Champion for Change

The month of September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Organizers chose this time period because it reflects the independence days for many Latin American countries, including Mexico’s famous Grito de Dolores on September 16. First recognized by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 as a week of recognition, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month in 1988. People of Hispanic or Latinx heritage represented approximately 38% of Texas’ population in the 2010 census, but that population is “expected to become the largest population group in Texas as soon as 2022.” 

Achieving Together’s Guiding Principles

Despite representing some of the oldest Texas’ residents, the Latinx population in Texas faces many barriers to equity, including access to affordable housing, healthcare, and education. Not only do the guiding principles of the Achieving Together Plan implore us to action in addressing these issues, the plan lays out a guide for addressing many of these barriers in order to successfully end the HIV epidemic in Texas. The plan stipulates that “addressing mental health, substance use disorders, criminal justice, and housing is essential to creating supportive and stable environments in which people can achieve their health and wellness goals.” In addition, the plan recognizes that “Community-guided planning and data that is inclusive of all population groups will support programs and interventions that are culturally appropriate and will help people find the right pathway to meet their health and wellness goals.” Only by recognizing our history and working together to create a shared vision of the future can we successfully end the HIV epidemic in Texas. Join us!

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Texas HIV Syndicate member Elias Diaz, from Eagle Pass, penned the following essay on his reflections as a community organizer and health advocate for his community.


Champion for Change
By Elias Diaz

I’m a mental health care provider, a public health advocate, and a community organizer. Going into politics wasn’t in the plan. Truth be told… I hate politics. I don’t identify as a politician. I’m not sure I ever will. 

Even after a victory, I raise up my head with pride, but can’t help but to feel the effects this battle had on my body. There were a million reasons not to do this, but I’ve never been one to back down from a fight. 

My fight is long and sordid. It’s never been for a political position, but rather to reclaim the power for my people.  It’s tears and it’s bloodshed. It’s swords and it’s stones. It’s conquest and colonization. It’s passion incarnate. 

My fight is like my language. The Nahuatl words hidden in my Spanish. The Spanish clinging to my English sentences. My English decorated with my accent. It’s the sound I’ve given to the little brown boy that lives inside me… the one that learned silence as his primary language in order to survive. It’s the same language that the voiceless child speaks inside the detention centers. It’s the silent song of the early martyrs of the HIV pandemic.

My fight is the unruliness in my hair. It’s rebellion against systems of oppression. The ones that limit opportunities for housing, promote mass incarcerations, and prevent our people from healing. 

My fight is like the pigment in my skin demanding visibility. Visibility for the most marginalized populations. It’s the need of the LGBQ youth to be seen by their families and their communities.  It’s power in presence; a changed gender marker. It’s resilience personified.

My fight is calloused hands and feet. It’s the long journey that my grandparents took to get to this journey. It’s crossing deserts, walking through canyons, and climbing sierras. It’s mental illness and it’s substance abuse. It’s wondering where to go next, wanting to stop, and knowing you have to keep moving. 

My fight is like the strength in my back. The same strength that powers the worker in the fields. It carries the burden of income inequality, lack of access to healthcare, and inequities in education. It is the resilience of the cactus that causes it to thrive in the harshest of environments. 

My fight is the fullness in my lips. They swell and burst with truth. It’s my unapologetic sexuality. It’s the dignity of the sex worker. The vibrant color of the desert flower.  

My fight is like my food. It’s spicy. It’s poignant. It’s full of boldness and flavor. It’s unrepentant. It demands preparation by looking at our past. It fosters collaboration across systems. It promises a seat the table for all. 

My fight is my religion. It is the sacred dance of my ancestors. It is irreverence in the face of fear. My fight is the confession of classism, colorism, and machismo. My fight is resurrection and evolvement time and time again. My fight is building sanctuary across our systems of care. 

My fight is my tradition. It has deep memories of rape and pillage, stolen land, and forced assimilation. It is hope and it is freedom.  

My fight is the greatest of revolutions. It is recognizing and honoring the fight in you. It is empowerment and it is truth. My fight is a battle cry for a heartbroken community. My fight is a call to action to those that have been broken by these systems to rise up and dismantle them. My fight is a charge against our way of doing things. My fight is a plea for you to rise up and be the champion for change that we have continuously prayed for. 


Elias Diaz made history in Eagle Pass after becoming the first openly LGBTQ candidate to get elected to public office in his area. His hard-fought election came after an eight-month long campaign that included a runoff election, postponement of the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and multiple personal attacks. Although Eagle Pass is registered as a blue city, the region is home to many residents whom Diaz says identify with “traditional conservative values.”

