The nonchalant look on Derek Chauvin’s face as he suffocated George Floyd will be forever etched in my mind. As Floyd’s eyes closed for the last time, mine were opened to a new reality.
I was heartbroken as I watched the white officer’s calm facial expression that spoke of disrespect for Black life. I was angry. I felt sick—deep in the pit of my stomach—as I saw the other officers stand by and do nothing. Then a wave of realization washed over me. It was my awakening, my tipping point. For the first time in 49 years of life, I realized systemic racism is real.
It was a truth I was not willing to accept, despite being bullied as a child because my skin was too dark and, conversely, because my skin wasn’t dark enough. It’s not that I had never witnessed racism; I just wasn’t ready to acknowledge it on an institutional level.
One reason for my denial was my time spent in the U.S. Army. The military is all about unity. We’re in this together. We’re all one. As I worked alongside people of all colors and backgrounds, I never felt that anyone thought less of me because of my race.
Today, I look back and recognize situations where racism likely played a role. Eleven years ago, my then-19-year-old son told me he didn’t get hired by two different companies because he was Black. My response to him at the time was, “Don’t pull the race card.” Surely, he wasn’t hired because someone else was more qualified, I reasoned with him. I was naïve. My eyes are open wide now.
My heart aches for George Floyd’s family. Tragedies like his and so many others—Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin—are all too common in our nation.
After the latest killing of an unarmed black man, I knew I needed to talk to the CICOA staff. Before I did, though, I asked God to give me wisdom and vision. For CICOA to live up to its mission, we must acknowledge that racism is not a problem only for African Americans. Racism is everyone’s problem, because it erodes the very fabric of our society. I want to be part of the change, and I want CICOA to play a role in making our community more equitable and inclusive.
I want you to know—especially people of color—that we hear you. We join you in the fight against racial injustice, and we are committed to doing the work required to advance the health and well-being of all people.
I don’t have the answers, but I do know this: We have a lot of work to do, and it’s going to require all of us working together. We must use this tragedy as an opportunity to change the narrative and really do something unique and special that benefits all people. We are all part of the same beautiful world, and we should have the same opportunities.
Let’s work together to bring about real change for all. I can’t bear to see more expressions like the one that changed my life.•
Brown is president and CEO of CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions.