As a black man in Oregon, Harry Hawkins cannot relax in the community.
That’s one of the things he executive vice president of Nehemiah: Center for Urban Leadership and Development told about 60 people at the monthly Oregon Area Progressives meeting Friday, Dec. 6 at the Firefly Coffeehouse.
It was part of a presentation he called, “Naming and addressing racism in the community.”
He gave personal anecdotes of why he drives 15 minutes to a Madison on the weekends, rather than work at a coffee shop close to his home. Recently, he was stopped by a stranger questioning what he was doing, while he was exercising early in the morning.
Every day, Hawkins works to transform the Madison community and bring equity to people of color while creating strong white allies.
Nehemiah’s vision is to engage the greater Madison community to empower African Americans to bring hope, transformation and justice, according to the website. The organization has three branches: Justified Anger, Nehemiah and a Reentry Conference and each of those branches has several programs to address opportunities gaps such as community education, family wellness, youth education, youth leadership and economic development.
In October, Justified Anger received a $1 million Community Impact Grant to address health disparities in Madison’s communities of color.
Hawkins, presented six strategies in which he said individuals can start to “name and address” racism in Oregon. People need to accept it, question it, own it, learn, give and do.
Some of the strategies seem obvious, such as learning about the systemic racism that exists in this state and giving to organizations whose missions are to increase equity.
Others are not so obvious. Hawkins said white people need to own the burden of their ancestors rather than shy away from the history.
“It is not shocking to me that a white person has racist tendencies,” he said. “What is shocking to me is when a white person admits they have racist tendencies.”
The “do” strategy is about educating others about what happens in the community.
“I need white people, to help fix white people,” Hawkins said with a laugh.
He said he does not feel confronting a white person about their racist tendencies would be productive. It could be, however, if a white person were to explain to a colleague or neighbor about a microaggression they witness.
Hawkins wove personal anecdotes into his presentation as he told stories of being targeted in Oregon for his race.
He also explained that if white people attend the presentation or educate themselves about the long history of racism in the country, it does not mean they understand the oppression of different racial groups.
Don’t go up to a black person after this presentation and say you understand them, he said.
For information on the Oregon Area Progressive Open Mic night visit oregonareaprogressives.org.
For information on Nehemiah: Center for Urban Leadership and Development visit nehemiah.org.