Diaz has been a longtime champion of marginalized communities. He has overcome a multitude of barriers including economic disadvantage, childhood domestic violence, and sexual abuse, and used his experiences to fight for social justice and equality for others. Diaz put himself through college in LA by starring in adult films. Pictures and videos of his sex work circulated on the internet during his campaign and were used against him in an attempt to demoralize him and question his ability to lead. Diaz remained transparent about his past and used the attacks to connect to inspire voters in his community to rise up against injustice and inequality. In the end, he beat his opponent by 517 votes, according to Eagle Pass Business Journal.

Immigration & HIV

According to the American Immigration Council, “one in six Texas residents is an immigrant, while another one in six residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.”

Until 2010, federal immigration law prevented people living with HIV from entering the U.S. However, “effective January 4, 2010, HIV is no longer a bar to entry into the United States for visitation or immigration purposes. This means that HIV status alone cannot be a reason for excluding, removing, or deporting a person from the United States.” 

Barack Obama signs the Ryan White HIV/Aids Treatment Extension Act at the White House, 2009.
Photo courtesy of: Gerald Herbert/AP

How do we support our fellow Texans living with HIV who might also be navigating the often confusing and fear-inducing immigration system?

Let’s first clear up a few acronyms you might have heard or seen.

INS: Immigration and Naturalization Service: formed during the Great Depression and oversaw immigration processes and enforcement until 2003 with the passage of the Homeland Security Act which created the USCIS (see below); no longer exists.

USCIS: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services: agency created in 2003 with the passage of the Homeland Security Act under the Department of Homeland Security; oversees both ICE and CBP (see below).

ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement: created in 2003 under the umbrella of USCIS and is tasked with enforcing immigration laws throughout the United States.

CBP: Customs and Border Patrol (aka Border Patrol): created in 2003 under the umbrella of USCIS and is tasked with enforcing immigration laws at and near the U.S. border and is responsible for patrolling the border areas of the United States. You may have had to stop at one of their checkpoints near the border to show proof of citizenship, or have seen their green and white vehicles patrolling near the border.

Achieving Together sat down recently with Stephanie Taylor, JD, an immigration lawyer with Hansen & Taylor, PLLC in Austin, Texas, to help us understand the concept of the “public charge” and how we can best provide HIV services and resources to our immigrant patients and consumers here in Texas. To better understand Public Charge, see the box after the interview.

Current Public Charge Rules and People Living with HIV

While the public charge does not currently affect federal HIV funding, there have been rumors and reports that it could in the future and that the current administration would like to include Ryan White into programs affected by the public charge determination. Can you please inform us where the public charge rules currently stand, what the future of those rules looks like, and how they might affect immigrants relying on federally-funded programs for healthcare, particularly Ryan White and other programs for people living with HIV?

The new 2019 Department of Homeland Security public charge rule was suspended during the declared national emergency related to COVID-19.  However, on August 12, 2020, this suspension was limited to New York, Connecticut and Vermont.  The rule applies everywhere else in the United States.  A timeline of the rule and litigation can be found here: https://www.ilrc.org/public-charge-timeline.

When determining whether or not someone is likely to be a “public charge” the new rule looks at whether the individual receives certain means-tested benefits.  The use of state, local and tribal funded non-cash programs and Ryan White programs (including the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP) are not included in the rule and do not count towards someone being determined a public charge. Receiving public benefits does not automatically make an individual a public charge.  Therefore, there is no need to disenroll in services for most people who are subject to the public charge.

The new rule emphasizes consideration of negative factors in a person’s life circumstances when evaluating whether they are likely to become a public charge in the future. The new rule encourages immigration officers to consider age and ability to work, health conditions, income, ability to speak English, and whether or not the person has private health insurance.

Immigration Enforcement and HIV Service Providers

A lot of people working in the HIV field have concerns about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) showing up at their clinics and/or offices. What should a clinic/non-profit/agency do should ICE show up? What are the rights of staff, and what is the best way to keep their clients safe?

The best thing that individuals and organizations can do to protect themselves against ICE is to be informed of their rights, including the right to remain silent and not identify themselves, and the right to not consent to search. The Immigrant Defense Project has excellent Know-Your-Rights materials and posters in many languages that can be found here: https://www.immigrantdefenseproject.org/ice-home-and-community-arrests/

We recommend that agencies print out these posters in multiple languages and hang them in waiting rooms, and disperse them freely to community members.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) has an excellent toolkit available online in English and Spanish: https://www.ilrc.org/public-charge

COVID-19 and Immigration

How might COVID-19 affect someone’s immigration status if they are undocumented and show up for healthcare? What are their rights and what ideally should people know ahead of time before presenting at a hospital/clinic if they are worried about their immigration status?

