By Hannah Esqueda
Image via Flickr
MERCED, Calif. — A local training on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement this week turned into an important examination of outreach practices among Merced’s community advocacy groups, drawing attention to what some advocates see as unequal representation among the city’s nonprofit leadership.
“I understand it’s difficult to have these types of earnest conversations, but if we’re not represented, we’re not represented and we’re not going to have any movement here,” said Eugene Drummond, community liaison with the Merced Police Department.
Drummond’s comments came as the discussion turned from how to build awareness for BLM issues locally, to addressing the low number of black leaders across the local nonprofit scene.
“Looking around this room, there are already a lot of gaps in outreach,” he said.
The BLM training was hosted by Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Merced and targeted towards community groups working with Merced-area youth. More than half a dozen organizations were represented at the event, which included presentations from the Bay Area’s Love Not Blood Campaign founder Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson and Fresno’s Reverend Dr. Floyd Harris of New Light for New Life Church of God.
Both men spoke on the history of the Black Lives Matter movement and gave advice on how local communities can work together to hold law enforcement accountable.
“To understand modern-day policing issues, you need to understand the history of police departments in this country. Their roots go all the way back to plantation owners hiring slave catchers,” Harris said.
“It all boils back to education. We have to spend more time educating our children about who they are and where they come from,” he continued.
Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant III who was shot and killed by BART Police in 2009, echoed a similar sentiment and said it’s important to help empower communities by sharing local stories.
“Black Lives Matter really started out as an unconscious revolution,” he said. “But it’s becoming more conscious and [Donald] Trump is helping people wake up to how dangerous it is to remain silent.”
Towards the end of the training the two also introduced ways local community groups can draw attention to systemic abuse of the black community. Among their top suggestions were to help organize and build up local black leadership, a topic that sparked some debate among local nonprofits in the audience.
“We talk about building healthy communities, but there’s not a single black employee at BHC Merced,” said Nailah Hubbard, executive assistant at the Boys & Girls Club of Merced County.
BHC currently lists four individuals as staff members for its Merced site, none of whom are black.
According to U.S. Census data, African-Americans comprise 6.3 percent of the City of Merced’s total population, and represent the third largest racial or ethnic minority group in the city.
“I know a lot of qualified people in our community and I have to ask myself why there are still not a lot of black leaders represented,” Hubbard continued.
Hubbard pointed to her own credentials and deep history of community work, and said she is surprised at how often similarly qualified individuals are passed over for positions among Merced’s nonprofit groups.
This lack of representation shows in how diversity issues are framed within the community, she said.
“At the start of this very talk someone introduced the topic by talking about Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter,” Hubbard said. “But there is no Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, they’re the same.”
“It should not have even been framed that way,” she continued.
Drummond agreed and said that for all the outreach work BHC Merced does within the community, the organization does not appear to have dedicated any specific resources for the African-American community.
“I’ve seen an outreach coordinator for the Southeast Asian population and Latino populations, but its four or five years into your initiative now and I’ve still never seen a black community liaison,” he said.
However, others present at the training pointed to what they perceived as a lack of willingness for some within the local black community to discuss such sensitive issues in professional settings.
Either way however, there is a clear imbalance of black leaders engaged with local youth, said Jesse Ornelas, community activist and project assistant with the Health Equity Project.
“These are some good points and it’s leading to an interesting place,” he said.
While the event wrapped up before a firm consensus on the issues could be reached between the various nonprofit groups, Johnson and Harris each encouraged BHC coordinators and participants to continue their internal examinations.
“Though it’s difficult to open up about these types of things, it is very important to hold ourselves accountable,” Johnson said. “I’d really encourage you all to keep moving forward with this.”