Black lives matter.
Over the past few weekends, members of the UnidosUS familia—including our president and CEO—have taken to the streets in DC and in cities across the country to protest the murder of George Floyd and the institutional racism that led to it.
We asked our colleagues to share some thoughts on why they protested, what it meant to them, what they experienced, and what it was like to protest in the time of COVID.
Janet Murguía, President and CEO
I went to the protests because Black Lives Matter and because “tu lucha es mi lucha.”
In other words, despite concerns about COVID-19, I felt both a sense of outrage and a sense of responsibility to march and to participate. The stunt by President Trump to clear out peaceful demonstrators and stand in front of St. John’s Church was revolting. Standing in solidarity with the Black community is so important right now.
I did not feel unsafe. Virtually everyone was wearing a mask. And most inspiring to me was the tremendous diversity of the marchers both in terms of demographics and age. I’ve been to a lot of marches in my life but this really feels different. As others have said, this is “just not a moment, but a movement.” And to have Black Lives Matter Plaza just steps from our office is so meaningful for me, our staff, and our entire UnidosUS familia. It illustrates what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote to César Chávez at the heights of the civil rights movement: “Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity.”
— Janet Murguía (@JMurguia_Unidos) June 6, 2020
Steven T. Lopez, Director of Health Policy
This is such a critical moment for our country. We all have an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the Black community and demand justice. While protesting isn’t the only way, it has been one of the ways I’ve chosen to do so, along with less public-facing efforts. At the end of the day, this isn’t just the Black community’s fight; it’s all of our fight.
The way in which the federal government unnecessarily militarized DC was especially memorable, and not for good reason. On a more positive note, the diversity of those who came out to protest was notable…Black, Brown, White, old and young, queer, families, the faith community.
From a values perspective, it was important for me to show up and be present. It came down to assessing risk and doing my best to minimize it. I followed public health guidelines and wore a mask, washed my hands or used sanitizer regularly, and to the extent possible exercised social distancing. I plan to get tested in the coming days, too.
It both reaffirms the important and necessary work we do to create a more just and equitable country and underscores the value of taking the long view. The outcomes that we’re seeing (and hopefully will continue to see on a broader scale) in terms of policy change, mindset shifts, etc., didn’t just happen. They’re a result of the consistent and persistent efforts of those who have been putting in the work for years, if not generations, in order to bring about change.
Selene Tituaña, Health Program Specialist
“No one is free until we are all free” is a quote that has been widely used these past couple of weeks and it has resonated well with me coming from an immigrant background. It reminds us that we need to focus and center the voices of those who are currently affected, Black lives, and that we need to come together in solidarity during these difficult times.
Joining the protests in DC, stepping into what is now the Black Lives Matter Plaza, and seeing many families and children, young as five or six, cheering, chanting, holding signs with messages about police brutality and the injustices disproportionally affecting our Black communities are some of the experiences I still ponder about. Our future generations deserve policy-level changes that dismantle the systemic racism we are currently facing in this country. We are demanding a better future for our children and a country that prioritizes Black lives equitably.
I was concerned to see these protests across the country were happening in the middle of a pandemic. However, I knew that whether I decide to go out to the streets or support from home, it was important for me to show up. So, I took my solidarity along with my cloth mask, protective eyewear, and sanitizer to Saturday protests in DC. Although it was difficult to practice physical distancing during the protests, I was happy to have been able to join hundreds of people during this important time.
To work at UnidosUS, a civil rights organization, means I am part of a greater force. We are working every day to amplify the voices of our communities and those who are systematically affected by racism.
Julienne Gage, Senior Web Content Manager, ProgressReport.co
I am a White, non-Latina journalist and anthropologist who has spent most of her adult life working for and with communities of color in the United States and abroad. As such, considering how to be an ally is an ongoing question. The weekend after George Floyd’s murder, I decided I would break with my pandemic-era home confinement, wear a mask, and be present at a protest in Fort Lauderdale. The event was peaceful and positive, and I was so glad to have a chance to show support and to dialogue with Black, Brown, and other White protesters about what my roles could be.
At the end of the protest, we were all walking back to our cars when something caused a mass of people to rush toward the parking garage, their faces grimacing in concern. We immediately heard several pops, and then tear gas was exploding all over the place. Suddenly, it was mayhem.
My car was parallel parked on the street, so I was able to get in it, and pull out. Protesters cleared the way for me just as a cloud of gas enveloped the block and rubber bullets were flying everywhere. Cop cars had blocked off the entire area where protesters were now trapped, but they waved me through. I was relieved but it made me think long and hard about my privilege.
