Don’t Unsee. Do.

Points of Light values inclusivity, diversity and equality. We stand with people who are taking action for a more just and equitable world. We believe every action matters. We recognize that civic engagement takes many forms and is critical to advancing causes that improve society for everyone. Our President & CEO, Natalye Paquin, shares her […]

Crowd of protesters in an urban setting.
Photo credit: Max Bender

Points of Light values inclusivity, diversity and equality. We stand with people who are taking action for a more just and equitable world. We believe every action matters. We recognize that civic engagement takes many forms and is critical to advancing causes that improve society for everyone. Our President & CEO, Natalye Paquin, shares her reflections on the recent events taking place in the United States.

What do you say about witnessing an event so tragic, so graphic, one that is pierced in your memory, has shaken your soul and breaks your heart in a way that is very personal?

We can’t unsee the video of a human being dying in real time. We can’t unsee the profile of his face under the police vehicle, the look of indifference from the officers with their knees on his neck and body. We can’t unhear Mr. George Floyd begging to breathe, or the voices of bystanders in summer shorts and tees, yelling stop. All of this is happening in broad daylight, in a mid-size, Midwest city that reflects Americana.

Our brains have experienced trauma. We can’t unsee this horrific act of inhumanity.

What do you say about what you have seen, and can’t unsee?

George Floyd’s recorded death wasn’t the first or last bit of media that has traumatized us. But even today, it stands out as a landmark case in racial injustice.

I am a Black woman, a student of bussing in the 70’s, a mother of two young-adult sons, a life-long volunteer and now the leader of a global civic engagement organization. I am the product of a family of volunteers, community leaders and law enforcement that includes police officers, correctional facility guards and lawyers. Every version of me is hurting just like the rest of the country.

What do we say about this experience we all are continually sharing, with a new awakening of how often tragedies like this occur in communities of color more frequently than we have cared to admit?

There is a lot to say, and a lot that’s being said – another press conference, blog, tweet, op-ed, commercial, video, poster – that rings hollow. You may imagine a cartoon character with a bubble over its head saying, “blah, blah, blah.” The character is hypnotized by a sea of captivating words, strung melodically together, growing louder and forming a symphony of “blah.”

We can and should speak up and speak out. We must continue to use our voices, our platforms, our influence as beacons of light. There is a lot to be said, but much more to be done. And for every voice and word written there are multiple actions we can all take. We can all “Do!”

In August 2019, I wrote a blog “We are Better Than This Weekend.” It was about the tragic mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. It was reported that in Dayton, the governor’s remarks to the grieving were interrupted with chants of “Do something! Do something!”

Over the past few years, the protesters who have gathered in cities – large and small – throughout the United States have demonstrated their conviction of wanting change through their physical presence. This is the “something” they are “doing.”

The individuals seizing these moments to commit criminal behavior, hijack a legitimate cause, destroy property and communities and put others in harm’s way have ratcheted up the volatility for self-serving motives. Riots, fires and looting don’t serve anyone. They must be held accountable – they are wrong, their behavior abominable, and they are creating a distraction.

The scenarios playing out on our screens, in our news feeds, on our streets, in our personal and professional conversations are stirring us. Whether triggered by media scenes of wrongful death, the peaceful protests around our country or the outrageous riots, it feels like a seismic shift has occurred in our collective perspective. As a country, many of us recognize out loud that “we have a ‘big’ problem.”

But what is it? Is it racism, systemic racism, bias, cultural bias, police brutality, lack of accountability or something else? “It” may be all those things. What is “it” for you?

Whatever “it” is, you don’t have to live with “it.” You actually can solve “it,” remove “it” and create a new world with or without “it.” But first, we must name “it.”

So not to lose focus on what to “do” when a moment of clarity hits you, I share with you a concept that Points of Light introduced a few years ago called The Civic Circle. It captures the power of civic engagement and the many mechanisms used to move issues forward and solve social issues. Consider these elements your suite of superpowers to use as you lead and support causes you care about.

The Civic Circle helps individuals connect to opportunities and understand doing good comes in many forms; nonprofits prepare for the next wave of engagement by better focusing and communicating their impact; and businesses understand and address the expectations of consumers and employees to be socially responsible and civically engaged.

We can use our voices to advocate and amplify the messages and positions we support, talking about the important topics with our friends, family and networks.

We can vote for leaders who will help us address systemic issues and change them. Our vote, which is our voice in action, speaks loudly about how we envision the future, and reflects the agents for good we expect. As we see in this moment, local elections matter. Your mayor appoints your police chief, your governor works with your state’s attorney, who in some cases are elected or appointed.

We can buy products and services from companies and professionals taking an active role in building better communities today and for future generations.

We can volunteer in our neighborhoods to make our communities stronger, safer places. We have seen in this past week, volunteers making signs and peacefully demonstrating their anger with the status quo, as well as neighbors cleaning broken glass, graffiti and debris left behind from bad actors.

We can donate our money and things of value to people and organizations that are driving forward on issues we care about. Our financial support serves as fuel to accelerate the change and impact we wish to see.

We can start our own social impact businesses or commit to a year of service with an organization that reflects our values driving solutions forward.

At Points of Light, we are using our voice and amplifying the voice of others. In our daily work, we take action. We are convening our nonprofit partners of local affiliates throughout the country and around the world to develop specific plans on addressing the “it” in their communities. We are convening our corporate partners to listen, learn, help them lead and support their efforts in solving or resolving the “it” they name.

There are many messages that have resonated with me these past few years; “we are better than this”… “we are not okay”… and “this cannot be wished or prayed away.”

We imagine a world where no one is on the sidelines of change. There is a better way to live. The hate, darkness and injustice of this moment will cede to the greater forces of love, light and equality. Pushing through to the other side of darkness takes all of us acting on what we cannot unsee.

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