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Black Lives Matter

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Reasons why. And some serious advice. It’s a matter of life and death. see more

    Reasons why. And some serious advice. It’s a matter of life and death.

    By Missi Smith

     

    ON MEMORIAL DAY a Black man named George Floyd was senselessly murdered in broad daylight on a Minneapolis street corner by a now former police officer. In the immediate wake of this completely avoidable tragedy, Minneapolis was rocked by protests, looting, and riots — exacerbated by ineffective leadership from all levels of our government, including detrimental interference from the White House. Yet Floyd’s killing has also launched a global movement in some 50 countries.

    I’m a Minnesota native. As a child, I attended my first preschool just blocks from where George Floyd cried out for his mother as he took his last breath. Prior to joining Peace Corps in 2017, I lived in that neighborhood. In the days following his lynching by law enforcement, I’ve had concerned and well-meaning friends (particularly white friends) calling and messaging to check on me and ask if I’m OK. They have literally been asking if they can give me some form of compensation for the educational and emotional labor I’ve done for them, in order to help them make sense of recent and past events. Now they are seeking ways to help me. Needless to say, it has been an exhausting time as a resident — particularly a Black resident — of this state. 

    I am tired.

    If I’m being honest, I was tired long before the George Floyd murder. 

     

    George Floyd, memorialized. When Missi Smith sat down to write about him, she noted: “I was raised to respect the rule of law and order (for God’s sake, my brother is a cop in the northern suburbs of our metro area). I was also raised to suss out injustice and seek change.”


    LET ME OUTLINE the ways in which I am tired, in no particular order, including, but not limited to: 

    I’m tired of living in a state which through education and economic policy consistently fails its most vulnerable residents. According to a 2020 report from WalletHub, Minnesota ranks 45th for racial integration. Census Bureau data from 2018 tells us that the median income for a Black family was $36,000 compared to $83,000 for a white family. What about the education achievement gap? The graduation rate for Black students is 65 percent, compared to 77.8 percent nationally. That puts us dead last in the country. If Minneapolis alone put as much effort, time, and money into the school system as they do in their nationally rated park systems, our children might have better outcomes. 

    In Minneapolis and in other parts of the United States, I’m tired of watching, as one friend put it, “snuff films” justifying, even glorifying ending lives of Black men and women with reckless disregard, simply because police and vigilantes “fear for their lives” — or because they didn’t do a modicum of due diligence.
I’m tired of hashtagging another Black life in memoriam. 

    I’m tired of the fact that a majority of Minneapolis police officers vote for Police Federation head Bob Kroll, who has been, as former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak recently put it, “toxic” to the police force. (Rybak was being extraordinarily charitable.)

    In the face of the myriad historical and ongoing injustices Black men, women, and children face from housing to employment to education in this country, I’m tired of my anger as a Black woman (albeit righteous) being derided, ignored, and stereotyped.

    I’m tired of the behavior of Amy Coopers, BBQ Beckys, and all of the Karens, injurious to Black freedom and liberty, going unchecked and unpunished. 

    I’m tired of having to revisit the same battles my grandparents and parents fought during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. 

    I am tired of having this conversation and the added expectation the societal ills of racism and white supremacy are solely up to the Black community to fix.

    I’m so flipping tired that I want to take a nap — but I can’t, because I’m Black in America. The best I can hope for is some semblance of self-care, but it’s hard to maintain when you’re constantly attacked from every angle simply because you exist.

     

    I AM SO VERY TIRED. Black people all across this country are so very tired. My question: Why aren’t you?

     

    THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION says that the chronic and sustained stress of racism and discrimination has a direct link to the overall health outcomes of Black people. This means Black folks put their lives on the line every day in this country, in every way possible — literally just by being Black and living in America. Why don’t you? 

    While Black people are not a monolith, we do have a shared experience in our diaspora, so I feel pretty safe in speaking for all of us when I say: WE. ARE. TIRED. So, my well-meaning and well-intentioned white allies and friends who keep asking if I’m OK, if you want to help, this is what you need to do. Again, in no particular order, including, but not limited to: 

    Stop asking us if we’re OK, because we’re not. We haven’t been for a long damned time — 400+ years since being forced here long, to be exact. (If you haven’t yet, read the Pulitzer Prize–winning 1619 Project from The New York Times.) Know that we are perpetually grieving because we are treated as less than second-class citizens in a country wherein so much of what you touch and to which you so proudly pledge allegiance was built with the literal blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors — yet, we haven’t ever been given proper credit for it. We keep watching the lives of our husbands, sons, and daughters taken from us. Our transgender brothers and sisters are dying at an astronomical rate. In the same week Floyd was lynched at the hands of law enforcement, we lost Tony McDade to police violence in Florida with barely a mention of him in the press.

     

    Listen to us. It’s literally that easy. Stop claiming ignorance, dismissing it, or sitting on the fence. Do something about it! 

     

    Believe us when we tell you about our lived experience of racism and discrimination. Listen to us. It’s literally that easy. Stop claiming ignorance, dismissing it, or sitting on the fence. Do something about it! 

    If you want to learn and do better, you’re going to have to start doing some heavy lifting. Librarians and historians can show you where to get the information and answer questions. Start thinking of your Black friends like librarians or historians rather than expecting them to coddle white feelings of defensiveness, anger, and shame.

