A Message to the McClendon Center Community

From Dennis Hobb, Executive Director

George Floyd could have been one of McClendon Center’s clients.  If not a client, he would have been a brother, father, friend, or neighbor of someone we serve. There are no real degrees of separation between the people we serve and George Floyd.

When I saw the video footage of a white police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, I couldn’t believe this actually happened.  I couldn’t believe it because no one should have to believe it.  What could George Floyd have done that would cause four law enforcement officers to participate in killing him, a defenseless man?  Possibly using a fake $20 bill that he might not even have known he had?  Does this justify torturing and killing another human being?  The answer is that nothing justifies this.  Nothing.

We often speak of our clients being marginalized because of their mental illnesses.  What we forget is that, because 96% of our clients are people of color, they are already marginalized.  When I was growing up in the 1960s I assumed that the riots I saw many nights on the evening news would lead to justice and an equality of opportunity for everyone.  Fifty years later, we are still waiting for that to happen.

I understand that people of color are tired of waiting for things to get better.  Exhaustion and resentment are the results of the racism people of color deal with every day.

Every single day.

In 1963, John F. Kennedy gave a speech to the people of the divided city of Berlin in which he said “ich bin ein Berliner”.  He was the leader of the free world identifying with a divided and oppressed people by saying “I am a Berliner”—one of you.  What will it take for our leaders to identify with people of color so that they can say “I am George Floyd”?  How can they begin to tear down walls rather than build them?

McClendon Center is a bridge between what is and what can be.  As much as I see the hatred and racism that people of color experience, I also believe that our work is about building bridges to a better life.  I understand it when some protesters express rage, but I also think that rage can become a dynamic energy that focuses on change for the better.

I am a white male.  I am not George Floyd, and I cannot pretend to understand the systemic injustices and indignities people of color face every day.  But I am a bridge builder, and so are the staff members who work at McClendon Center.  That is what we are about.

The Berlin wall came down 26 years after JFK’s speech.  I hope and pray that compassion and justice will lead to a far better world in a much shorter time.

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