In the days following news of the senseless deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I shared a message of pain and resolve on behalf of our organization and everyone in our community who was grieving and angry. Now, as I sit to write this update, I do so with teary eyes and a knot in my stomach. During the past several months we have learned of more tragic shootings, and, in recent days, witnessed the horrific and violent assault on democracy at our Capitol. This week, our nation will inaugurate our next president and celebrate the life and legacy of one of our nation’s giants, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who put love into action in a manner that sparked genuine transformation and progress.
As we look forward, we remain steadfast in our pursuit of progress, inspired by and consistent with Dr. King’s example and actions embodying love, hope, service, and non-violence. I am proud to be part of an organization committed to progress and service, particularly in transforming how our nation addresses the disease of addiction. We have always known our chosen mission to be a difficult, uphill endeavor, but one we have undertaken without hesitation. Events of recent months have made our work even more challenging due to the piercing, yet necessary, reminder that any success in advancing public health solutions for addiction will be incomplete without commensurate progress in addressing racial disparities and ensuring solutions that are equitable, just, and inclusive of everyone. Commitment to racial justice and equity must be part of our work, too.
Since my last message, our community has taken initial, intentional steps to begin the process of assessing and building a foundation upon which we can: 1) strengthen our internal capacity to celebrate and promote diversity, racial equity, and inclusion within our organization; and 2) champion those principles externally in the way we serve Black, Indigenous, and all people of color through our programs, services, and policy work.
In June 2020, we convened an anti-racism task force of thirty individuals from our staff, reflecting a diverse cross-section of our organization, who have been meeting regularly to examine the issues before us and develop strategic recommendations. An important threshold recommendation was to provide anti-racism training for our entire organization, an initiative scheduled to begin next month. The first full set of recommendations outlined areas of focus and specific actions to be pursued and implemented in the months ahead. The recommendations, which have been prioritized and incorporated into our 2021 game plan, focus on bringing an anti-racism lens to our internal policies and practices (including hiring, board and leadership development, advancement, and bylaws) as well as our external programs, services and policy work (including alliance building, fundraising, and program content).
These are merely a few examples of many action steps we will need to be taking in the months and years ahead. As we strengthen our organization’s ability to be a positive force for change, many here have participated in very personal conversations about race and social justice. I am proud of my colleagues who have approached these discussions with a sense of humility and vulnerability and a strong desire to better understand and do what is right.
Personally, this has been a time for reflecting and resolving on what I can and need to be doing, as a white man in a privileged position. I have taken a step back to remind myself of the fundamental reason I chose this line of work in the first place – to ensure that all young people in our nation, regardless of their skin color, have every opportunity to succeed. In doing so, I have also had moments to revisit my own personal and professional experiences, as a white man, in seeing and more clearly understanding the consequences of racial and social injustices that exist in our nation’s systems of education, law enforcement, juvenile justice, housing, community development, and intercollegiate athletics, to name a few.
As Chief Executive Officer for this special organization, Partnership to End Addiction, I recognize that our struggle for progress continues in not only our systems of public health and criminal justice, but also many well-meaning institutions across our nation, including non-profit and social service organizations such as ours. Change is required on many levels and in many arenas throughout our society. In partnership with my similarly-inspired colleagues, I am committed to doing everything possible to be a positive agent of change, within our organization and across our society.
We look forward to sharing more updates and details on our progress in the months ahead.