    Black history is more than the 28 days of February and far deeper than Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. — who are so often quoted out of context. Learn about it and value it the same way you learn about and value the traditional historical narrative of the white male American founding fathers. 

    Stop co-opting Black leaders. MLK wasn’t as non-confrontational as you want to believe. He was the quintessential agitator. He was the original highway blocker.

    Stop with the “I’m not racist. I don’t see color!” Seriously, it’s embarrassing and it doesn’t make you “woke.” It’s not only lazy, it’s also infuriating to people of color — and it further dehumanizes us and devalues our many-generations-long struggles. And in this day and age, not being racist isn’t good enough. You must be anti-racist! Read from Robin DiAngelo and Tim Wise. They will help you in your quest. 

    Earlier I alluded to reparations. Journalist Ta-Nahisi Coates wrote in The Atlantic a compelling argument for why Black folks deserve reparations. Some Black people are comfortable with receiving reparations on an individual level; personally, I am not. So, to my friends: Please, stop asking if you can compensate me or buy me stuff. (Though I will always accept Irish whiskey. That is never off the table!) I’d rather you take that money and donate it to your local NAACP chapter, a school classroom to help bridge achievement gaps, scholarship funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other minority scholarship funds. Better yet, write your legislators and compel them to push an actual bill for reparations to give Black people economic parity. If the United States government can find $1.5 trillion in capital to inject into the casino of Wall Street after the 2008 financial meltdown, they can also fund long overdue payment of back wages. There are so many ways to give back to our community!

    Stop passive-aggressively cringing at family get-togethers and call your racist family members out! Uncle Bob doesn’t get any mashed potatoes at this year’s holiday celebration and neither do you, until you call him out him just like you call out other public acts of racism and discrimination. This also goes for your co-workers and your bosses! (HR is there to support you with this.) Learn the difference between “micro-aggressions” and overt acts of racism. Telling Black people they’re “articulate” may not be a call to violence the way a cross burning is. But casual and veiled racism is what sustains racism on a systemic scale.

     

    Telling Black people they’re “articulate” may not be a call to violence the way a cross burning is. But casual and veiled racism is what sustains racism on a systemic scale.

     

    If you champion the men who threw tea into Boston Harbor to liberate us from England, don’t ever tell Black people how they should feel, protest, or otherwise process the atrocities they’re living through. It’s not cool and it’s not helpful, and it just upholds the status quo. 

    Check your privilege and use it for good.

    Check your bias and eliminate it.

    Say Black Lives Matter. Say it unequivocally. Say it with your full chest and scream it from the rooftops. Say it. Then act like it! 

    Be mindful of cultural appropriation. Despite what any fashion magazine tells you, Kylie Jenner didn’t invent cornrows and head wraps aren’t a new trend. In fact, do us all a favor and look into the historical significance of these in our cultures. You’ll quickly realize it is not a fashion statement but something much deeper and meaningful.

    Stop praising Black people for being “resilient” and “strong.” In the eyes of American society, we don’t have any other choice but to be. Any other reaction to acts of racism are viewed as “angry,” “uppity,” “violent,” or “having an attitude.” 

     

    THIS LIST ISN’T EXHAUSTIVE, but if you care about me or Black people or Black culture at all, you’ll show up and show out for Black folks. 


    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m tired. I’m going to pour myself a whiskey and try to relax. 

     

    #BlackLivesMatter 
    #GeorgeFloyd
    #WeAreTired
    #Minneapolis
    #Minnesota
    #IAmTired
    #WhiteAllies
    #Allyship 

     


    Missi Smith served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyz Republic from 2017 until she was evacuated in 2020. She taught English and developed projects with students, teachers, law enforcement, and national television. This essay originally appeared on Medium and was also published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:
     

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

    • Peter Szydlowski Incredibly powerful and well-written, this article by Missi Smith challenges us to take action, giving us a clear list of things we can actually do you to move our society toward racial equality.
      1 year ago
  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Unprecedented Times. Powerful stuff. Stories that brought tears. see more

    Unprecedented Times 

     We set aside the standard magazine playbook for our summer edition. We’re happy to bring back your letters — to continue the conversation.Write us: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org
     

    I’m writing to congratulate and  thank you for the current issue of WorldView. It’s the most powerful thing in print I’ve seen from Peace Corps since I received my acceptance letter in 1969. Congrats to everyone involved on a mammoth job so very well done. 

    Stephen Barefoot 
    Kenya 1969–72 

     

    Most remarkable WorldView ever, both the quality of the product and the effort it took to gather and edit the stories. What we may have is the substance for a book, proceeds from which would fund NPCA  services and support to returning Volunteers. Two quotes (both from the stories from China): “A lot of my students had never seen or interacted with a foreigner. For them, the experience  is transformational” and, “To assume that  the Chinese government and people are the  same is a fallacy.” 

