The last two weeks have been revelatory for me, but I wish they hadn’t been. I don’t mean to say I wish I hadn’t been exposed to everything that’s happened. I just wish I’d been a better listener, and kept my eyes open years ago.
I live in Minneapolis, MN, I watched the video of George Floyd’s murder the morning of May 26th, and then on May 28th, gathered some donated money from friends and some of my own to make a run for supplies. I found an address posted on Facebook. When I arrived, I found they needed people with rudimentary medical skills to help medic teams. I have rudimentary medical skills. So that night, I headed out into Midway, St. Paul protests to support and help protesters who were getting injured.
I don’t feel like I need to go into detail–BIPOC voices have been telling us for decades about what people are suffering at the hands of police. But I witnessed police inciting violence against peaceful protesters (who have every right to rage anyway), and helped the best I could. We treated folks who had been tear gassed and maced. We watched National Guard troops roll in. We got word that the building we were housed in was becoming an area zoned in on by SWAT teams. We put out the word that we needed somewhere safe to retreat to, to house supplies in, and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in the Midway said yes.
Since that night, I’ve been the de facto organizer of a donation and distribution site that’s grown from a safe haven and supply stop for medics to a huge site processing hundreds of volunteers and thousands of dollars in donations of food, household supplies, baby supplies, and more every day. We started to build, asked for help, and help came in. We said we needed bodies, and the Midway community–the MSP community–the Midwest community showed up. We said we needed more donations, and cars never stopped rolling in at the curb.
What this has become is a large-scale community mutual aid site to support Midway and the rest of MSP in the wake of something tragic that never should have happened. In the wake of an absence of justice that should have been served immediately. In the wake of three police officers who stood by and watched their trainer and partner kill an unarmed man without uttering a word to stop him. Myself, and the others who have helped me make the BLC site happen have seen a wild, incredible showing of community support, and of people who want to help.
I am seeing people come into our site and take it in–the hundreds of people rushing around to intake and sort and distribute donations, the long lines of community members coming to pick up supplies, the volume of products coming in–and then leaving, inspired, humbled, and satisfied.
But that’s not enough.
Please don’t get me wrong. We need everyone–every single person–to want to be a helper in the world. I do want people to get satisfaction out of helping their fellow humans, and I want people to get joy from volunteering and serving others. But this is the very, very first little step, and I also want to make sure people go home with more. When you leave BLC Midway, or any other site where you’ve volunteered or shown up, I do want you to leave with a positive feeling, and some inspiration.
And I want you to leave with a drive to do more. A feeling of fiery ambition to make bigger change.
BIPOC communities were systematically underserved back in December, before 2020 happened, due to systemic and institutional racism. BIPOC communities were underserved in March when COVID-19 hit and healthcare systems continued to fail to ensure equal access for treatment and testing and work. And BIPOC communities have been underserved every time an officer of power made the split-second decision to move forward with deadly force when it wasn’t warranted.
We have had our community show up by the THOUSANDS to help out in this reactive effort to help feed and provide mutual aid to our fellow community members. Just imagine what it would look like if every one of us were able to continue that effort into action to end systemic racism.
So what can I do?
First and foremost, if you are white or white-passing, this conversation needs to start internally. Confronting my white privilege is work I started within myself years ago, and while I think I’ve made some progress, I have a long way to go, and won’t ever be done working to make myself a better ally. Recognizing and admitting privilege has to happen first. Knowing what White Knight Syndrome is, taking a hard look at how quickly white aid drops off after major events. It’s the foundation for so much more work to come, and I promise you, it will make a difference. See learning resource links at the bottom of this post.
