Supporting racial equity—in individual steps toward common goals


Earlier this month, I wrote about the killing of George Floyd and about the necessity for a response. While that post itself was one kind of a response, I know that hundreds of millions of other people, in communities all over the world, are responding in many other ways, too. It’s an extraordinary outpouring. It is a moment and a movement unlike any other in my lifetime.

I also said that an event such as this requires time to reflect, to understand, and to learn from each other. Something this important is worthy of our resources, and one of those resources is time. For that reason, OCLC dedicated Friday, 5 June 2020, for staff to take the day off and reflect, engage, be active, and support the African American community in a way that is in line with our values.

I’d like to share with you some of the very personal ways that OCLC team members are engaging.

Many individuals. Many ways to move forward.

So many of our staff have told me that they were glad for an “official” day to support causes of racial equity in their communities. I say “official,” because, of course, many of them were already very much engaged. But as I said, time is a resource. Where we put our intention and our time, that is where we will focus attention.

In giving our staff time to focus their attention, I learned that their efforts fell into some broad categories:

  • Direct action—attending local protest events in US states and countries where OCLC has offices
  • Donations—to organizations like BLM, national and local bail-out funds, communities against police brutality organizations, and others supporting racial equity
  • Online activism—including participation in online support and signing petitions or sending emails to political representatives
  • Ally education—for those who want to be better supporters
  • General education—on issues related to racism, police brutality, and the justice system

I was moved—and often informed!—by what I read and heard. So much so, that I’d like to share a small sample of what came back in our staff’s own words.

“Live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

  • painting2“I signed petitions, I made a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign for our front door, I purchased three new books on racial awareness from a local small business.”
  • “It’s just the beginning. There’s so much more to do. I am so grateful to OCLC for allowing this day, as I likely wouldn’t have spent the time otherwise.”
  • “I started reading Be the Bridge by LaTasha Morrison. She presents a factual account of how the history we’ve been taught in school is whitewashed. And she demonstrates real action that Christ-followers can take within the church to begin to make a difference in social justice for black people.”
  • “On Saturday, my daughter and I participated in two events in Dublin downtown. One was a student-led, peaceful protest march for Black Lives Matter. And the other was supporting the Dublin schoolteachers’ rally. This was my first time participating in events like this and it felt special to be supporting a community that has gone through so much of hate and discrimination, so much more than I will ever know/understand.”
  • “We motivated several friends to watch the movie Just Mercy to create awareness on the struggles of the African American community.”
  • “I reflected on a very frightening memory from when I was only five years old. I am 50 now and it still seems like it happened last week. One of the kids I played with down the street, called Kelly, had lived with his mom and dad. His mom was white and his dad was black. One night I was awakened by my mother upset by something happening down the street. In front of Kelly’s house was a wooden cross burning with people just standing around. A couple of days later Kelly informed me that his parents decided to move away. I never saw them again. The confusion and fear I felt that night never did leave me. Even to this day I still feel some of its effects. I can only imagine looking back at what his family must have felt.”
  • “I spent the day educating myself about the history of systemic racism… . A fabulous article in our local newspaper pointed me to a number of suggested readings, which I was able to borrow electronically from the library (how cool is that).”
  • “The book I am currently reading is called Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi, which provides a condensed but well-written account of the history of racism from the 1400s on. It has been a real eye-opener to read.”
  • sign2“On a long peaceful walk Sunday morning along the Rideau River, I came across a handful of beautifully painted stones calling out to remind everyone that we must not forget what has happened … it’s time to invest in real change.”
  • “It took me a minute to process what I was seeing and hearing. After the peaceful march, I realized that there are some true, genuine and passionate people who want to bring about a change. A man was holding a sign in front me that said it all: Love each other. Take action. Don’t be silent. ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools … MLK.’”
  • “I have been reading. I was brought up with the idea that color blindness is the best approach, pretending that race doesn’t exist. I learn that this confirms white privilege. I see how that is so and still don’t know how to address it without saying something wrong. So … lots to learn.”
  • “In the Netherlands there were several demonstrations against racism. One of them, in Amsterdam, was controversial because of the big crowd that gathered, without social distancing. I have listened to an interesting podcast, ‘Racism, what do we do against it?’ that talked about (hidden) racism in everyday life.”
  • “My kids and their roommates gathered here to make signs and watch American Son. We later protested. Our little town had an estimated 3,000 protesters… . We socially distanced the best we could. Almost everyone was wearing masks.”
  • “I think one of the best resources is the Netflix documentary 13th.”
  • “There was a segment on a podcast I listen to where they interviewed Baratunde Thurston. He’s been on the podcast many times and I always like his tone and sensibility. He discussed his TED talk, ‘How to Deconstruct Racism One Headline at a Time.’ It’s only 16 minutes and very powerful. Thanks for encouraging me to do something with this day.”
  • “I started reading an excellent book called The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein about how government housing policy and other federal, state, and local legislation helped create and promote segregation in specific locales and throughout the US.”

So many more I could share. And many others that were more personal and shared in confidence.

I believe that many more people are coming to understand this issue on a heartfelt and personal level. And while we are all still deeply angry and hurting over the killing of George Floyd, I’m glad to see more people taking steps toward learning and action.

Action leads to change when it happens at individual, organizational, and institutional levels. The individuals at OCLC are engaged. As an organization, we will create platforms for librarians to share their actions and will look internally at our own processes. We will educate our teams. We don’t have all of the answers but we will take time, listen to the community, and commit to focusing attention on the important role we play serving the library community. We will think critically and implement actions to advance racial equity.

We will not forget. We will continue to do more.