    Steve Kaffen 
    Russia 1994–96 

     

    I wept my way through reading WorldView. The evacuation stories both broke my heart and raised my spirit. I could not help but imagine myself being torn away from my community, friends, counterparts, programs,  and much more, had I had to leave Paraguay  (where I served) within 24 hours. Unbearable thought for me and yet excruciatingly real for 6,892 Volunteers. Their stories were beautiful and so painful. I was buoyed up with an affirmation that Peace Corps is still making its unique contributions worldwide. Not just in the countries where Volunteers serve, but also in the Volunteers themselves. Peace  Corps must survive this global pandemic. We need it now more than ever. 

    Congratulations on the rapid launching of your Global Reentry program. NPCA has risen to the challenges of today in so many  fabulous ways. Thank you for your leadership. 

    Diane Wood  
    Paraguay 1977–81 

     

    Engaging, thoughtful, and truly remarkable — I’ve read it in print cover to cover, and will read it again online. This one’s a keeper. 
    Peter de Groot 
    PCV Benin 1980–82 
    Peace Corps Trainer, Africa, 1983–92 

     

    Amazing with the stories from the country directors closing their sites. These stories bring a world of hurt thinking about what each had to go through to plan their departures, and the Volunteers having to say “goodbye.” 

    Kenton Hawkins 
    Lesotho 1976–79 

     

     

    On behalf of our RPCV Gulf Coast Florida group: We were touched to read the heartrending stories of so many evacuated PCVs, and especially Missi Smith’s eloquent lament, “I’m Tired.”

    For our signature project, we have dedicated ourselves to fundraising for and assisting the African American community in the heart of Sarasota called Newtown, through its grassroots organization, Newtown Alive. African American residents played a major role in the development of Sarasota. Black labor cleared snake-infested land for real estate developers, laid railroad ties, harvested celery, helped plant golf courses, and labored in the homes of Sarasota’s power brokers — cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. The men and women fought for equal rights, triumphed over Jim Crow segregation, KKK intimidation, and vigilante violence. Today, a diverse group of historians, community scholars, and others  have united to present the dramatic history of strivers who refused to give up. More:  rpcvgcf.peacecorpsconnect.org 

    Leita Kaldi Davis 
    Senegal 1993–96 
    Lillian Carter Award Recipient 2017 

     

    We need to find  ways to make the  Peace Corps in its current form “bigger, better, bolder” and give the Third Goal more explicit attention. 

     

    Terrific — packed with timely, important news that helps put unprecedented issues impacting the Peace Corps into perspective. I hope all past and future Volunteers and staff will go through the magazine cover-to-cover. I especially like“Our Unprecedented Times,”  tracing momentous events and decisions which have changed not only Peace Corps but also our nation and the entire world. And Lex Rieffel’s “The Peace Corps in the  Post-Pandemic World,” while controversial,  is worth pondering. I disagree with proposals to convert the Peace Corps into something other than an independent federal agency, but I agree we need to find ways to make the  Peace Corps in its current form “bigger, better,  bolder” and give the Third Goal more explicit attention. We must have more conversations about the ideals, relevance, and mission of the Peace Corps in a rapidly-changing world and make sure the Peace Corps truly reflects America’s diversity and has the resources it needs to get Volunteers back into the field as soon as it is safe to do so. 

    Michael H. Anderson 
    Malaysia 1968–71 
    Board Member, Friends of Malaysia  

     

     

     

    Well written and edited — a pleasure to read, though my eyes fill with tears as I learn Volunteers’ stories of their emergency  evacuations. That many returned Volunteers can continue to communicate with their colleagues and friends living in remote places is one benefit not afforded earlier Volunteers. Nevertheless, the bonds are immutable; after 40 years, I and a fellow RPCV returned to the sites where we trained and supervised  healthcare providers and located many of them because of their long, successful careers. We only had to ask a few strangers who recognized faces in old photos. (See  WorldView Spring 2018.)

    I hope evacuated Volunteers are able to return to their work, if they so choose. 

    Beverly Hammons  
    Ecuador 1970–73 

     

    You managed to convey the urgency of the moment and the vast disappointment of so many.

     

    As a longtime journalist, allow me  to say that you’ve done a great job. The coverage of the withdrawal of Peace Corps from its posts was absolutely terrific. The text cover, a brilliant graphic touch, was only the beginning of a fascinating issue. You managed to convey the urgency of the moment and the vast disappointment of so many. These are terribly difficult times for us all, particularly painful for Peace Corps and the many new, reluctantly-made, RPCVs.  

    Barry Hillenbrand 
    Ethiopia 1963–65 

     

    Fabulous edition! I’m sending my copy off to my granddaughter, who was considering joining. Here’s hoping she has the chance!!

    Virginia Davis 
    Namibia 2007–10 

     

    Greetings from the Solomons. I am missing my WorldView mags due to no mail from the States for months. Glad to know there is an online edition. COVID19 has held up the reopening of the Peace Corps office for the Solomons this year and the bringing in of new PCVs in 2021.  

    Dennis McAdams 
    Solomon Islands 1974–78 

     

    Reading stories of the evacuated Volunteers brought back memories of my service 50 years ago in the Philippines. The agricultural school where I was assigned is now a full-fledged university. Some current  students are likely to be the grandchildren of students I taught while there. Best wishes for continuing Peace Corps ideals in the future.

    Steve Lahey 
    Philippines Group 36 

     

    Some time ago, my daughter was notified that she is on a list for training for Guinea. She is diligently working on French. I hope  this pandemic can be brought under control before many more months pass; she doesn’t  want to miss this opportunity.