From ILRC: “All noncitizens should get the care they need. USCIS announced that testing, treatment, and preventive care (including a vaccine if one becomes available) for COVID-19 will not be considered in the public charge test. These services will have no negative impact, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits (e.g., Medicaid). These services also will not impact noncitizens seeking an extension of stay or change of status. (See https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/publiccharge). Additionally, if a person subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility lives and works in a jurisdiction where disease prevention methods such as social distancing or quarantine are in place, or where the person’s employer, school, or university shuts down operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they may submit a statement with their application for adjustment of status to explain how such methods or policies have affected the factors USCIS must consider in a public charge inadmissibility determination.”

Finally, Stephanie states that our LGBTQ noncitizen community members are often the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.  Encouraging them to get screened for immigration relief by a private lawyer or immigration non-profit is important. One of the six focus areas of Achieving Together Texas is to create supportive environments, part of which involves addressing the barriers to HIV prevention, care, and treatment created by the fear of deportation and by the inadequate services offered in immigration detention centers.

We have heard from HIV providers and community members across Texas that fears related to immigration and deportation have affected people accessing HIV prevention and care.  The information in this post provides some guidance to help organizations and individuals navigate through these issues.  What challenges have you experienced as community members and organizations?  Have you developed practices and solutions to continue to support and serve your communities while dealing with challenges related to immigration policies?

Public Charge
 
A question that often comes up when thinking about immigration and HIV services is the concept of the public charge. “Public charge is the language used by the government to describe someone who they think will become dependent on government assistance for their primary source of support to live in the U.S. Immigration officials apply a public charge rule to help decide whether to approve an application for a green card (i.e. legal permanent residence or LPR status) or when deciding who they will allow to enter into the U.S.” According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, in general, public charge is defined as someone who receives one or more public benefits for more than 12 months (total) within a 36-month period. 
In order for someone to be eligible for a visa or lawful permanent residency, they have to show they are “admissible” under US immigration law.  There are lots of different ways someone can be “inadmissible” and therefore ineligible.  For example, if you’ve been convicted of certain crimes, entered the US without lawful status, or have been deported, you would be inadmissible under each of those different sections of the law.  In addition to these examples, someone who “at the time of application for admission…is likely at any time to become a public charge” is “inadmissible.” This is often referred to as the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility.
The grounds of inadmissibility that apply to an individual depend on the type of visa and/or how they are getting their lawful permanent residency.  For example, the public charge rule does not apply to those applying for status based on being a crime victim (U Visa) or a trafficking victim (T Visa).  The public charge rule also does not apply to asylees or refugees.  Additionally, someone who already has their green card generally does not have to worry about the public charge ground of inadmissibility, except in limited circumstances. This law mainly impacts those seeking permanent resident status through family member petitions.
Someone who is undocumented should only worry about the public charge ground of inadmissibility if they have a way to get legal status.  A consultation with an immigration attorney can help you determine whether or not you need to worry about the public charge. 
For example, Natalie entered the United States when she was 4 years old.  When she was 18, she was deported.  She returned to the United States without a visa three years later.  She is now married to a US citizen.  Natalie is HIV positive and wants to apply for free treatment through Travis County.  Natalie is subject to several different grounds of inadmissibility.  The least of her worries in this scenario is the public charge ground. She is probably not eligible for a visa or lawful permanent residence for many different reasons that have nothing to do with public charge. Natalie should talk to an immigration attorney before she makes any decisions that could affect her access to healthcare.
To learn more about the history of the public charge: Read The History Of ‘Public Charge’ Requirements In U.S. Immigration Law

Stephanie Rodriguez Taylor is originally from Brownsville, Texas, and obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Brownsville. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Stephanie received the Julius Glickman Fellowship in Public Interest Law which initially funded her work on criminal-immigration issues at American Gateways (formerly the Political Asylum Project of Austin). She is now in private practice in Austin, Texas at Hansen & Taylor, PLLC, a law firm dedicated to providing immigration legal services for working people and families in Central Texas. The firm operates on a sliding scale to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality legal services, regardless of their income.

You’re An Activist, Too!

By Ian Haddock, Houston

Wow! Over a year ago, I had the privilege of submitting a piece to Achieving Together about our project, “Outcry the Docu-Series”. It is now streaming on Amazon’s Prime Video along with the mini-documentary and we are thrilled. Even with all of that, I never expected The Normal Anomaly Initiative to be in the place in which we are today.

It took me a long time to figure out how the work that I was passionate about fit into this work in public health, specifically ending the HIV epidemic. Many of my colleagues were leading the movement as researchers on innovative ways to take PrEP, working for national philanthropic organizations, creating behavioral interventions and working for pharmaceutical companies. I, myself, just wanted to create programming and tell people’s stories. Without any clear plan at the beginning, over the last 5 years, that’s what we’ve done.

