Community leaders react to recent protests

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MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM – JUNE 03: Graffiti artist Akse spray paints a mural of George Floyd in Manchester’s northern quarter on June 03, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom. The death of an African-American man, George Floyd, while in the custody of Minneapolis police has sparked protests across the United States, as well as demonstrations of solidarity in many countries around the world. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Many community leaders and businesses have reacted to the recent protests across the country, condemning racism. You can find a list of leaders and their statements listed below.

OWENSBORO POLICE

Find the full statement from OPD here.

BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF OWENSBORO

“I join with civic and religious leaders across the United States to pray for peace and healing as our nation faces yet another crisis of racism, violence, and distrust.  Yet again we are appalled at the violent death of an unarmed Black man at the hands of police.  This has happened all too often in our land; a land that we declare is grounded in justice for all.

I extend my prayers and concern for the family and community of Mr. George Floyd and for the repose of his soul.  The violence that led to his death was filmed for all to see and sadly looks all too familiar.  As noted by Archbishop José H. Gomez, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Mr. Floyd’s death was “senseless and brutal.”

I implore all to heed the calls for an end to the violence that has followed this tragedy.  Peaceful demonstrators and protestors have a proper and positive place in our society. It is urgent that our communities’ leaders listen and commit themselves to concrete actions to right the injustices that racism breeds; the most noteworthy among these being violence toward people of color.

The violence in American cities in recent days is self-destructive and self-defeating.  No good can come from violence and destruction.

I add my voice to the voices of law enforcement professionals calling for justice. They are rightly ashamed and saddened by recent events.  I believe that the vast majority of police men and women desire to serve and protect, and are to be commended for their generous service.

Let us as communities and as a nation now listen to the cries of those burdened every day by the sinful effects of racism. Together we can still build a more just society that will assure life, liberty, and equality for all.”

Reverend William F. Medley

ARTS COUNCIL OF SOUTHWESTERN INDIANA

The Board of Directors of The Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana condemns racism and believes that Black Lives Matter. To this end, we are designating $10,000 a year from the Community Art Fund to underwrite increased programming and help amplify the voices of black artists, musicians, and performers in our community. This funding will be overseen by colleagues from the Evansville African American Museum, and all projects and programs developed will be free and open to the public in order to advance anti-racist dialogue and action within the arts and cultural community.

EVSC SUPERINTENDENT DAVID SMITH

Dear EVSC Families and our Evansville Community,
I am disheartened with the disregard for life we’ve witnessed once again in our country. I struggle with the lack of empathy displayed for one another and with my ongoing feelings of sadness, frustration, and powerlessness. So I turn to what gives me hope – our children.

As parents, we want all of our children to grow into happy, healthy, and productive citizens whose contributions make the world a better place. We do our best with what we have, and pray we can provide for them a life that is better than ours. As the EVSC superintendent, I want and expect no less for all of my EVSC children. Yet as superintendent, I know that not all children have equitable access to the opportunities that will enable them to live the life we desire for them – the life we all agree they deserve. And our children – amid the uncertainty and anxiety created by the pandemic – have also borne witness to the anxiety and tensions created by the man-made plague of injustice demonstrated by the killing of George Floyd – a national disgrace that has galvanized so many to demand change. 

We must move beyond caring about injustice only when it happens to us. We must understand that injustice to one is injustice for all, and injustice in any form weakens our entire community.  When my friend and colleague expresses fear for his own African-American son each time he leaves their home, it is not mine to question his fear – a fear I have never known. To deny that his fear exists is to deny his humanity. Institutional racism, injustice, and inequity exist. We can spend our precious time denying they exist, we can seek to blame others for what they have contributed to our current state, or we can invest in seeking solutions that bring about the type of community we would be proud to have all children inherit.

