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It’s been rough

Joyce at a Black Lives Matter protest near the White House, holds a sign reading, "The Problem Is the Misuse of Power Not the Color of My Skin"
Jun 3, 2020
4 minute read

Maybe like you, the last three months of COVID-19 have been incredibly hard to wrap my mind around. Maybe unlike you, it's for a different reason. I am biracial. My father is Black, and my mother is Navajo. I, a Black Man as well as a Navajo man, represent two communities that are enduring the continual systemic oppression that white supremacy has forged upon the backs of communities I am forever a part of. It's been a lot to take in. 

Recently, the Navajo Nation surpassed New York state as having the highest infection rate in the country. This is heartbreaking as I have family who lives in the Navajo Nation. My mother was born and raised there, as was her mother and her mother before her. We've seen the devastation that COVID-19 has unleashed on the Navajo Nation also pummel the Black community. Black folks are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white folks. Access to and the quality of healthcare for Black communities are woefully inadequate as compared to white communities. It's clear that the fruits of centuries-old systems of racial oppression are in full bloom, and the country continues to take bite after wicked bite.

If that wasn't enough, we have witnessed the senseless and horrific deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. And the story of Christian Cooper, a black man who had the police called on him because he asked a white woman to leash her dog, highlights the awareness and savviness that white folks use when they weaponize calling the police on black people. This incident and the murders (two of which were from police brutality) of Ahmaud, Breonna, and George have shaken me to the core and rekindled past experiences where I was profiled, discriminated against, and marginalized as a Black Man and a Navajo man, both personally and professionally. So yes, it has been a long three months for me, but it's been an even longer 400 years for the country. 

While these feelings and thoughts I have been grappling with are incredibly tough, my determination and focus as it pertains to my role as Community Engagement and Equity Manager at NTEN have been galvanized. This work is vital to the success of not only the nonprofit sector but to the overall success of society. 

To my fellow people of color in the NTEN community: I am here. I have also endured the methods of systemic oppression you have endured while at work and in life. I have been tokenized, I have been passed over for promotions in favor of white colleagues, I have had to be the only Black voice in a room full of white folks, I have been subjected to performative anti-racism commitments, and I have been played against other colleagues of color to maintain the "status quo," among other countless methods of institutionalized racism. It is horrible, and the anxiety and stress that comes with it are immeasurable. I want you to know that I am doing my part in dismantling these systems in all its forms for all of us. To be clear, I am certainly not asking you to do the same. Your existence is an act of protest against white supremacy, and I thank you for breathing beautiful breaths of black and brown life into the world. But I am extending my hand to you if you need validation, support, or ways to identify and dismantle white supremacy in your world. I am here.

To my white community members (specifically those who have C-suite roles): don't wait for an invitation from a black or brown person to start this work of dismantling racist structures. You don't have to wait until you have a black or brown employee or friend to start caring. Start now. Educate yourself, listen, and don't rely on people of color to do the work for you. Being "not racist" isn't good enough. You must be anti-racist and call others out when they propagate institutionalized racism (and yes, that includes calling yourself out). And repeat after me: Black Lives Matter.

So yes, it has been a rough few months. However, I'm emboldened and steadied by a Navajo saying: T'áá hwó' ají t' éego (It's up to you). 

Tristan Penn

Tristan Penn

he/him/his

Senior Manager of Equity and Accountability, NTEN

I'm originally from Central Kansas and am a citizen of the Navajo Nation. I've worked in nonprofits for the past 16 years, primarily Boys & Girls Clubs and youth development organizations. I'm passionate about nonprofit community engagement, organizational best practices, youth development, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I began my professional DEI work with Pacific Educational Group's three-year cohort/professional development initiative "Beyond Diversity: Courageous Conversations" while working for the Boys & Girls Club and Lawrence Public School in 2009. Coupled with my lived experience as a Black and Navajo professional, I have served on previous organizations' equity teams and been a facilitator for DEI (rooted in racial equity) in the workplace and nonprofit programming.

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