Since then, people have begun calling me an activist; I never considered myself an activist. Approximately 8 years ago, I was at the most difficult time of my life following my mother’s passing. I found myself in group counseling for grief followed by seeing a therapist since then. I found that my vulnerability and story was important to create the world that I desired for myself.  Through initiating this healing with myself and following my own path of passion and purpose, I ended up just being a part of a reflection of what healing is in our community. The people who have joined us on this journey have triumphed through their process of healing and now we create programs and curriculum to facilitate other’s journeys for the communities we intersect. It is still a wonder that I am around such visionaries and power.

In August 2019, The Normal Anomaly Initiative was accepted into our first shared learning experience with the Gilead Compass Initiative with a 4-month course in Healing Justice while also being in a cohort for cultivating our organizational infrastructure. This created a space for us to really decide how to not just create projects but pay special attention to what we had to offer to end the HIV epidemic. Since then, we have been taking leadership development training, harm reduction training, enrolled one of our members in Project LEAP, and focused on developing curricula such as cultural humility trainings for faith-based organizations and marketing and branding trainings for emerging Black queer leaders in the South to meet the needs of the communities we are a part of.

Additionally, we have begun to bring some innovative methods that we created based on evidence-based work from advocates across the state. For example, years ago we worked with one of the fearless leaders of Positive Women’s Network, Ms. Venita Ray, on some cultural humility trainings for providers and have now transformed that training into cultural humility trainings for faith-based organizations called “Outcry the Community Project.” We also mixed our healing justice and harm reduction lens and helped to create the Transgender Ally Collective in Houston; this collective is committed to actionable items that will work to protect the lives of transgender people with a current focus on Black transwomen.

With the help of funding sources that are open to our grassroots methods, we are able to make impact that moved from hundreds of thousands of impressions on digital media to hundreds of thousands of in-person impressions in our city over the next few weeks with our billboard in Houston’s 5th Ward.

I love talking about the journey of our grassroots organization, but not just out of pride; it is with the intent to reach each and every community member that desires to do the work to end the HIV epidemic. Many times, we have such a strict focus on those in public health that we miss the people who are doing their part in this work in the community at-large; this work is evident even in the most non-specific spaces. Over the years working in this field, I have found myself working with club owners and promoters and never really understanding the impact that those relationships have on lowering the risk of transmission of HIV; however, these gatekeepers are integral parts of the movement to end the epidemic. For marginalized communities, we have historically had spaces in which we went to escape from the world; for Black people, for instance, it has been the church. For Black queer people, many times, it is the club or a bar. This place of escape translates to one of the places that community shows up both the most vulnerable and the most wholly themselves. For this reason, they are a necessary aspect of outreach, mobilization and community. I also come from a community of sex workers where our conversations helped us figure out how to negotiate sexual encounters even before we knew the proper terminology. Titan Capri, one of the leaders of our programs, teaches people how to talk through their issues through a podcast; additionally, Kimberly Thomas, one of our other leaders, does the work through styling where she builds self-esteem and confidence. Many of our transwomen do the work by simply choosing to step over the threshold of their door every morning into a society that often doesn’t understand their lives and experiences.

From sending people to the Capitol to advocate for better policies to work on OnlyFans advocating sex positivity and accepting responsibility for their own bodies with PrEP, we salute the work that must be done in all spheres to make statements. Long before we had any idea on how to go about erecting a billboard, we were using our small DSLR camera to create impact; we didn’t recognize it then, but we were a part of changing the narrative of what this work looks like. The answer to ending the HIV epidemic will be found at the grassroots level when we recognize that everyone—no matter what they bring to the table—is and can be a part of ending this epidemic; this means you’re an activist, too—even if no one has ever told you and you’ve never worked in public health.

Ending Racism

How to Change the World in One Generation

Note from Achieving Together: Today we are bringing you this special piece by Justin Michael Williams. This post is shared with permission from the author. You can read the original here.

Almost every piece of work or literature that I’ve read on racism is built on one assumption: that it cannot end.

Or at best, that it will be a “lifelong fight.” That ending racism will be something that “will probably never happen in our generation.”

Most of the quotes you hear about the fight against racism sound something like this:

“We used to say that ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.”
~ John Lewis, late civil rights leader and former U.S. Representative

But, if we all continue to say, “racism is something that can never end in our generation.” Then who the hell ever gets to take responsibility for ending it?

Enter: us.

We still have a dream. But we are the vessel for the dreams our ancestors were unable to dream.  

The current work and research on anti-racism is phenomenal, and so is the tireless work that has been done by our ancestors for generations. But much of this work has one fatal flaw—it’s created from the automatic assumption (whether subconscious or conscious) that racism is unlikely to ever end. And if that’s our starting point, —if that’s the plateau from which we’re writing our books, creating our podcasts, and doing our activism and anti-racism work—then we’re missing a big opportunity here.

