With the backdrop of weeks of an anxiety-inducing global pandemic, stay-at-home orders, business closures, and a virus that is twice as likely to be fatal for black Americans, our world watched in horror as George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. This followed the shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and many other incidents of racial injustice dating back to the days before the 1965 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. march from Selma, Alabama. This has led to protests and demonstrations in communities all over the world demanding justice and equity for the black community.
In this moment, we have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to have the difficult conversations that have for too long been ignored. We have a responsibility to provide equitable opportunities and resources to every person. We have a responsibility to be the people, the city, and the community we need to be . . . the community we BELIEVE we can be.
But this must be done with intentionality. We cannot hope for things to simply get back to “normal.” We must seek that change, we must follow the lead of those that have lived this experience and see a way forward, and once we identify that way forward, we must grasp it. Not tentatively or with worry about what others will think, but rather we must grasp that way forward as if our life depends on it, because for so many, it does.
I started working for United Way over ten years ago and I truly do believe in the name of our organization. I believe there is a “United Way.” There is a united way to serve. There is a united way to help. There is a united way to overcome the challenges we face. I also believe that we have not always lived united.
Being truly united is more difficult than the slogan might suggest. This will require that we humble ourselves and listen to those hurting. To LIVE UNITED we must accept that there exists a complex racial inequity that deserves our attention and focus and that I, as a typical white man, have had the opportunity to ignore. I must recognize that racism exists. I must confront my own privilege and use it to lift the voices of others. I must commit to changing the status quo.
According to United Way’s 2019 A.L.I.C.E (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, Knoxville has the highest poverty rate among black individuals in the Southeast – twice the national average. This is unacceptable. We are committing to fight this shocking trend through tangible resource investment in our black community.
This is only step one and we have a long way to go.
With LIVE UNITED as our backdrop, we as an organization commit to listening, acknowledging, and being a bridge to a better tomorrow. LIVE UNITED is our slogan, and today, maybe more than ever, we commit to seizing this as an opportunity to become a UNITED community.
President & CEO
United Way of Greater Knoxville