Second, we need to recognize a few key differences that are important. The difference between charity and mutual aid. Charity, in this context, is rooted in connotations of those “with” handing off to those “without.” It it simple, and one-directional. Mutual Aid is a system of community recognizing that helping and giving is relationship-based. It means recognizing that so, so much of what we have was built on the backs of BIPOC, and taking responsibility for caring about one another, knowing that when we work together to lift up our community, it benefits us all. And we need to know the difference between reactive short-term work and proactive long-term work to come. What we’ve done at BLC Midway so far is reactive. The community has lost access to food and transportation and supplies. We want to help fill that need. But the long-term work is to address why the need is there in the first place.
Third, every single person can benefit from listening and learning. I’ve been trying to set aside time each day to do more of that, because no matter where you’re at with your relationship to your privilege, I don’t know that we’ll ever be done learning. Take in content from BIPOC voices. Watch movies with BIPOC writers and directors. Read books (nonfiction AND fiction!) by BIPOC authors. Listen to podcasts, music, talks, events by people who don’t look like you. See the end of the post for resource links.
Finally, we all need to commit to action. Maybe you’re not ready quite yet–I won’t fault anyone for wanting to take a little bit of time to start the learning and listening process first. But don’t let yourself forget with time. Starting today, I’m committing to adding new resources to my “Allyship Resources” page dedicated to action. Dedicated to information about important pieces of legislation that will break down institutional barriers. Dedicated to petitions and events and organizations to get involved with. Dedicated to small, everyday ways you can help make change happen. If we don’t act against racism, and larger intersectional equality and equity, that means we’re silent, and bystanders. We need to actively work to make it happen.
I have seen a lot of good in the past two weeks along with the bad. And I don’t want to see the momentum stop. I am happy to help answer questions and help educate and provide resources, but I’m asking for you to help do the work with me.
Allyship Resources Page – This page will be updated with two sections: Learning and Action. It starts with more listening and learning, especially from BIPOC voices, and moves into concrete action.
Keep Donating – Below is a list of organizations that you can keep funding, set up a monthly donation to, to ensure the work doesn’t die off when media coverage does.
- Black Visions Collective MN
- Reclaim the Block and their list of Amazing Community Action Orgs
- Interfaith Action’s Department of Indian Work
- Keystone Community Services and Food Shelves
Thank you for being a part of this,
Thanks for writing this. I am very grateful for all the effort that has gone into the donation center at Bethlehem Lutheran. I have participated as a donor and as a volunteer. One thing I was struck by and am still processing is the difference between the effort at the church which appeared predominantly white-led and the effort I witnessed in North Minneapolis at Emerson and Broadway which appeared BIPOC led. The latter was more of a store with goods available and people in lines picked out what they needed; whereas, at Bethlehem, volunteers packed grocery and household bags and there was limited options to identify specific needs like diaper sizes and types of formula. As the effort moves from reactive/responsive to sustainable, I hope there is some space to re-examine the structure to see if there is another way to be even more useful and as you articulate well recognize mutual aid. Again, I’m thankful for everyone’s efforts and for such a tremendous resource to be available in the Midway. I would also be interested if the church or another entity in Midway decided to host spaces for white allies to reflect, create accountability and do ongoing anti racism work.
First, we really appreciate your participation. None of this could have happened without people willing to help. What you’re describing is actually how we started out at the Bethlehem site. We sorted items outside, and and anyone who came up could go around and fill their bags with what was needed. As we made our site more public, we very quickly realized we were having difficulty scaling to the number of community members coming to pick up, and we also got many complaints from community members that items weren’t being distributed fairly (i.e. if one person grabbed all the baby wipes). We transitioned to the current process (what you noted above!), in a very quick decision, and are now looking for ways to improve further. We have started talking to local food shelves in the area (we have ten days’ experience–they have years!) to see what their process is, and how we can improve. We’ve also been looking for partners that are long-term, permanent institutions in the area to see how we can best establish a dynamic to support their work, and possibly transition in the future.
I will definitely be posting more resources to help facilitate ongoing antiracism work. We believe the ongoing is the most critical part, and as we find more time, are doing more research, and finding more ways for people to learn and grow.