I’m not saying becoming an anti-racist or dismantling white supremacy isn’t important work. The current anti-racist and equality work has real impact—it’s saving lives. It’s creating systemic change. It’s bringing us together. And that matters—tremendously. I’m also not minimizing the centuries of incredible work done by civil rights leaders like John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Patrisse Cullors, and the countless names we’ll never know. Without them, we would never have the opportunity to even consider ending racism.

What I am saying is this: Imagine how much more important our work becomes if it were done in a different context. If it were done not just as some sort of bootcamp “to be in a lifelong fight,” but with a common, united goal of actually ending racism in this generation.

Here’s what fighting against something looks like:

Here’s what moving toward something looks like:

Congressman John Lewis was right. Our generation does have the opportunity to do something incredible. We have the opportunity to end racism. And to do it within this generation.  

Notice what comes up for you when I say, “end racism.”

Notice what you feel when we put a timeline on it.

Hopeful?
Skeptical?
Cynical?

Are you thinking to yourself, “Who does this guy think he is?” Are you wishing I would define race and racism? Hoping for a plan?

Good. That’s all part of our pathway forward.

But before we can begin to look at how to end racism—both systemic and internalized—I think it’s important that we understand what makes racism persist. Because once you’ve been stuck in a condition—once you’ve been working on the same recurring problem over and over to no end—it becomes important to shift the question from, “What is the problem?” to, “Why does the problem continue to persist in the first place?”

And in part, racism persists because of these five shared, yet individual assumptions:

  1. Racism is unavoidable.
  2. Race matters.
  3. “Those people” will never change.
  4. Real change takes a long time.
  5. We don’t know how to end it.

What do I mean by “shared, yet individual assumptions”?

Before we can even get into breaking down any concepts about ending racism, we have to first explore what I mean by “shared, yet individual assumptions.” We must own and acknowledge that we, as individuals and as a collective, see things through a certain lens, or perspective. And if enough people agree on a certain perspective, then that perspective becomes our collective reality and belief. And I’m not talking about the woo-woo “law of attraction” stuff here (even though I love that stuff), I’m talking about perception and belief in the most tangible way.

For example, throughout much of ancient history, it was widely believed that the Earth was flat. People literally thought if they travelled far enough, they might fall off the edge of the Earth into an abyss of nothingness. Ancient civilizations from Greece and Egypt to Asia all believed this to be true, so they created a reality based upon that belief. We see it depicted in art, stories, religion, and ultimately, their shared beliefs about the world.

Now, I know you might be thinking, “We’ve evolved beyond that sort of foolery,” but let’s look at another untrue, yet harmless shared perspective that we all maintain today: our belief that the sun “sets.”

There’s a shared perspective that the sun sets, but the sun doesn’t really set. Think about it. Would the sun appear to set from the perspective of an astronaut who is far away from the Earth’s orbit? No. The Earth would be turning on its axis as it circles around the sun.

But from our shared perspective here on the planet, there’s an agreed-upon belief that the sun sets. On the foundation of this belief we’ve created our reality, the structure of our lives, and our world.

This leads me to an important point: Our world is created upon shared beliefs, even if those beliefs aren’t necessarily true.

So, to end racism, we must first own and acknowledge that we, as individuals and as a collective, see things through a sometimes-faulty lens. And if enough people choose to see through the same faulty lens (for example: Black people should be slaves, women are inferior), then that chosen perspective becomes the context through which we live our lives. In essence, if enough people share the same socially perceived illusions, those illusions cause a certain “way of life” to persist.  

Now, with that in mind, let’s dismantle the five faulty perspectives that might be causing racism to persist.

#1 Racism is unavoidable

Here’s the thing: It’s been proven by neuroscientists and psychologists that racism is learned—it’s not some automatic human condition that we’re born with. It’s not something that “just happens” as a result of putting a bunch of diverse people on a planet together. And I’m not sharing this with you as an idea or opinion. It is widely respected and proven by science that racism itself is not “a given.” It’s not unavoidable.

What is likely unavoidable, however, is the fact that we create what’s called “in-groups” and “out-groups” to keep ourselves safe. And terror management studies show that we have a tendency to treat people in our “in-group” more kindly and people in our “out group” more harshly. Yet, even with this scientific knowledge, the idea of using race as a way of defining our “in-group” and “out-group” is something we can eliminate—if we try.  

But we the people are funny creatures. When we can’t figure out a quick solution to something, most of us label it as “unavoidable.” Inevitable. Unfortunate, but unlikely to change.

Yet, the idea that racism is “unavoidable” would be like saying the Holocaust was “unavoidable” or that American slavery was “unavoidable” or that refusing the LGBTQIA+ community the right to marry was “unavoidable.”