    The issue of WorldView that tells the stores of the PCVs  being recalled was absolutely fabulous.  

    Joan Landsberg
    Costa Rica 1964–66 

     

    What a work by dedicated individuals! I  served in the first group to go to Nyasaland  (Malawi) in 1963. Thank you to those who shared, captured the info, and created this issue.

    Linda Millette 

     

    Truly wonderful issue. Thanks for your  hard work in writing and putting it together. 

    Angene Wilson 
    Liberia 1962–64 

     

    Fantastic! Thought provoking and meaningful, from the global evacuation to the pandemic to Black Lives Matter and the very future of the Peace Corps.  

    James Skelton 
    Ethiopia 1970–72 

     

     

     

    I’m Tired 

     

    Powerful and well-written, this article by Missi Smith challenges us to take action, giving us a clear list of things we can actually do to move our society toward racial equality. 

    Peter Szydlowski 
    Ecuador 1970–74, Nicaragua 1974–75 

     

    It is fabulous, and I would like to share among family and friends, to encourage some to join  the Peace Corps and others to take action. Missi Smith’s essay, “I’m Tired,” is powerful.  The statements from the PCVs who were evacuated testify to the incredible importance of the Peace Corps around the world, especially as global ambassadors. I have just  now made contribution to the NPCA and  will add it to my annual giving list. Keep up  the good work! The return of Peace Corps  to the wider world is in my prayers.  

    Janet Stulting 
    Ukraine 2011–13 

     

    It is fabulous, and I would like to share among family and friends, to encourage some to join  the Peace Corps and others to take action.

     

    I got my edition and immediately called my brother, the father of an evacuated 25-year-old volunteer from Botswana. I told him I would keep this edition as a  keepsake for my nephew, saying it was  historical and powerful and moving! If one can order second copies please let us know.  We continue to support and pray for these Volunteers and communities!  

    Julie Cominos 
    Romania 1992–94 

     

    Indeed, we’re happy to send more! Support from  NPCA members and donors makes it possible for us to tell stories that matter.
    —Ed.
     

     

     

    No thanks 

     

    A few questions: What kind of a journal  has no place for readers’ responses — and simply takes current headlines and applies  them to something entirely different? Do you  really think there is systematic racism in this  country and the Peace Corps is part of it?  

    James Eric Lane

     

     


    Download, Read

    Find all the stories mentioned here in the Summer 2020 edition of WorldView magazine. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Editor Steven Saum speaks on issues of the current times and how NPCA can move forward. see more

    Peace Corps teaches us a new way to think about time. Pandemic does, too. So what do we do with this?

    By Steven Boyd Saum

     

    ACROSS THE DECADES and countries and communities where tens of thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers have served, there are a few things we share. One: a new grasp of time. Be it seasons or how we count the days, a revised sense of punctuality or the value of hours in terms of money or daylight, be it devoted to sleep or preparing a meal or hiking to the well, be it in the presence of friends or alone with this self you are becoming — one of the gifts: to be invited into a new way of measuring a life. Step outside of the this, then this, then this. Also a gift: the dawning of the truth that empathy and understanding are not transactional stuff, giver and receiver both richer, stronger, wiser, more human. 

    Now here we are: old strictures of time dissolved, pandemic time warping the distance between today and last Monday until that day is shockingly distant. When time itself has taken on new meaning—or lack thereof. But how? 

    It’s been nearly nine months since most Volunteers around the world got the news — via phone call or email or WhatsApp: Because of COVID-19, they were being evacuated. The pandemic was burning its way across the globe. In this country and others, it still exacts a terrible toll. As we put the fall edition of WorldView magazine to bed, globally there have been 43 million cases and 1.16 million people have died, more than 226,000 lives lost in the United States alone. 

     

    We look to a pandemic a century in the past for lessons on enduring this one. And we behold a future that came too soon. 

     

    We look to a pandemic a century in the past for lessons on enduring this one. And we behold a future that came too soon. 

    In the San Francisco Bay Area, which I call home, this was the year of the Blade Runner sky: Dry lightning sparked hundreds of fires up and down the Golden State, including the largest blaze in recorded history — more than 1 million acres. As summer faded, fires were burning up and down the West Coast of the United States and Canada, fulfillment of Cassandra climate change warnings that would visit themselves upon us within a quarter century if we didn’t do something now. Then here they were. 

    To Louisiana came four named storms: Marco, Laura, Beta, Delta — the second of that lot blowing the fiercest winds of any tropical cyclone in modern history to make landfall on the Bayou State. 

    The arc of a storm, the arc of history, the path of the fire or the pandemic of COVID or hateful racism: Where will we find ourselves in the time that matters? Digging the perimeter to halt the flames, preparing meals for the first responders, helping someone breathe? 

     

    WorldView Fall 2020: What’s the role of Peace Corps now? Cover illustration by David Plunkert.

