Statement for Racial Justice

prepared by MRWC Executive Director, Holly Purpura

 

Dear friends of the Marys River,

 

Over the past months, we, the staff and board of the Marys River Watershed Council, have been following the national and local news about racial justice, police reform, and the white supremacy. We think of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. We think about the countless others whose lives have been stolen from them, whose stories were not told or heard, and who were victims of the centuries of practices and intentional policy making that have reinforced systemic racism in our country, in our community. We think about what must happen to move us forward.

Although I am now the Executive Director of MRWC, I grew up in poverty in the heart of the rust-belt of northern West Virginia, and I have been fortunate to have had access to countless opportunities that led me to where I am today. I grew up in a beautiful area with ample green space and unrestricted access to nature. I had scholarships that allowed me to go to college. I had the privilege of being white. 

I wonder how different my life would be if I did not have these countless privileges that were never afforded to those who have lost their lives or have been impacted by centuries of systematic, institutionalized racism. 

We are all a part of, and knowingly participate in, a system that rewards white people more readily than Black people and people of color. Until we, the privileged, start accepting and addressing this truth, we are complicit. 

We recognize that racism in this country is more than police brutality. We recognize the health inequities, educational disparities, and environmental injustices perpetrated against Blacks and persons of color for hundreds of years in the United States. 

We know that the violence and disparities are not due to a few acts or decisions made by a few bad apples. They are systemic and systematic. They are intentional. 

Black and Indigenous communities have been targeted since before the founding of the United States and they have been fighting for their rights ever since. It is time for all of us to step up, demand, and enact change.

We know that there is so much work to do. We know the responsibility lies with each of us. At the dinner table, in the boardroom, at school, and online. We are here to listen, to learn, and to take action. We will likely make mistakes along the way, but we are ready to listen and to grow. 

Starting three years back, Marys River Watershed Council began a journey to better understand the health inequities, educational disparities, and environmental injustices perpetrated against persons of color, including residents of our watershed, for hundreds of years. Kathleen and I at the Council were privileged to attend a 3-part training over seven days held by the Center for Diversity in the Environment in 2019, which was eye-opening to the privileges that we have had and the work that needs to be done. We also have been fortunate to participate in an organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion assessment as part of the Confluence group led by Capacity Building Partnerships, where we are working to build a DEI roadmap to continue this work. In 2019, we further integrated diversity, equity, and inclusion into our work by incorporating DEI into MRWC’s Strategic Plan, our work, and our employee work plans as measurable milestones. 

But this alone is not enough. We are committed to this work for the long-haul, and we are committed to the following:

  • We will use our communication means to help amplify the voices of those leading the charge of this movement. 
  • We need to listen. We have set up an avenue for our communities to anonymously share their suggestions and concerns directly with MRWC leadership.
  • We will hold a training for all board and staff in conjunction with the Confluence group as part of the diversity, equity, and inclusion process. 
  • We will continue our 2020 organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion assessment with the Capacity Building Partnerships, taking a comprehensive look at our policies and making changes where recommended.
  • We will create a diversity statement to be published on our website and materials that affirms our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
  • We will continue to evaluate our community outreach and board recruitment processes to ensure that they are welcoming to all. 
  • We will schedule regular meetings between staff and the DEI Team to ensure shared responsibility of implementing the strategic plan. 
  • We will support the work of other organizations and individuals in our community that are also fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community in order to find out how we can support them.

This movement needs to include all of us. We encourage you to join us in this journey and to continue this momentum with these actionable steps: 

Let’s use this momentum for change to shift from implicit to explicit support for our communities of color. Let’s ensure that we put in the effort, do the hard work, and have the difficult conversations that address systemic racism and break down the barriers that have oppressed and suppressed Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in our country for too long. 

Nothing we have done so far is enough. We can do more. We promise to do more.

 

With solidarity,

Holly Purpura