There’s a real danger in saying something is unavoidable, because we immediately absolve ourselves of taking responsibility to change it. We throw our hands up in the air and say, “Welp, can’t do anything about that.”

Can’t do anything about slavery…
Can’t do anything about gay marriage…
Can’t do anything about the spread of HIV…
Can’t do anything about women’s rights…

Can’t do anything about racism…

Until somebody does. 

#2 Race matters

I’m going to say something that’s sometimes hard for people to face, especially for my fellow people of color: Race is a complete fabrication of the human mind that’s used for power and control. It’s a social construct. A delusion. An imaginary truth (or alternative fact, if you will) that we’ve all continued to build our lives and civilizations upon.

“There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race—scientifically, anthropologically.”
~ Toni Morrison, novelist and professor

Now, I want to be very clear here: I don’t want for you to think for one second that I’m saying the effects of racism aren’t real. The trauma, the deaths, the lives lost, and the impact of racism—and the persistent collective belief in the idea of “race”—has had very real consequences. It has created wars, dismantled countries, pitted religions against one another, and taken innocent Black and Brown lives for generations. Racism has caused incredible harm and trauma, which cannot be minimized.

I’m also not suggesting we put our cultures, values, and traditions into a Vitamix to make some vegan “we are all one” race-less smoothie. We don’t need to give up our culture, values, and traditions or become one big “melting pot” in order to end racism.

No.

What we have the opportunity to do is far greater than that.

So, while this can be triggering or hard to stomach: The concept of race is literally IMAGINARY. Someone created it to gain and maintain power and control. And now we use it to control ourselves.

Race is not real.

Heritage is real.
Culture is real.
Tradition is real.
Appropriation is real.

Skin color is real.
Trauma is real.

But race—not real.

Or… it’s as real as we make it.

For comparison, and to understand this more clearly, let’s consider the concept of gender. While sex is a biological fact of nature (we are born with different anatomy), gender is a cultural/historical interpretation. Gender is not a fact.

Skin color is a biological fact. Race is a cultural/historical interpretation.

Race is not a fact.

The thing is, I don’t think most of us actually care that much about race. Sure, we care about our traditions, cultures, ancestors, customs, languages, and especially our foods and religious landmarks—but race? REALLY?

Take a moment to think about it. If you could keep all of your traditions, customs, and practices, and the beauty of who we all are as differentiated unique humans with our own rituals and historical contexts; if you could continue assembling with like-minded individuals and celebrating your values and diversity; if you could keep all that and be treated equally with the humanity and dignity that is your birthright… how important would the individual concept of “race” be? What’s it for? What’s its function?

I gotta give it to the person who came up with the concept of “race” as a means to enforce power and control, because if their mission was to separate us—well, it worked. 

Racism created race, not the other way around.

We were taught to care about race, so we did.Now, here we are—all of us—holding onto this “thing” that we don’t even really care about, but that’s causing us harm and pain and war and genocide and trauma over and over and over, and then saying…

“Even though we don’t care about this…
Even though it’s not real…
Even though it’s causing us harm…
It’s unlikely to ever end.”

Why?

#3 “Those people” will never change

There is a commonly held belief that “those people” will never change, yet all throughout life, we can point to and tell stories of people who have changed. And not just “people out there,” but people in your life and family line.

I think about my buddy Greg, a white guy who grew up in Tennessee with a bunch of racist friends and family members who believed “Black people were stupid and lazy.” He said, “I used to believe that if Black people were making 20% less than whites, it’s because Black people must be working 20% less hard or weren’t as smart or capable… that something must be wrong with them genetically. Especially because I had always thought everyone had the same equal access to opportunity.”

Greg went on to say, “If I hadn’t dramatically fucked up my life… if I would’ve still been working in finance, with a house on a lake and a bunch of ‘toys’ like many of the people I grew up with, I would probably still be a white supremacist with a Confederate flag hanging from my truck.”

But that’s not the Greg I know. The Greg I know went through a massive change 15 years ago. And the reason we met was because I gave a talk at his company about ending racism and he came up to me afterward asking for resources to help his 5-year-old son grow up on the right side of history. Greg is committed to making sure his young white son doesn’t grow up racist—and even though Greg is doing his own anti-racist work, he was afraid he wasn’t equipped to teach his son properly. (I referred him to Layla Saad’s upcoming youth book and A Kids Book about Racism by Jelani Memory.)

Greg, a man who used to be a racist white supremacist, is now someone who cares deeply about social justice. And the change didn’t happen when he was 12. It happened when he was 35.

We all know a Greg. They’re not rare. Point to your once-racist family members, your formerly tone-deaf coworkers, your used-to-be homophobic relatives, and the ways in which you’ve personally grown over the years.

People change all the time.

Racists are not exempt.  

So, to me, the question becomes: What causes people to change?