     

    THIS UNPRECEDENTED MOMENT, 2020 continued. Let us speak of world peace and friendship. We’ve just begun commemorating six decades since this whole audacious Peace Corps endeavor caught the 1960 election-year zeitgeist. Origin story: 2 a.m. at the University of Michigan on a drizzly and chilly October 14, cut to San Francisco’s Cow Palace on November 2, and not even six weeks after inauguration day 1961 there’s the executive order on 3/1/61 — JFK signs the Peace Corps into being. Youthful idealism that set in motion something that could and should be the best of what this nation aspires to be.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, when I was teaching contemporary American literature as a Volunteer in western Ukraine — the independent country then all of three years old — the poem that most fired my students’ imaginations was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I Am Waiting.” It is a litany of an American promise unfulfilled, ideals unmet, but that does not mean giving up: 

    and I am perpetually awaiting 
    a rebirth of wonder

    Because as we studied this Beat poet (now 101!) I asked these future teachers and bankers, singers and city council members, mothers and fathers and citizens — notebooks, please: What are you waiting for? 

     

    WE ARE HOPING for Volunteers to return to communities around the world, knowing what’s ahead is uncharted for all. Yet ambassadors and colleagues, students and families have all asked: When? Because solidarity, not charity, calls. Yet we know that the safety and security of communities and Volunteers must circumscribe what is possible. And these cannot be empty words. 

    Because we carry with sorrow and compassion a tragic truth underscored in recent weeks. In January 2018, Bernice Heiderman, from Inverness, Illinois, was serving as a Volunteer in Comoros. As a New York Times article detailed this fall, she contracted and died from undiagnosed malaria. Had it been treated, she might have made a full recovery. She was 24 years old. 

    To her loved ones, the Peace Corps community sends the deepest condolences. And a pledge to ensure that the agency does better. As NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst wrote in an open letter, “The current challenge of suspended Peace Corps programming provides a tremendous opportunity—and clear responsibility—for the agency to engage global health experts, Congress, and the broad Peace Corps community in a transparent dialogue on where improvements in volunteer health care are needed and what is needed to implement those improvements ... And we must commit to the care and well-being of these Volunteers in a changed world.” 

    We can do nothing less.

     


    Steven Boyd Saum is editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for National Peace Corps Association. He was as a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.
     

    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Fall 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Black Lives Matter: Voices and Scenes from Protests with the Peace Corps Community see more

    George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Elijah McClain. A fraction of a terrible litany of Black lives taken by police. Since Memorial Day Returned Volunteers have been on the streets to join protests—and lead them.


     

    “Racism cannot be cured solely by attacking some of the results it produces, like discrimination in housing or in education ... We must also treat the disease of racism itself.”

    —Sargent Shriver  |  Founder of the Peace Corps, in a speech at the First National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, 1958


    Elizabeth Smith went to Myanmar in January to serve as a Volunteer. When she was evacuated, she wrote, “I never thought I would meet a group of such motivated and genuine people.” In Palm Beach, Florida, her motivation has taken her to the streets. And she writes, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

      

    “This isn’t about just George Floyd. This is about what happens if there wasn’t a video of George Floyd’s execution.”

    —Nathaniel Sawyer   He served as a Volunteer in Ecuador, has worked as a corrections official, and has been leading protests in Monterey County, California.

     

    Nathaniel Sawyer served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador. He is helping lead peaceful protests in California against racial injustice.

     

    “It is so heartbreaking that in a moment of pandemic, so much racialized violence is happening that we will die in order to prevent our deaths. We will die in order to prevent our deaths. And I don’t know if that has sunk in for the broader community yet. But that is the difficult nonchoice at this moment. If not now, when? Our black and brown community is risking their lives.”

    —Jocelyn Jackson  |  She served as Volunteer in Mali 2005-06 and cofounded People’s Kitchen Collective in Oakland, California to serve the community.

     

    Jocelyn Jackson cofounded the People’s Kitchen Collective in Oakland, California to serve the community and to spark discussion, connection, and long-term change.
     

    “People are looking for what is the solution right now. The main source of solution is expression. We’re coming in to make sure that that expression in Little Rock is as healthy as it can possibly be.”

    —Tim Campbell  |  Campbell served as a Volunteer in The Gambia 2017–19 and has been leading protests in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

     

    Tim Campbell has been leading protests in Little Rock, Arkansas, as part of a group called The Movement. He served in The Gambia 2017–19 and is a graduate student at the Clinton School of Public Service. In June he was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement.

      

    “By living out Peace Corps values here at home, we’ll have a better society, one that honors and celebrates our differences.”

    —Corey Arnez Griffin  |  NPCA Board Member and former Associate Director of Strategic Partnerships for Peace Corps, Griffin is CEO of Global Government and Industry Partners.

      

    J’Ana Diamond was teaching in China when it was announced in January that the program would close—and then all Volunteers were evacuated. For her birthday in May she raised money in memory of Ahmaud Arbery and to stop gun violence. In June she has been  protesting in San Diego.

     

     “We want to make sure any matters involving police are as transparent as possible. We want to get the correct data collected so we can shape the policy, and we want to be able to have a hand in seeing to it that these officers are held accountable whenever they step out of line.”

    —Garrison Davis  |  Davis served as a Volunteer in Moldova 2019–20 and has led protests in Delaware.

     

    Earlier this year, Garrison Davis appeared on Moldovan television, speaking Moldovan. Back in Wilmington, Delaware, he co-led the march We Still Can’t Breathe (March for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor) and a meeting with the governor of Delaware as well as the mayor and attorney general of Wilmington.

