A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
COVID-19 has made the months of March, April, and May stretch on for what seems like years and the recent spate of violent murders of Black people have made the last two weeks feel like a decade.
I share in your sadness, fear, and frustration.
White supremacy and the impact of systemic racism has terrorized Black Americans for far too long. We are all mourning the loss of George Floyd, of Ahmaud Arbery, of Breonna Taylor, and unfortunately, so many others lost due to the scourge of institutional racism in our policing and judicial systems. Systems that deliver fatal judgments on Black communities for everyday things like running, paying for groceries, or sleeping at home.
The majority of you are familiar with and have seen the impact of systemic racism across many systems, from housing to health care to employment. The confluence of these factors contributes to the dramatic overrepresentation of Black veterans in the homeless population, at 33 percent nationwide in comparison to the 12 percent that makes up the overall veteran population. Black people experience poorer outcomes when it comes to health, access to quality housing, wage equality, and even risks of contracting and dying from COVID-19.
Black veterans have a long history in this country of experiences with prejudice, systemic racism, and outright violence, from before the lynching of Spanish-American War veteran Fred Alexander in 1901, to the inability to use GI Bill housing, education, and small business benefits after World War II, to the persistent overrepresentation of Black veterans in the homeless population, or in statistics that indicate they are more likely than other races to die from chronic kidney disease, certain cancers, diabetes, HIV, & stroke.
We cannot continue to let Black veterans experience homelessness at their current rate – if we are truly committed to our work until no veteran is homeless, we must also focus our energy on explicitly antiracist policies that prevent them from even becoming homeless in the first place.
As an organization borne of the need to address the inequitable access to services faced by veterans experiencing homelessness, we owe it to every last veteran who lacks permanent housing today, to do our utmost to build systems that do not leave any group of veterans behind. Honoring all who suffered at the hands of systemic racism in this country since 1619 demands a minimum of ensuring that as a field of people serving veterans, our policies, programs, internal operations, and veteran outcomes are equitable. However, it also demands that we stand up and do the work required to become antiracist, and support policies that disenfranchise neither the individual person nor an entire group of people. I dare to dream of and will continue to work toward a more just society – one where Black veterans and civilians will not be brutally policed or be subject to the inequities that lead to wage inequality, adverse health outcomes, increased evictions, and more incarceration for less serious crimes. There is no shortcut to this place – we, as a country, need to walk together on a journey of a thousand miles in order to disrupt the social and economic order where many benefit, willingly & unwillingly, from white supremacy. And while the journey may seem daunting, every journey starts by taking one step.