Is it always for selfish reasons?
For financial gain?
Does it take a personal relationship?
A direct experience?
Do they need to “fuck up their life” like Greg did?

Fine. Instead of arguing over what are the “right” and “wrong” reasons for change, let’s use them to our advantage and create a model for racial healing where those conditions can be met, and met quickly.

#4 Real change takes a long time

Okay, so let’s assume we’re in agreement here. But even if we all agree racism is avoidable, that we don’t really care about the concept of race, and that people can change, ending racism in our generation is still unrealistic, because real change takes a long time. Right?

You already know what’s coming…

But before I say it, let’s look at some of the most massive changes in recent human history. The “start” and “end” dates below represent unmistakable widespread shifts. Keep in mind, a generation is typically considered to be 20-25 years.

  • (1973) The first phone call made on a handheld cellular phone → (1995) Widespread global use of mobile phones = 22 years
  • (1991) Creation of the World Wide Web → (2001) Total widespread use of the internet = 10 years
  • (1981) First documented case of HIV in the U.S.→ (1995) Ability to detect, treat, and live with HIV = 14 years
  • (2004) First U.S. state legalizes same-sex marriage → (2015) National legalization of same-sex marriage = 11 year
  • (1831) First knowledge of slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad and the start of abolitionism → (1865) End of the Civil War = 34 years
  • (1903) Wright brothers take first flight → (1920) Widespread commercial airline travel begins = 17 years
  • (1929) Start of the Great Depression → (1945) End of the Great Depression = 16 years
  • (1933) Hitler’s first position of leadership and the formation of the Nazi Party → (1945) End of the Holocaust = 12 years
  • (1957) First satellite launched into space → (1969) Man lands on the moon = 12 years

So, I ask the question again: Does real change take a “long time”?

No.

In almost all of these cases, it took less than one generation (20-25 years) to make widespread global change.

Does every change in human history fall into this timeline? Of course not. Were there years of unrewarded labor that came before the cited “start” dates. Absolutely. My intention is not to minimize the generations of work that have come before us, but to help you notice that once the ground has been prepared—which it is now—real change can happen. And it can happen fast.

So, let’s clean that smudge off of our dirty lens of perception and move on to the final point.

#5 We don’t know how to end it

If we knew how to end racism, we would’ve already ended it…right?

(…do I even need to say it?)

The assumption that we “don’t know” how to end racism assumes there are no solutions. But that’s not true.

There are plenty of not just good, but excellent solutions for ending racism that were created by researchers, anti-racist scholars, universities, and entire college campuses dedicated to the cause. For generations, people have created models, systems, structures, and written The New York Times bestselling books—any of which could easily solve this problem. And not just hypothetically—there’s proof: We’ve seen the problem solved in micro but significant ways all throughout time—in our organizations, communities, and families.  

We aren’t waiting for “better solutions”—just like we weren’t waiting for “better solutions” to end slavery and we didn’t need “better solutions” to end the Holocaust.

As a society, as individuals, and as a collective—we needed to be willing and ready.

And the same thing stands today.

We need to be willing and ready for our solutions to work.

“Are we so bound to our pain that we are not ready for liberation?”
~ Nico Cary, writer and mindfulness teacher

Ending racism

So… if none of these things are causing racism to persist:

  1. If “Racism is unavoidable” is an inaccurate perspective, and
  2. “Race matters” is an inaccurate perspective, and
  3. “’Those people’ will never change” is an inaccurate perspective, and
  4. “Real change takes a long time” is an inaccurate perspective, and
  5. “We don’t know how to end it” is an inaccurate perspective…  

…then what do we need to do to get racism to end? 

Well, the same thing you do to get racism to persist—you change the shared perspective.

The purpose of this article was not to give you better solutions to end racism or a step-by-step plan on how to do it, it was to get you to consider that ending racism in this generation may not just be possible, but realistic—if we’re willing and ready.  

One of my dear mentors, Jim Selman, always says, “There are lots of conversations ‘about’ change, but that’s different than conversations that actually change something.”

The key to any major shift in the world has always been the same: getting enough people to not just believe a cause “matters,” but to believe that change is possible. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of London discovered in a 2018 study that it takes the support of just 25% of people to make a major social shift in the world.

You might be thinking, “Well, aren’t there already 25% of people who believe racism can end in this generation?”

I don’t think so.

I think more than 25% of people want racism to end.
I think more than 25% of people believe racism is wrong.
I think more than 25% of people think the fight against racism matters.

But I don’t think 25% of people have actually considered that they could be personally responsible for ending racism in this generation. I don’t think 25% of people think it can start with us. And it’s time to change that.

Our call now is simple—it’s to get people to believe.

