An Open Letter to the Balance Autism Community….
At Balance Autism we value diversity. We appreciate that our organization consists of people of many backgrounds and experiences. We work to create an environment where all can feel welcome.
The events of the past few weeks have shown that this country has a long way to go to address racism. We express our condolences to the pain that many in the community are experiencing. The recent events including the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis have triggered many painful experiences for those in our communities.
We join with you in exploring how we can be better citizens. How we can work to unite the diverse populations that make our communities and our teams at Balance Autism better? Here are some of my thoughts:
But I don’t understand
Some of us don’t understand because we have lived with privilege. Saying “I don’t understand” is the first step. My mind is open to studying the issues and is open to different experiences and new opportunities.
But I’ve made mistakes in the past
I may be reluctant to speak out because I’m afraid of making a mistake. We have all made mistakes. We have made remarks in the past that we regret or failed to speak out when we witnessed racism and inappropriate acts by others. That was then. I can speak out today because I have learned from those experiences.
I was supportive but they lost me when they started looting
Remember that those who have tried peaceful acts of protest have been criticized and these conditions persist. Mollie Mitchell suggests instead of saying “it’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed but destroying property has to stop.” Try saying “It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but the killing of black men has to stop.”
But I’m not a racist, I don’t see color
Structural racism is pervasive in our society that is indisputable. We should closely examine our actions to address racism. Angela Davis said, “It’s not enough to be non-racist we must be antiracist.” We have an obligation to find ways to speak and act differently.
What can I do?
1. We are called upon to explore systemic challenges to our organization. There is a difference between individuals who are racist and structural racism. Both require our attention. How are we reaching people who are different? Does our team/board/client list represent people of different ages, cultural experiences, ethnicities, sexual orientation, political affiliation, faith or ability level? Diversity benefits us all. If our teams fail to represent the broader communities, we must rethink our recruitment strategies, marketing efforts, training programs, hiring procedures, admissions and development efforts.
2. Do our vendors, subcontractors or other allied professionals demonstrate their commitment to diversity? Consider our bank, insurance company, grocery store or other allied businesses. Do they reflect the diversity you would like to see?
3. Do we equally offer grace? When an error is committed there are consequences. There are also opportunities to correct these errors. Do we respond the same for members of all groups?
4. How are we reviewing trends in reporting by others? The officer charged with the murder of George Floyd had 18 complaints filed against him in 2 years of service with the Minneapolis police department. Only two written notices were in his official file. We have an obligation to take all allegations seriously.
5. How are we preparing our teams to support dangerous behaviors? We support people with autism who rarely but sometimes act in a manner that require physical supports to prevent injury to self or others. How do we teach and under what conditions is it appropriate for us to place hands on someone else? Many of us use nationally recognized instruction programs that include physical holds. How do we prepare people before this training can be offered or to ensure these strategies are used properly?
6. There may be some individuals drawn to our work for the same reasons some are drawn to law enforcement – to take advantage of power over others. Fortunately, this represents a very small minority, but we have an obligation to those we serve to protect them from placing these individuals within our community living homes, clinics and schools.
7. Tribalism is exploding. We identify like-minded people and we follow them on social media. The news we follow is curated and unique to our taste. Our political allegiances are deeply ingrained. We must actively pursue information diversity.
People of color are not waiting for me to offer some affirmation they are “good enough.” They are waiting for our society to acknowledge and address racism. They are waiting for those of us with privilege to take action and address disparity. They are waiting for us to listen and learn.
We are learning, we may not get everything right, but we are prepared to listen and learn and change. We must be prepared to learn from each other and take action. I hope you are willing to join me.
Steve Muller, CEO