letter

Racial Trauma and Young People: A Commitment to Action

A letter from Dennis Vega, Interim CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, building on the previous statement: "Why We Can’t Stay Silent"

On May 25th, George Floyd died as a result of an egregious act of police brutality. In the two weeks since, communities around the country have risen up in outrage and in search of justice for Mr. Floyd, his family, and for the countless other Black lives that have been lost as a result of systems that were built on a foundation of oppression. I haven’t been able to find the right words of hope and encouragement for myself, much less anyone else, but I want to share where my head and heart are right now, and how we plan to more intentionally address the problem of systemic racism through our work with and for young people. 

It’s been hard to feel anything other than anger, sadness, and exhaustion, and I can’t help but question if we as leaders could have done more to prevent ending up here. As an organizational leader and a person of color, I feel disappointed in my own complacency and inaction.   

I’m proud that the members of our Alliance came together last week to make a statement and collectively take a stand. That statement is just the first step toward many additional actions we can—and must—take. Many organizations and individuals, several of whom are partners in this Alliance, have been paving the way to engage in meaningful conversation and change with regards to racial equity and social justice. Additionally, young people from across the nation have been leading the national conversation and are willing to contribute their ideas and action. It is up to all of us to listen and get to work. 

Our commitment to young people drives everything we do at America’s Promise Alliance, and in order to ensure our nation’s youth have the tools and the environments they need to thrive, we must explicitly acknowledge and address the institutional racism that infuses the systems with which young people interact every day. We support those who are addressing police brutality and social justice directly, and accept our responsibility as a youth-focused organization to incorporate anti-racist principles in all of the work we do with and for young people at America’s Promise Alliance.

We have a moment right now to sustain real change, and I, like many of you, do not want to go back to the status quo of talking about an “equity lens” without really changing how we do business. This is a call to action, for myself and for other leaders, to take the next step. 

Here are a few things I can commit to today:

  • Supporting change in our Alliance: We will work with Alliance partners and young people to develop a comprehensive plan with specific recommendations and commitments on how we, as organizations and an Alliance, can come together to improve our programs and core work to address systemic racism and hold ourselves accountable to those commitments. 
  • Listening to and engaging young people: We will intentionally seek out the voices and guidance of young black, indigenous, and people of color, amplify them so they do not go unheard, and work to cultivate more awareness and action among white youth.
  • Reflecting and adjusting internally: We will continue to prioritize diversity in hiring and leadership development while dedicating time for staff to engage in conversation and professional development around racial equity and social justice so we can more effectively execute our mission.

My hope is that in the coming weeks and months I can turn what I’m feeling now into determination and energy so that we can stand in solidarity, work together, and bolster each other’s courage to engage in meaningful conversation and action. We, as an Alliance and as individual organizations, have to make progress on systemic racism by making it an explicit goal of our work with and for young people. I hope you will join me in that commitment.

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Dennis Vega
Interim President & CEO
America's Promise Alliance