What if I had been Black? Would they have been so accommodating or could it have turned out like what happened in Georgia, where police dragged two Black students at a protest from their car and tased them?
I would later discover from the press footage of the scene that it all started when a cop in the garage walked up and shoved a kneeling Black protester to the ground. Everyone had run toward that scene out of concern for that horrific police action. I would also learn that the first pop we all heard was a police foam pellet fracturing the skull of Black protester LaToya Ratlieff.
“It hurts. I don’t have a lot of words to describe it. I don’t really understand why this happens,” Ratlieff told The Miami Herald. “We’re here peacefully asking you not do this, not to be violent, and you meet us with violence?”
I wonder the same, and while it’s hard to get scene and the noises out of my head, I’m okay with sharing some of that trauma. I was there to bear witness to show solidarity, and to dialogue with diverse people in my community about next steps for lasting racial justice and reconciliation. That’s something I look forward to doing on my own and also as an UnidosUS employee.
Adali Hernandez, Corporate Relations Executive
It’s important to show up in solidarity, and lead with a role model mindset during these difficult times for our families, friends and colleagues. As a first-generation college student, I’ve seen the importance of activism and holding those in power accountable. Last week I marched in support for Black lives, justice for all Black communities, and police accountability. Our criminal justice system and legal system have a racist history and rarely sides with marginalized communities, specifically Black Americans. In 2020, it’s not enough to not be racist, we must actively work to be anti-racist in our everyday lives, work and actions to confront the racial inequalities and defend Black life.
I experienced a sense of unity that transcended age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and social class. The protests I attended were inclusive of Black trans lives and very peaceful. Volunteers were handling out water, food, and other supplies to keep people nourished.
I’m very proud to be working at UnidosUS during these historic times. The organization has stepped up in defense of Black lives. Internally, I greatly appreciate the space they created for these conversations to take place.
Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist
Last week I felt unsettled. Sad. Discouraged. Negative. Angry.
Between one tear and the next, I kept on clicking through websites, reading, learning, donating. I followed the news and kept on feeling the unrest en carne propia, and on Thursday, I couldn’t hold it any longer. Yes, I was showing up as an ally on social media and through monetary support, understanding and admitting that I will never understand, and working on my own awareness of the issues, but it didn’t feel enough. I told my girlfriend: “I want to go,” and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we were there, not on the front lines, not leading chants, but as two more bodies showing up for our Black brothers and sisters, supporting the fight for social justice.
We marched to the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday, where we took the knee. We drove through a 16th Street full of allies cheering and clapping on the sidewalks on Friday, where we heard a Black man shouting “Thank you” as he saw all the support from all these strangers coming together for the same cause. We joined other protesters at the end of 16th Street, in the newly named “Black Lives Matter Plaza NW,” every day, where the sight of signs with the known “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Their Names” was accompanied by “Tu lucha es mi lucha,” “Asians for Black Lives,” “Palestinians are with you,” “White coats for Black Lives,” and “Vets for Black Lives,” among many others.
The kindness, the care, the shared hurt and anger, eased that feeling of restlessness and gave space to hope. Just as the work we are doing at UnidosUS is providing a sense of purpose to continue creating a more just world. Let’s stay in these brother and sisterhoods until we overcome the chant: “No Justice. No Peace.”
Vanessa Hanson, Social Media Manager
I felt that I had to protest. COVID was the only reason I wasn’t out there every day and I think the only reason the protests weren’t bigger than they already were. It was very meaningful being there among so many that felt the same way I did, that putting our health risk was necessary to elevate this important issue. It’s been going on far too long and it’s up to us to put a stop to it.
There was a moment where we all stopped in the middle of the march and knelt for a moment of silence. When we stood, it briefly rained, but the sun shone brighter. When I told my mom about this, she said, “that was God.”
Any other time, I would’ve brought my one-year-old, Noah, with me. Given COVID, that just wasn’t an option, so my husband and I dropped him off at my mom’s. She was not thrilled that we were going because of COVID but also her thinking we could get hurt or arrested. I told her that we were protesting so that Noah won’t have to. We were diligent about keeping our masks on, even though it was so hot and very tempting to remove. We also wore long sleeves and pants and used hand sanitizer often. People were also good about generally keeping a distance, not six feet, but there was no bumping or shoving and while there were many moments when we all could have hugged or held hands, we didn’t.
I couldn’t be prouder to work at UnidosUS right now. It’s an important time for our community and while all this is happening and in moments where I feel helpless, I am reminded that through my work, I am making a difference.