It is an honor to serve as the superintendent of the EVSC because we believe in the promise of every child – and we embrace every child as part of our core mission. We strive to end all forms of oppression by promoting educational equity. We are far from perfect, but we do have the courage to admit we must be better, and the will to continue to work with our community toward that end. This quote from Promise54 perfectly sums up our ultimate goal, “Equity is reached when we have removed the predictability of success or failure that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor.”

So today, let us commit to this generation of children – that they will not have to endure their children growing up in a community riddled with the same injustice and inequity they have endured.  Our children are watching, and they are watching us. I implore you to join us to ensure our children grow into healthy, happy, and productive citizens whose contributions alter the world for the better.  

Stay safe and well,

DR. DAVID B. SMITH
SUPERINTENDENT
EVANSVILLE VANDERBURGH SCHOOL CORPORATION

USI PRESIDENT, RONALD ROCHON

Dear Students, 
I write this very difficult letter with sincere love, confusion, anger and hurt. My heart is heavy, but it is not heavy with despair. 

My intent was to send you a note of encouragement, and to thank you for your continued trust and support of my effort to lead and serve USI as we negotiate COVID-19 – preparing our campus for a safe return for fall classes. 

Instead I, like you, along with my family, and our faculty and staff, have been glued to the national response to the killing of Mr. George Floyd, an unarmed African American man in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I will be perfectly honest with you, seeing him die under the knee of that police officer paralyzed me. My only thought at that very moment was simply: NO. Not Again!

I remember the sadness, exhaustion and anger I felt as I watched a fellow human being beg for relief from the officers just to consume oxygen, simply to survive. I remember my eyes welling up as I screamed at the television, Get off his neck! He can’t breathe! I remember calling across our home to my wife to phone our 22-year-old son. We needed to hear his voice at that very moment. I remember our 20-year-old daughter looking me in the eyes and asking, “Baba, are we safe?” as she sobbed in my arms. I remember wondering to myself, what do I tell her… this time?

I am not writing this today to make bold or blanket statements against institutionalized racism. I have none in me at the moment. I’m writing because I decided to stop pretending as if I’m “okay.” To stop pretending as if I can shoulder this pain, hurt and confusion alone as I manage and lead our University. 

I feel the need to express to you how tired I am, really tired, of seeing targeted violence against Black people within our nation. I am tired of the divisive lines drawn between race, privilege, identity and education. I am tired of learning of young Black people being pulled from cars by officers sworn to serve and protect, and hearing the media decry their treatment because they were “college students.” As if certain class categories justify or vilify societal wrongs.

I am tired of pretending, even with my wife, that I do not fear for our own son each time he leaves our home. I am tired of telling my children that We will get through this. I am tired of worrying about losing friendships or hurting the feelings of others who have not shared my experiences or the history of my race as I speak my truth. 

Your peers and friends, many international, who have remained at USI during this pandemic tell me they feel safe on our campus but are unsure if they will be when they step off of it. I see the innocence and hope in their faces as they seek assurances I cannot give. 

Being a university president, I have learned that some expect me to have all of the answers and be the face of calm under such violent circumstances. But how can I, or any of USI’s faculty and staff be anything other than sickened and outraged by blatant wrongs? 

My children, each of you and all the young people of every race and ethnicity within our community and beyond are the reason for my hope and optimism. You are the reason I serve our campus and our community with passion and purpose each and every day, and the reason our campus serves you*. You are also the reason I sleep restlessly each night, praying for YOUR safety-that you make decisions that lead to positive outcomes and remain safe. You are the reason I continue to smile during one of the most difficult and horrific weeks of my life, and why I will not surrender to despair. Students, you are the lifeline of our campus. It is your dreams, your presence, your innocence, even your naivety that motivates me to do more-motivates me to be better. It is my honor to be among you, and most importantly, to serve you. Thank you for being a significant part of my life!   

I will never give up on you, our students. I am asking you to keep negativity away from your space. It only turns into bitterness and mistrust of “the other.” Staying positive and creating solutions takes incredible effort. I challenge and encourage you to pursue your goals with the intentional effort to transform your community, the state, nation and our globe into a more compassionate, equitable and understanding place. Be the answer to difficulty through collaboration and through the building of relationships. There is nothing passive through this approach; this will be the hardest work you will ever encounter! 

