On the morning of May 26, I casually walked into the kitchen at home and my partner told me that I needed to watch the news. “Another Black man has been killed by police officers,” he said, and then proceeded to show me the video of the murder of George Floyd. I stood there watching the horrifying images, and as I did, I became overwhelmed with emotion. I sat down in the kind of disbelief that can only come from knowing I was witnessing an innocent man’s life being taken by extreme and brutal force. I felt helplessness, anger and extreme sadness. But more than that, I was gripped by an overwhelming shame.
When my partner first told me what had happened, my immediate thought was, “I wonder what he was doing to get himself killed?” My reaction almost made me physically ill. And then I recalled that this had been my default response to so many other unnecessary deaths. In that moment, I questioned my character. What kind of person am I? What have I been doing?
At the beginning of 2020, I, like so many others, was looking forward to a great year and decade. I had plans for positive and exciting changes in my business and personal life. Although I knew it would be filled with a lot of hard work followed by much reward including my retirement, I knew it was coming and I anticipated its arrival with great optimism.
Then the pandemic became reality, and I found my plans turned upside down. I prioritized with the Principals of the firm to make decisions on how to proceed with business and take care of our team and clients. That became the new focus, and we had it under control. I was all set with a new plan of action.
Newberry Architecture is a small firm, and our team is a culturally diverse group of men and women of different races, sexual orientations and religions. After the senseless killing of George Floyd, we all agreed that we had an obligation to take a stand against racism. They gave me their unanimous support to write this piece as the founder of the firm.
With that, I am speaking from my heart and a place of love for my fellow humans – and for all of humankind.
Considering George Floyd’s tragic death and my initial reaction to it, I was in total conflict. Certainly, I am not a racist. How could I be? My partner is Dominican and Lebanese. I helped build an orphanage and school in Kenya. My best friend Horace was a Black man. Horace and I did everything together for over 10 years before kidney failure took him. We had many discussions about racism, and I experienced and witnessed firsthand the racist actions taken against us as friends and against him as an individual.
But it’s not quite that easy, is it? Did I experience racism with my best friend or did I simply observe it? How could I have such conflicting thoughts and actions? Is this part of systemic racism? I have so many questions and so much to learn.
What I do know is this: We have a problem with racism and the marginalization and oppression of people in our country and around the world. We all know children are not born racist. Racism is learned, and we will not stop it until we address systemic racism. It is time for a change. I am going to start with a self-audit so I can be part of this change.
I look at myself and realize that I have only stood up against racism within my own family. Otherwise, I have mostly remained silent. I have cut people out of my life that were racist, but I never did anything to change their hearts or to show them the pain they were causing. I took the easy path without conflict and never really made a difference. I have not stood up enough or done enough to fight racism. I have experienced prejudices against me my entire life, but I have never experienced racism. I have only observed it. I am a white man who for the most part stayed silent behind – and protected by – the color of my skin. I thought I was doing enough, but I wasn’t. I was actually asleep.
I am awake now and alive with a new awareness. I realize that my plans and ambitions for 2020 and the new decade were too small and self-centered. This is so much bigger than I could have ever imagined, and it is certainly bigger than me. I am hopeful the world is about to change. I am again reminded that I am just a grain of sand in God’s big plan. I understand there is immense anger, pain and suffering across our country and around the world. Racism and Covid-19 are part of a global pandemic that has polarized and divided us in ways we have not seen in a long time.
I trust God must have a plan to bring us back together. History has proven that change always comes after a tragedy. I will be part of the change by supporting and participating in peaceful protest. I will educate myself and others. And most of all, I will no longer remain silent.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”
It’s time. Great changes are on the horizon, and I trust we will all find unity through acceptance, compassion and love to become active participants in driving those changes, both as individuals and as a society. Racism must end. The team at Newberry Architecture is ready to do whatever we can, however we must, to eliminate racism.
– Ken Newberry