A Message from President & CEO Kyle Dodson, first shared on June 5, 2020
I am writing to the Greater Burlington Community to talk about wounds and trauma. When Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes, it was a heinous crime and it turned out that officer Chauvin inflicted a mortal wound upon Mr. Floyd. But that wasn’t the only injury. That callous and racist deed delivered a grievous wound to the psyche of the Black community, and to all of its allies. Our nation is grieving. This is a period of mourning and as such it calls for unity and collective sympathy for George Floyd, the long list of other Black victims of police terror and predation, and their families and loved ones. In that sense, this message is a little overdue. As CEO of the Y, I take responsibility for that. But this is also a political moment. And political situations call for deliberation, deep thought, and strategy. This scourge did not begin with George Floyd. It is a centuries old pox that has always impeded this country from reaching the great potential that our democratic principles make possible. And as such, the “solution” will not come quickly, or be provided in one CEO’s public statement.
As an African American man, and as CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA, I want to express the disgust and dismay that our organization feels about the terrorism that is being carried out in Black communities across America by our nation’s appointed public servants, especially police officers. This is a time for “real talk.” By pointing out that dozens of Black men and women have been effectively murdered by public officials who carry the imprimatur of the state, I am not condemning all police officers; I am just speaking a truth. One only needs to wince one’s way through the videos of how police treated Eric Garner or George Floyd to see the veracity of my claim. If we are going to keep it real, we need to explicitly name what is happening. Police departments are complicit in our racist history. Almost all of our major institutions are. And the Y is not exempt. Many people don’t realize that the Y had segregated facilities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that the end of segregation of Ys as a national policy, didn’t occur until 1946.
But history is not fate. We can all do better. We must do better. And as the leader of the Greater Burlington YMCA, I commit that our organization will do better. Burlington is a wonderful place, but we also have our dark side. It is time that we finally live up to our beliefs about ourselves. Yes, we are progressive. Yes, we have one of the highest per-capita rates of non-profit service organizations of any community in America. Yes, we are where Bernie cut his political teeth. But we are no different fundamentally from our peers across this nation. We are all the heirs of a depraved, cruel—even barbaric—history of one group of humans (Whites), systematically and systemically abusing, debasing, dehumanizing, and depriving another group of humans (Blacks). If this statement and other similarly blunt statements in this letter make you uncomfortable and/or defensive, I humbly suggest that this might be the place where you begin your anti-racist journey. We need to own the horror of our past. Innocence is a facile and illegitimate defense. If you don’t know the brutal and savage history of Black persecution at the hands of Whites, it is because you don’t want to know.
My intent here is not to embarrass, or shame, or indict White folks. I am just speaking truth. Shame and embarrassment won’t change Black infant and maternal mortality, disproportionate police profiling of Black men, the achievement gap between White and Black children, or the wealth gap between White and Black families. Shame is an internal response. What we need is external action.
I am going to hold the city and this community accountable. And I expect the community to hold the Y, our staff, and me accountable. The Y has four core values that guide our work: Caring, Honesty, Respect, and Responsibility. Like so many of the most important things in life, these principles are simple, but their execution and manifestation can be very challenging. Talk is cheap. The Y has to do a better job creating focused efforts to address the achievement gap, beginning with the infants and toddlers in our early childhood program. We need to improve our school partnerships and do a better job supporting literacy and numeracy amongst our Black school-aged children. We need to deepen our partnerships with the health community to improve health outcomes and overall wellness in our Black population. The community should expect to hear more from the Y regarding anti-racist work, and we are committed to collaborating with community partners in the near future. As difficult as this work will be, it pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by our forebears such as John Lewis, MLK Jr. and Malcom X or Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. We stand on the shoulders of Giants, and we have a debt to repay them for their legacy of courage and love.
I close leaving you with two trenchant, poignant, and I believe ultimately hopeful quotes from one of the most insightful Americans to ever opine on the issue of race:
“There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be ‘accepted’ by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and will not be today and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
“If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time