     

    “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

    —Martin Luther King, Jr.

     

    “Every damn day,” Sara Gilbert says about her protests at home. “Momentum won’t cease.” Gilbert served as a Volunteer in Benin 2018–20. Back home after being evacuated, she’s protesting in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. 

     

    “You will have an identity that will be more Peace Corps than Special Forces.”

    —John Scott Thomson  |  Camden County Police Chief, to new recruits. The New Jersey city dismantled its police force and restructured it in 2015. A drastic reduction in violent crime has followed.

     

    Jeremy Cutler served as a Volunteer in Tanzania before he was evacuated. A graduate of Howard University, he has joined protests in Washington, D.C. On June 6 he wrote: “We marched for our ancestors … We marched so future generations won’t have to, and for a change to come.”

     

    The same racism that kills Black people also separates families at the border.

    —Sign carried by Chanel Jimenez  |  Jimenez served as a Volunteer in Panama 2019–20 and has taken part in protests in Texas.

     
     

    On May 27 the Instagram channel @blackpcv posted: “Those that have/had the drive to serve abroad should also be bothered by what is going on at home and motivated to help.” On June 5 came this image, along with the reminder that Black volunteers deal with  racism at home—and in service abroad.

     

    Justice or Violence: You Choose.

    —Sign held by Langston Thomas  |  Thomas is 22, just graduated from Grinnell College, and planned to begin serving in Peace Corps in the fall before the pandemic hit. He was tear-gassed and hit with a rubber bullet in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.


     

    Ashley Behnke was working on literacy initiatives in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean before she was evacuated. Currently in the Washington, D.C. area. Her hashtags: #protest #inequality #blacklivesmatter #racism #love

     

    “The vast majority of Americans are demanding that we take on this national challenge to confront institutional racism ... U.S. international and foreign affairs organizations should rise to this challenge, and seize this moment to demonstrate leadership in pursuing broadbased policies and programs that will promote diversity and social justice in both their U.S. and overseas offices.”

    —Aaron Williams  |  Director of Peace Corps 2009–12 and Volunteer in the Dominican Republic 1967–70. From an essay he wrote for Devex.


     

    Photographer Zen Lael took this shot. He was training to serve as a Volunteer in Nepal when he was evacuated in March. Back in the New York area, he says: “I am staying under the oath to both the Peace Corps and my humanity to uplift, empower, and help change what I feel  is wrong.”

     


    Check out NPCA's racial justice home page for more. This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

    Thanks for reading. And here’s how you can support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.

  • Ana Victoria Cruz posted an article
    Women of Peace Corps Legacy see more

    On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech that has become a defining moment in American History. Women of Peace Corps Legacy interview founding member Betty Currie about her experience there.

    by Katie McSheffrey

     

    Betty Currie‘s long career with Peace Corps began in 1969, after her job at USAID ended. She was initially recruited to work in the Africa Region as the secretary for the regional director. When the newly appointed Peace Corps Director, Joseph Blatchford, needed a secretary, Betty’s talents were already known at the agency. “The job was a crucial one. It had 10,000 people spread out over sixty-eight countries, and I needed a reliable, efficient person,” Blatchford recalls. “I didn't ask if she was a Republican or Democrat. I wasn't interested because she was so good." Betty remained with Director Blatchford when he moved to ACTION, the federal agency that ran the Peace Corps, and she subsequently moved up to work for two other agency directors — Michael Balzano and Sam Brown. In 2006, she resumed her relationship with Peace Corps as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association. 

    Betty had met John Podesta, who also worked at ACTION, and in the early 1980s he invited her to run the offices of the Mondale and Dukakis Presidential campaigns and to later join the Clinton campaign. After Clinton became president, Betty served as his personal secretary during both of his terms. Betty has remained involved in Democratic politics. An Obama supporter, she is close to the former president's mother-inlaw, and in a recent conversation told her friend that everyone Betty knew applauded Michelle’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. 

    A summary of the Women of Peace Corps Legacy interview with Betty Currie follows. It has been edited for clarity and concision. 

     

     

    Q: First, let's talk about your experiences at the March on Washington 57 years ago. How did you get involved in the march?

    I’d gone to work that day at the Post Office at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, professionally dressed, ready for a day of hard work, and when I got there, my supervisor said, “What are doing here?” I said, “I have my job to do.” And he said, “You need to join the march so others will get a job!” So, I put on my tennis shoes and quickly ran down Connecticut Avenue to join the thousands of people gathering on the National Mall. 

    I found a place to sit under a tree between the stage and the end of reflection pool. Others joined me, and I met and talked to strangers who I felt I had a connection with. Together we listened to the most wonderful music by the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, singing “How I Got Over.” Joan Baez sang “We Shall Overcome,” and Peter, Paul, and Mary sang “If I Had a Hammer.” Then we quietly listened to the speeches that began under the statue of Abraham Lincoln.    

     

    Q: What are the most memorable things that happened at the March? How would you describe the participants in the March?

    I remembering it being a joyful experience, fun even, full of people who were smiling and being kind to one another. The group was very diverse — there were people of all ages and races, gathered together in solidarity. Because it was a workday, people were dressed up in coats and ties and nice dresses. The atmosphere was peaceful, calm, and friendly; I felt safe. It felt like a time of change, and we were all inspired about future possibilities. 