As I pen this letter, I ache – as do many of you – for Mr. Floyd’s family and his community. We ache for our country. What we are facing within the United States and across the globe is complex and difficult. We are dealing with our most delicate resources – human emotion, history, future and human life. The most complex and imperfect gift we have all been given is to learn to live and breathe together.

PEACE AND COUNTED BLESSINGS

Ronald Rochon

YWCA

After days of protests against police brutality in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, here we are frustrated, angry, outraged and saddened. We know that racism has always been deeply embedded within the structures of this country. And the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery join a list that is too long.

YWCA Evansville stands in solidarity with the demands for justice and equity for the Black community. Together with over 200 YWCAs across the country, we call for dismantling systemic racism, an end to police brutality, and equal protection and opportunity under the law.

It is easy to feel hopeless right now. We see people in pain and we see people wanting to help. Many people are waking up to how systemic racism and violence are impacting people of color and don’t know how to use their voices to promote change. If you are new to the conversation, that is OK.

We invite you to take YWCA’s 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge and build your anti-racist foundation. We want to empower you to take action.  

Click here to find the 2020 YWCA 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge.

YMCA

Over the past week, the national conversation has moved from the pandemic crisis to racial inequalities that equally plague our community.

The YMCA of Southwestern Indiana is an organization for all and condemns racism and divisions in our community. Our mission is to respond to community needs; but that can only be achieved when we listen to and understand one another.

As we attempt to get back to “normal” from the pandemic, we must all acknowledge that the unfortunate truth is that what may be “normal” for vulnerable populations is racism, inequity, and fear. Already traumatized by a pandemic virus, we are also facing another long-standing silent plague. And the trauma is real. Children are asking their parents to make sense of this world and many can only look back and say, “I don’t know.”

We need to ensure that the next generation of children no longer have to live in a state of fear and inequity. At the Y, one of our areas of focus is Social Responsibility. We are on the front lines of the issue of equality. Every day our staff not only have the opportunity, but the duty, to help shape the hearts and minds of young children and youth in our care.

In EVERY program we run at the YMCA, we have the chance to create a learning opportunity for love of neighbor, equality, and conflict-with-civility. It’s not just basketball, swim team, camp, or youth & government; it’s an opportunity to teach and mentor. There isn’t a greater reminder of the need to speak truth into the hearts and minds of impressionable youth than now. But this isn’t new. What’s happening around us now is a reminder that vigilance is a never ending duty that we owe our neighbors and our children.

The Y’s core values of caring, honesty, respect, responsibility, and faith are elements that guide us during these challenging times and all the days ahead. We must remain optimistic. We must also be honest about this crisis and be willing to take positive steps forward.

We, the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana and its Board of Directors, commit ourselves to:

Have zero tolerance for racism and prejudice among our staff, members, program participants, and volunteers;

Encourage staff and members to speak up when they see something unjust happening;

Connect our communities in order to create greater harmony, understanding and interconnectedness;

Remain steadfast in our commitment to a culture that values diversity and inclusion;

Collaborate with our public officials, community leaders and partners to combat inequities locally for greater collective impact;

Increase our investment in social responsibility programming that supports youth and young leaders as they organize to change our community and the world for the better; and

Educate ourselves, across our Association, on what it truly means to be for all.

In the coming days, we will undoubtedly continue to experience the pain and sorrow of injustice and inequity. We must remain connected and dialogue about what we witness and experience. Remember that we are in this together, and we must extend grace to one another as we do so. We know that when we work as one, we move people and communities forward.

Johnathan Pope
President & CEO
YMCA of Southwestern Indiana

Brian Hancock
Board President
YMCA of Southwestern Indiana

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(This story was originally published on June 5, 2020)

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