A message from the Department of Social and Health Services.
Like many of you, I watched with horror the video tapes of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, dying face down on the street at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota last week. To say I was shaken to my core is an understatement. Words cannot express the feelings that swept over me as I watched Mr. Floyd’s life slip away. I was and continue to be outraged.
This should not be normal. But, for millions of African Americans and other minorities, this is the normal they deal with day-in and day-out across our country. Being treated differently because of your race is tragically common place. Whether it’s jogging through a neighborhood in Georgia, selling cigarettes in New York City, bird watching in Central Park, simply sleeping in Louisville, or walking through a crosswalk in Seattle.
As a country, we have to do better. George Floyd should not have died the way he did. No one should. Tragically, we all know Mr. Floyd’s death is just one example of many we have seen over the years. This is not a new trend. It has been happening since Americans first came to this country. We should not treat our brothers and sisters this way. This is why people have flooded into the streets across the nation to express their emotion, trauma and anger.
Racism and institutional bias is all around us. We have to commit as a person, a department, and a nation to pursue equality in everything we do.
I know we are not perfect, but at DSHS, I’m proud of fact we have made great strides over the years to treat each other and our clients, patients, and residents with equality, grace, and justice. The heart of our mission is to care for those who are disadvantaged or who find themselves on the receiving end of one of the many forms of racism. For many, we are their last resort. We are there to help them pick themselves up, provide the care they need, and support their path of survival and resiliency.
Every day we see the injustice and indignity that has led many to our doorstep especially since the impacts of poverty disproportionately affect communities of color. Everything in our agency, whether obvious or not, is inherently informed by and influenced by structural racism and the history of white supremacy.
We must always work to make our workplaces safe, inclusive and fair for staff who identify as black, people of color and all minorities. We must actively choose to be an agency that elevates and promotes their voices and experiences. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s business critical to better understand and serve millions of Washingtonians. We must always be learning how racism and poverty intersect so that we can better understand the lives of the clients we serve.
We are also in this fight together with our sister agencies. I was inspired by the message Department of Health Secretary John Wiesman shared with our DOH partners yesterday. John calls upon his staff to listen, learn and respond with helpful action. I couldn’t agree more. We are in this work together, to do better, and to push forward progress as public employees.
I acknowledge it can be hard to talk about these topics. I’m a white woman of privilege and, even though I have my own life story, I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to worry about something as simple as getting in a car and driving to work. But we can all be leaders in this fight. As one leader shared over the weekend, the pain is too intense for one community to bear alone. We are a community of DSHS that stands united with our co-workers, clients, and brothers and sisters across the country in the fight for justice and equality. As another leader inspired us over the weekend, “We will not be complacent, we will not be silent, and we will not be complicit in continuing the cycle of inequality.”
For DSHS colleagues who identify as black and people of color, we stand with you. We cannot begin to imagine the weight you carry. Thank you for your service during this health pandemic and national tragedy.
As difficult as it can be to admit, I can never really know what it is like to live the life of a black man. I wanted to close by sharing a glimpse of what it might be like from the truth of a 12-year-old.
Mr. Floyd, you should not have died the way you did. You will be missed by many but not forgotten. I will never forget you.
As I look for ways to understand racism within our agency, I turn to many inspirational leaders and educators on the topic of racial and social injustice. Here are two Washington-based leaders I encourage you to explore:
Cheryl Strange / DSHS Secretary
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