    The speakers, including Martin Luther King and John Lewis, gave rousing speeches, but we had no idea at the time that their words would go down in history. After hearing the “I Have a Dream” speech, I remember thinking, “Well, that was a pretty good speech.” He said we should not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. I thought that was very powerful.

    When it was over, thousands of people peacefully left the area and returned to work. 

     

    Q: How would you compare this year's march with the one in 1963?

    Fifty-seven years ago, there was a lot of advance publicity about the march. I am not aware of that kind of publicity for today’s march. Ours was very organized with strong leadership, as one would expect with MLK’s people. And it wasn’t during a time of COVID, which will definitely affect turnout this week.

      

    Q: During the march, Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech calling for an end to racism.  How well do you feel America has achieved that dream?

    We still have a way to go. We were on a good path to racial equality, but we’ve strayed from it in recent years. I hope that we’re back on the path to progress. I feel hopeful.

     

     

    Q: Now let's talk about your time with Peace Corps. What brought you to Peace Corps?

    Well, I would say it was the grace of God that brought me there. I had worked for USAID and when that time was over, I was asked to interview with the head of the Africa Region of Peace Corps, Walter Carrington. I remember waiting for an interview when a young woman walked in and said, “We need to send this letter to Mauritius,” and I remember thinking, “Is there actually a country Mauritius? Even so, I got the job!”

    I was lucky to attend a regional conference in Africa where I was asked to take notes. I guess I did a good job because I was recommended to be the new Peace Corps Director Joseph Blatchford’s special assistant/secretary. I remember after the interview I was told that if I got the job, I would have to either get rid of the afro or the pants suit — I couldn’t keep both. I chose to keep the pants suit.

     

     

    Q: How did your time at Peace Corps affect your life?

    I learned that working in the Peace Corps office could bring great joy. Volunteers returned after two difficult years, full of happiness and hope for their future. It was as if they had gained the knowledge that you could be happy with very few creatures comforts and understood the oneness of mankind. They also came home with a deep appreciation for their life in America and the democracy they enjoyed in the U.S. Meeting them was truly inspirational.

    I remember one time when I was asked to host local Peace Corps staff who were visiting from Mauritius, and I was asked us to host them at our home for a real American meal and experience. “What am I going to do?” I thought because I wasn’t much of a cook. So, I called my daughter and told her to cook some spaghetti for our new guests that I would be bringing home.  It was quite evident that they couldn’t figure out what we were serving — I guess they’d never had spaghetti before — so we took them to a nearby restaurant that featured good old Southern cooking with ribs and collard greens, and they loved it! 

     

    "That was the Peace Corps way. An organization were people care and they let you know. They care about you, what you’re doing and how you’re doing. And that feeling stays with me.

     

    Q: You were at Peace Corps at a time when Nixon wanted to do away with it. What is your memory of that experience?

    It’s true — Nixon wanted to do away with Peace Corps. I remember that at one point some Volunteers took over the building in protest. I was on the front lines when Peace Corps was folded into ACTION, something Director Blatchford reluctantly agreed to so that President Nixon would not dissolve the Peace Corps. I know that Blatchford is still criticized for that, but I thought it was a brilliant move because it kept Peace Corps alive.

     

    Q: Finally, let's talk about the current Black Lives Matter movement. As you know, Black Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the DMV, a new group affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association, is actively involved in the August 28th march. What advice would you give to young people who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement?

    First, let me say how much I appreciate the work of Women of Peace Corps Legacy. Your support of women’s empowerment around the world is very admirable. 

    The Black Lives Matter movement is relatively new, and I wholeheartedly support their efforts. I would say to all young people — and to people of all ages: “Join them, support their efforts, and enjoy every minute!”

     

     

    To learn more about the March on Washington and the Black Returned Peace Corps Volunteer organization please visit the Black PCV in the DMV website.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    We must stand with Black Americans and acknowledge the role racism plays in our institutions. see more

    From someone who has worked in international development: We must stand with Black Americans and acknowledge the role racism plays in our institutions — and the work itself.

     
    By Tasha Prados

    Photo of Stockholm protests by Frankie Fouganthin / CC

     

    As the granddaughter of immigrants, I grew up knowing how privileged I was simply by the sheer luck of having been born in the United States. Being multicultural and Latinx, I spent most of my formative years between two worlds, never quite fitting in either, eager to connect more deeply with my Latin American roots.

    I went to El Salvador with a nonprofit organization for the first time when I was 16 years old to build schools and water systems. It was life-changing, though not entirely in a way I might have expected. On one hand, I recognized that my presence and very unskilled labor were wholly unneeded. Yet I felt that by bringing money to fulfill locally-expressed needs, managed by local leaders, we were useful; the connections I made with Salvadorans felt genuine, valuable, and educational on both sides. 

    In college I realized the world was much bigger than Latin America, and I wanted to know all of it. I took Arabic and learned about Islam. I did a fellowship in the Maldives and took courses on Africa and Asia. I studied abroad in Spain. These experiences reaffirmed my commitment to working to alleviate poverty and inequality. 