We can’t fight to “end police brutality” just for the sake of “ending police brutality,” we need to fight against police brutality for the sake of ending racism. We shouldn’t be “dismantling white supremacy” just for the sake of “creating more diversity in the workplace” or “becoming nice white people,” we need to dismantle white supremacy with the intention of ending racism.

We cannot continue to fight for the liberation of our people just to have them encaged again; we must continue to fight for the liberation of our people to end racism in this generation.

If we want to have a breakthrough in ending racism, then we need to realize that it’s not going to happen unless we agree on a timeline for ending it. Saying it’s going to end “someday” is not a commitment. But if we put a stake in the ground and say we are going to end it in our generation, possibilities open up. A new reality emerges.

Racism can end—and it can end in this generation—if we believe it can. Because if we believe it can, we shift the context of the world.

What do we do next?
The goal now is to get as many people as possible to consider that racism can and should end in this generation.

And like any meaningful change, we start by doing the work both internally and with our families, friends, colleagues, and communities. And ultimately, on a global scale—each of us spreading seeds of possibility to the corners of the earth that only we can reach.

You see, this is not about stopping the work that we’re already doing, this is about doing it with a new purpose, a new intention, a new meaning, and a realizable goal. This is about using every means available to us now and every means that becomes available to us in the future to move beyond resignation and fulfill our new, shared and individual perspective that racism can—and will—end in this generation.

Here are five ways that you can help right now:

  1. Sign the pledge. We’ve created a Pledge to End Racism with a goal of getting 25% of the population to sign it. If we get 1.9 billion people to sign the pledge, we have enough power to end racism not just in the U.S., but throughout the world.
  2. Donate. We launched the Ending Racism Grant & Scholarship Fund to support vetted individuals and grassroots organizations who have taken the Pledge to End Racism. Donate or apply here.
  3. Stream this song as much as you can. All proceeds go straight to our mission to end racism. 
  4. Show your support. Display the Pledge to End Racism graphic on your website, social media, or on the bumper of your car. Remember, this is about spreading an idea.
  5. Share. This article is a free resource. Copy it, paste it, post it, debate it, and share it in your newsletters. Do whatever you want with it—but do it with the goal of ending racism.

And when an opportunity arises for you to end racism, you will. I can’t tell you exactly what you will do, because I don’t know exactly what opportunity will arise for you next, but when it comes—you will know. And you’ll have a choice to either end racism, or not. And you will.

I leave you with this…

My sister Shelly Tygielski, founder of Pandemic of Love, once said something so dear to me that I want to pass it along to you. She said, “There are two types of people in this world. The what if’s and the why not’s… don’t be a what if. They are paralyzed in their analysis. Be a why not. Why not me? Why not now? Why not us? Why not believe… and then see what happens next?”

So, the next time someone says racism can’t end, lovingly reply with: Why not? Then, send them this article.

We the people… we still have a dream. It’s a new dream.

We are the vessel for the dreams our ancestors were unable to dream.

We are exactly who was meant to be alive at this time.

We are enough.

And we rise—together.


About the Author

Justin Michael Williams works at the intersection of music, mindfulness, and social justice. With his groundbreaking book, Stay Woke, and over a decade of teaching experience, Justin has become a pioneering voice for diversity and inclusion in wellness. Learn more at www.justinmichaelwilliams.com

El Paso: Strong Means Healing

August 3 marks the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting that occurred at an El Paso Walmart. During this tragic event, 23 people lost their lives and 23 others were injured. The shooting has been described as the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American history.

In response to the tragedy, El Paso Strong continues to connect community members to services to help them heal. The multi-media campaign encourages victims, families, first responders and the community at-large to seek support when coping with the psychological and emotional effects associated with the shooting.

Specially produced videos, such as the one below, feature local residents encouraging members of the community to reach out and seek help when they need it.

El Paso Strong – Strength Means Seeking Help from EHN on Vimeo.

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The events held in El Paso to commemorate the anniversary of the shooting are expected to focus on healing and kindness. Groundbreaking for the Healing Garden, a reflective memorial honoring the victims, took place on August 2. For “Act of Kindness Day” on August 3, people are invited to help overcome hate by doing a good deed for someone else. Participants are asked to wear white and use the social media hashtag #loveforelpaso and tag @elpasounitedfrc.

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Achieving Together is dedicated to social justice. In our quest to end the HIV epidemic in Texas, there is no room for the hateful and xenophobic rhetoric that motivated this tragic event. Horrific acts of violence such as this are likely “to incite fear in anyone, but especially in Hispanic communities on the border, who are facing additional forms of structural violence.” 

We want to recognize those who lost their lives or were impacted by the shooting and also honor the healing that has occurred during the past year. If we work together, we can dismantle oppressive systems and provide opportunities and freedoms so that people from all communities – including Black, Latino, and LGBTQ communities – can thrive and achieve optimal health and wellness. Will you join us?