I recently spent three days in St. Louis with 10 brilliant people from the Within Our Lifetime Network strategizing on how to end racism. While we had planned this gathering months in advance, we could not have predicted the juxtaposition of recent events with the purpose of our meeting.
On the night we arrived, a Baton Rouge policeman killed Alton Sterling. The following night, an officer in Falcon Heights, Minn., killed Philando Castile. On our final night, a sniper in Dallas killed officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith.
As we engaged in the head work of rapid-response protocols, intersectional-demonstration projects and root-cause analyses, our hearts felt heavy with or mission's urgency.
"How can people not speak against a culture that doesn't value life?" asked Ms. Lila Cabbil, director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute. "Silence equals violence."
Mama Lila's words transported me back 25 years, to a similar mantra—"Silence equals death." We used this mantra when we took to the streets to fight indifference and ignorance surrounding the AIDS epidemic.
As a newborn activist, I remember being consumed by anger and desperation. With peers dying around me, I felt desperate. By my 30th birthday, I had lost more than 100 friends to the epidemic.
The events in Baton Rouge, Dallas and Falcon Heights have now mainstreamed the epidemic of racism and violence. Can any reasonable individual in the United States deny its existence? The question now posed before you is: What will you do to end racism within our lifetime?
If you don't identify as a person of color, consider your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues of color. If you don't identify as black or brown— and I'm specifically addressing my Asian and Pacific Islander friends—please wake up! Regardless of one's background and social status, this epidemic touches everyone, and our lives are at risk.
Consider this. As a father of two young Latino men, I worry every day for their safety. Days after the Orlando shooting, while I was still freaked out, the police confronted my sons. At 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, they were in a local school parking lot, where Rafa was teaching Santi how to drive their 2005 Honda Civic stick shift. An elderly Asian man called 911, suspecting that they had stolen the car. Police arrived prepared for confrontation. While the situation resolved peacefully, my worst fears could have been realized. In just one ill-timed moment, both of my sons could have been taken from me. The urgency and desperation I felt in 1990 returned. Only this time, it was ten-fold.
If you know Rafa and Santi, or young people like them, the time for silence and inactivity is over. If you don't know where to start, I invite you to consider taking a three-pronged approach.
Take action with your head. Seek multiple perspectives, especially from those with whom you disagree. If you find yourselves judging or questioning the motives of "those people" (whether they are Muslims, people of color, immigrants or white supremacists), turn to wonder and ask, "I wonder what caused those people to feel that way?" Empower yourself with a wealth of knowledge to deepen your understanding of their stories. If you need some resources, please contact me.
Take action with your heart. Seek friends and family with whom you feel safe. Be generous with your affirmations and check-ins. And know that love heals. Van Jones said, "We need to get ourselves spiritually fit—meditate, seek counsel, get some help and healing to be the change we want to see in the world." This will only happen if we lead with our hearts. Acknowledging feelings as well as thoughts will allow the experience to sink in. Like many, if you are afraid to face the grief, sadness, despair, anger and even hate, you can do so in the company of friends. Together, we can face our own shadows with hope and love.
Take action with your gut. Do something. Gather your friends and family for a meal and discussion on this question: "What can we do to end racism in our lifetime?" Put a #blacklivesmatter or #withinourlifetime sign in your window or car to make a stand to end racism. Donate time and money to a local or national cause for racial healing and racial justice. Hug a stranger, especially if he or she is black or a cop.
Grace Lee Boggs wrote, "These are the times to grow our souls. ... Each of us needs to be awakened to a personal and compassionate recognition of the inseparable interconnection between our minds, hearts, and bodies—and between ourselves and all other selves. We need to stop being a passive observer of the suffering and start identifying with the sufferers."
Join me in this journey. Grow your soul. Open your heart. Claim the urgency of this moment. Only together, we can end racism within our lifetime.
Kevin Fong, who lives in San Francisco, is a nationally recognized and respected facilitator, trainer and speaker in leadership and executive development and organizational systems, philosophy and design.