‘My work feeds my spirit and helps me feel that life is worth living on those days when it looks pretty gruesome out there.’
“I founded ERASE Racism in 2001 after being hired by the Long Island Community Foundation to develop a project to address racism rather than its symptoms. I was excited to have the freedom to design what I thought was needed: an initiative focused on identifying and addressing institutional and structural racism.
“Twenty years later, we still focus on the policies and practices that end up producing racial inequities, especially in housing and education. We start with discrimination in housing, which leads to school segregation. On housing, we’ve done research that has led to changes in local laws, and we’ve worked with other groups across New York to increase statewide protections, such as a ban on discrimination against people using legal non-wage sources of income to pay for housing. As another example, seven fair housing bills that we championed have been signed by the governor. We’ve also been working with public schools to increase racial equity, providing professional development about how racism has shaped Long Island and helping educators and students deal with this knowledge. In founding ERASE Racism, I knew that this would be the culmination of my work, and that it would be a big challenge.
I think of legendary civil rights leaders like John Lewis, who was near death and kept working on racial justice, and I tell myself, ‘Whatever tiredness you feel, whatever frustration you have, get over it.’
“Fortunately, generous donors have sustained us for 20 years. Our work has been an education for me, too, as I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of how racism has been embedded in America. It’s very easy to get pessimistic, to say, ‘This is not changing today or next week, and it might not even change in your lifetime.’ But I know that there are people who have been deeply changed because of what we do, and that helps keep me going. My work feeds my spirit and helps me feel that life is worth living on those days when it looks pretty gruesome out there. I’m a person of faith, and that is very important to me.
“I draw, too, on history, including the recognition of all that my parents had to endure and the fact that they still found joy in life. I think of legendary civil rights leaders like John Lewis, who was near death and kept working on racial justice, and I tell myself, ‘Whatever tiredness you feel, whatever frustration you have, get over it.’”