Introducing Tributaries

July 13, 2020

I have written and re-written this first paragraph too many times to count. This post was supposed to be the inaugural piece for Headwaters’ new project Tributaries, which aims to amplify what makes our leaders, movements, and futures so inspiring. Now that we’re living in a pandemic and an uprising, finding the right words to introduce this project seems inadequate and trite to me. So, what I have to say is this:

Stop killing Black people.

Stop murdering and kidnapping Indigenous women.

Stop exotifying Asian people.

Stop pathologizing trans and gender non-conforming people.

Stop villainizing Muslim people.

Stop infantilizing people with disabilities.

Stop caging Latinx people.

Stop scapegoating Jewish people.

Just stop.

And do your work. It is not enough to say that you are not racist. Doing your work means a constant vigilance and correction of your own racist beliefs and actions. Doing your work means being actively anti-racist—being brave enough to interrupt racism as it unfolds around you or within you. Doing your work means not asking Black and Brown people to teach you how to be better. It means doing your research. It means reading and listening. It means showing up and trying new things.

For non-Black people of color like myself, we are not off the hook. We have work to do, too. We must ask ourselves hard questions. How do we benefit from white supremacy and anti-Black racism? What is our role in perpetuating racism? How can we use our privilege to promote and live out anti-racist values?

Enter the phrase “anti-racist resources” in your web browser—I promise that you will find tools and organizations that can help you in your journey.

And challenge your assumptions. If you grew up in the United States—even if you did not—, you were likely socialized to generalize groups of people and to internalize a set of assumptions about their worth and humanity. Challenging your assumptions means you take the time to reflect and evaluate your world view and perceptions of people unlike you. If you are a non-Black person, it means that you check in with yourself when you roll up your windows when you drive through a historically Black neighborhood.

Challenging your assumptions is hard work. It requires a true reckoning with everything you were taught and everyone who influenced you. At Headwaters, we see our Giving Project participants do this hard work all the time. There is pain in delving into one’s family history, in seeing how one’s ancestors stole land, displaced communities, and owned other human beings. For non-Black people of color, it can be painful to realize all the ways that we benefit from the vilification of Black people throughout history. But there is also freedom in owning one’s privilege and figuring out how to leverage one’s power for racial justice. What we see in our Giving Project participants is not just a transformation in the individual—we witness the transformation of entire networks of people.

And learn about the history of racism in our state and our country. The history of the United States and of Minnesota is a violent one based off the dehumanization of Black people and Indigenous people, the commodification and disposability of their bodies, and the theft and destruction of the land, air, and water. If you haven’t yet, take the time to learn about how racism has impacted every system and institution that exists in our country—including law enforcement, health care, education, land and water management, real estate, and more. What you will learn is that the disparities that Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC) experience are not coincidental.

Our systems and institutions work just as they were designed. Law enforcement, for example, has its roots in slave catching. To maintain order and avoid an uprising on their properties, owners paid squads of people to patrol an area and capture and return their enslaved Black people.

The health care system also has a harmful history. Throughout the 1900s many Latina, Black, and Indigenous women were the victims of sterilization abuse. Physicians sterilized women while they were receiving abortion services or other health care. However, doctors were not acting alone. Both state and federal lawmakers sanctioned sterilization abuse by granting governments the right “to sterilize unwilling and unwitting people.”

And talk to your neighbors, family, and friends. Human beings are social creatures. Our kinships and friendships are important to us because that is where we hope to find love, camaraderie, validation, and safety. Many of us are afraid that we will alienate the most important people in our lives if we talk about racial justice. The truth is, though, that we will only be able to achieve collective liberation if we do our work in and with community.

BIPOC folks do not have the privilege of choosing when, where, and how to deal with racism. We live with it every day. Centuries of slavery and genocide live in our tissues. Our bodies and spirits are constantly vigilant of threats of violence. We teach our young people how to code switch, how to become invisible, and how to handle themselves should they ever encounter the police. We send our children out into the world every day equipped with a whole host of coping skills, but we know that will never be enough. We live with the fact that our children could do everything right and still end up dead.

And vote and hold your elected officials accountable. Racism threatens our democracy. If your elected officials are not working for racial justice, then they are not working for your community. Your vote matters—but voting is only one step.

Get educated. Visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website and look up who represents you at every level of government. Are your elected officials voting on issues that matter to you? If not, contact them to let them know what is important to you and your community.

Build relationships with your elected officials. Show up at the capital or city hall or the park board. Write letters and emails, make phone calls, and attend town hall meetings. Tell your legislator or city councilmember that you care about racial justice.

And join the movement for racial justice. The movement is more than tweets and posts. The movement is not a meme. The movement is a vast group of people who are working in an organized and aligned way for our collective liberation. The movement needs digital organizers; artists and storytellers; healers and clergy. The movement needs people to make food and supply runs, to help with safety and security, to give people a ride or a place to crash. The movement needs people who will stay on the frontlines, even after the dust has settled and the press has turned their attention to the next crisis. The movement needs you.

Everyone has a role. As Executive Director of Headwaters Foundation for Justice, my role is to organize donors and institutional funders by making bold and powerful invitations to show up for racial justice and to give. The role of my team is to move money with transparency and with community leadership.

What is your role? Maybe it is in the streets protesting. Maybe it is capturing the stories of the people most affected and amplifying their voices through journalism. Perhaps you are a data geek, like our friends at the Twin Cities Mutual Aid Project and have a knack for tracking and sharing important information. Whatever your talent is, the movement needs you to show up and share your strengths.

And be generous. Donate to organizations that are making a difference. Encourage your friends to join you. Grassroots organizations need financial support to create the kind of durable systemic change we all want. Giving is a powerful action you can take—no matter how small or how big your donation.

As a foundation, we have learned so much about giving. Organizations need money and they need it to be flexible. Give general operating support and don’t attach strings to your dollars. Trust goes both ways, so make sure you follow through on your commitments. Don’t miss meetings. Respond to emails, phone calls, and text messages. Most grassroots groups do not have large development departments, or even fundraising staff. The person who is asking you for a gift, entering the donation, and sending out the thank you note is likely the same person.

We can’t buy racial justice, but we can make sure that our dollars fuel the movement.

Like you, I am overwhelmed, angry, exhausted, and fed up. But I am also hopeful.

After George Floyd was murdered, I called a woman who is the Auntie to my friends and running group. I was distraught and lost. She reminded me that my people are resilient. She reminded me that my Indigenous and Latinx ancestors survived, and sometimes died, so that I could thrive. Auntie Roxanne told me that anger and fear have a place, but that the moment was calling on me to find what is good, kind, and beautiful in this world. She told me to pray and then to act.

By the time I hung up the phone, I felt calmer and clearer than I had in a long time. So, I prayed. I asked for guidance. I asked for help. I reminded myself of my gifts and talents and where I come from. I reached out to my team—Headwaters’ board and staff—and checked in.

When I sat down to write this piece, I was not sure what my final call to action would be. Everything I want to say has already been said by dozens of brilliant people. So, the invitation I am making is this:

Find a way for you to work through your fear and anger.

Meet your neighbors and create new relationships.

Check in with your people and remember who you are and where you come from.

Acknowledge your privilege and put it to work.

Do what is right and just.

Find what is good, kind, and beautiful in your community.
Maria De La Cruz