    So I joined the Peace Corps — because I wanted to “help people” and “make a difference.” I also wanted to atone for the sins of my country: the U.S. legacy of slavery, colonialism, looting other countries, interfering in their politics, and pillaging their people and resources.

    People sometimes asked why I didn’t want to work on solving the problems we have here at home. I thought, well, it’s a big world with a lot of problems that need to be solved. We all have issues we are passionate about — there’s room for each of us to do what calls to us.

    At the same time, it’s been clear to me for a long time that racism is alive and well in America. But I thought that the big battles were behind us. That most Americans believed we are all created equal and that all human lives have equal value. That we had largely won the civil rights movement.

    I was mistaken.

     

    Photo of protests in Washington, D.C., on June 2 by Yash Mori

     

    A spark

    George Floyd’s murder was the spark that ignited protests across our nation — again. But this is about far more than one murder or the many before it — of Black men, women, and children. These lynchings, police brutality so startlingly displayed, are just the most visible element of structural and systemic racism and oppression that Black Americans have been fighting against and dying from for centuries. Now is the time for all of us — especially those of us engaged in international work — to stand with Black Americans.

    The truth is, I no longer work in international development. I saw too many cases of failed foreign aid projects that didn’t treat locals as leaders and partners, took jobs from locals, reduced the accountability of local governments, contributed to a lack of local ownership, and weren’t sustainable. In other words, I saw an imperialistic power dynamic at play. But the problem isn’t just projects or systems. It’s us — the people who do the work.
     

    Racism is deeply embedded in our society. And international development is deeply intertwined with race, socioeconomic, and power dynamics that fuel what has been defined as the white savior industrial complex.


    Racism is deeply embedded in our society. And international development is deeply intertwined with race, socioeconomic, and power dynamics that fuel what has been defined as the white savior industrial complex. We need a paradigm shift in international development work. As Aaron Williams, former director of the Peace Corps, said: “U.S. international and foreign affairs organizations should rise to this challenge, and seize this moment to demonstrate leadership in pursuing broad-based policies and programs that will promote diversity and social justice in both their U.S. and overseas offices.”

     

    What I’d like to see change in Peace Corps

    When Americans work abroad, we bring our biases with us — as well as our privilege and entitlement. Peace Corps Volunteers are no exception. Volunteers of Color face additional and unique challenges during service — much as they do every day in America. But abroad they are more isolated and have less support than at home. 

    I run the Instagram account @peopleofpeacecorps, where many returned Volunteers have shared stories of dealing with subtle and blatant racism from fellow Volunteers, Peace Corps staff, and host country nationals: everything from a Volunteer being called the N-word by fellow Volunteers, to staff placing the burden on Volunteers of Color to conduct diversity trainings that their fellow Volunteers complained about.

    So it’s understandable that Volunteers felt betrayed by the Peace Corps’ initial statement — it was so vague, we could not even be sure it was about the murder of George Floyd. Returned Volunteers were not quiet in our criticism. Sixteen days later, the Peace Corps issued a new statement in which the agency committed to addressing racial injustice and outlined some steps for putting people and groups in place to examine the issue and educate leadership. That’s a start. But the proof will be in the actions that follow.

    As someone who advises purpose-driven organizations on strategic shifts, there are three broad areas I would advise the Peace Corps to focus reform efforts.

    1. Address racism within the Peace Corps. Racism is prevalent in America and around the world. Volunteers and staff bring implicit biases with them, as do locals where the Peace Corps works.

    2. Address the race and power dynamics inherent in international development. Ensure that host country nationals and governments are given the space to lead and own anything implemented by outsiders. Ensure that Volunteers are qualified for the positions they are filling, that they are not taking jobs away from locals, and that they are not causing unintentional harm.

    3. Reduce barriers to entry and access to serving in (and staying in) the Peace Corps and working for the agency. Ensure all staff and Volunteers are adequately supported.

    If the Peace Corps is serious about reform, we’ll see a roadmap laying out concrete actions and specific goals with measurable results toward progress. For us who are part of the Peace Corps community, if we care about the future of the agency and the ideals that it purports to uphold, we’ll insist on this. 

    It’s important that National Peace Corps Association is cosponsoring a conversation on racial equity in international service on June 30 and, on July 18, hosting a summit on the future of Peace Corps. Ideas and concrete, specific recommendations will come from these conversations. We’re very aware that with no Volunteers in the field, the future of the Peace Corps is very much in doubt. But with no Volunteers in the field, this is also a unique opportunity to make profound and systemic changes.

    Peace Corps is supposed to represent what’s best about America. If we as individuals cannot stand up against systemic racism and oppression at home, we are not qualified to work alongside nonwhite people anywhere in the world. And if we don’t demand that same commitment from Peace Corps, what future will it have?

     

    This story was updated June 30 1:30 pm.

     


    TASHA PRADOS is the founder of Duraca Strategic, which helps purpose-driven organizations maximize their impact through branding, business, and marketing strategy consulting. She has 10 years of project management and communications experience with the world's leading brands, agencies, and organizations. Prados is also a freelance writer, digital nomad, and returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Peru 2011–13, and was featured on the National Peace Corps Association’s inaugural “40 Under 40” list. Keep up with her on Instagram at @t.prad.