known as African American Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a combination of the words "June" and "nineteenth." It was on this date in 1865 that Major General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas that all slaves had been emancipated. Of course, his announcement was old news. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 – a full two and half years earlier.
In many places, like Texas, though, plantations did not comply with Granger's announcement. Slave owners withheld the news or delayed compliance until they were forced to do so by the government. Still, many Black slaves looked to June 19th as a day of celebration because that was the day they were told they were free.
In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. It is now recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in 45 states.
Treasure the Differences
CH (COL) Brett Charsky
Like many parents this past month, my wife and I proudly celebrated our son’s high school graduation. Following his journey through the highs and lows has been rewarding and challenging. We, like others, watched in awe as he matured into a young adult. Although our shared experience has many similarities, there is one difference. Our son, Justin, is autistic.
I was deployed in Iraq when my wife and I learned Justin was born with autism. The news was stunning, not just because I was so far from home, but also because I felt like we did all the right things. My wife attended all her appointments, stayed healthy, and followed her doctor’s orders. At his 18-month checkup, Justin was physically normal in the height and weight charts. He was a perfect, beautiful boy.
His diagnosis did not change that. But the thought of caring for a child with special needs was daunting. After all, we did not know anyone who had a child with autism. Shock transformed to determination. We read, talked to medical professionals, and learned from others. By the time Justin was two years old, he was enrolled in an Early Intervention Program. By three, he was getting on a bus and traveling 35 minutes to a school that specialized in teaching social skills and other essential skills he would need to enter Kindergarten. Over the years, we thankfully had the support of teachers, doctors, and therapists who helped Justin and us. Today, Justin is 18 years old. Last month, he graduated from Pulaski High School, in New York.
I recently had an opportunity to reflect with Justin on reaching this milestone. Justin told me, “being born with autism is one of the biggest obstacles that I live with on a daily basis.” While he does not see himself as being different, he lives that reality. Sadly, he felt that “because I talk differently, my peers are hesitant to connect socially or emotionally with me.” “I feel lonely knowing that my brother is invited to swim or birthday parties and I am not.”
Always the optimist, though, Justin viewed his autism as a blessing. It has made him “think out of the box and be creative.” While he does not have friends his age, he said, “that is ok, because I like spending time with my family and consider them my friends." Besides, “I strive to connect with my family, work hard, be friendly towards everyone, and demonstrate that I am creative and caring.”
As a parent, I think I was most proud by his insight that “Autism is not what defines me; it is just one part of my personality.” “Because I am friendly, I think people are friendly towards me.” His words are an inspiration that we should not let one’s body shape, gender, skin color, religion, nationality, or disability define a person! The challenge is to take the time to listen and learn from people who may be different. You will be amazed by their stories, their insights, and their creativity.
Justin plans to attend a Community College and earn an Associate Degree in Computer Coding and go on and earn a Bachelor of Science in Computer Coding for Games.
Select EO polices of the VTNG
Created with images by Shane Rounce - "Team building at RGB Parkour Tour back in 2014." • Michael Weir - "untitled image" • Lachlan Dempsey - "The mammoth like mountains of New Zealand putting me right into scale" • KEEM IBARRA - "untitled image" • Alex Jackman - "Rainbow Sidewalk Chalk" • Zulmaury Saavedra - "Desicion of freedom" • Nathan Anderson - "untitled image" • Andrew Calhoun - "Mother & Son enjoying the Festival on the Forth." • Shari Sirotnak - "Women in America - Freedom" • Colton Duke - "4th of July fireworks from Long Island, NY"