Dear Friends of Memphis Habitat,
I’ll be honest. I’ve struggled with what to say, personally and professionally. I’ve looked inward; I’ve looked outward. I’ve been frustrated and angry. I’ve cried and I’ve prayed. But I know to remain silent is to remain complicit, and that’s the last thing I, or Memphis Habitat would want to be. Silence is not an option.
On this day, the 19th of June, Juneteenth, I found my voice. I know that many of us are not completely clear on the history of Juneteenth. It dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was 2 ½ years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official Jan. 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
So today, I speak up—but this time for those who remain voiceless. I speak up for those who have been wrongly persecuted. I speak up for those who seek justice and equity for Blacks in America. I speak directly to those who don’t seem to comprehend the overwhelming pain, sadness, and anger from Black America—we’re tired and we deserve better. We demand it. And we won’t wait another 2 ½ years for our freedom from oppressive and systemic racism. The time is now! In the words of a man I so admire, President Jimmy Carter, “now is the time for deep and sometimes painful, but necessary reflection – followed by concerted action.”
Habitat for Humanity was founded on the notion of kindness, compassion, caring, and partnership with those in need of decent housing. We’ve never stopped embracing those notions, over all these years, nor have we wavered from stepping up to a problem with a noble effort to be helpful. In fact, the concept of partnership housing—the foundational platform of the Habitat ministry—was the radical idea of one man, Clarence Jordan, a white man in the rural south in the 1940s who committed his life to helping the poor—regardless of color or race—have the opportunity to build and own a home. It was called Koinonia Farms, and it stood for communion, fellowship, and joint participation. Here, Jordan was an ally—and risked his life, having been threatened by the KKK. This was bold action. Not just words.
So, today we at Memphis Habitat, declare that Black Lives Matter. Not just because the majority of our homebuyers are Black. Not just because the majority of our Aging in Place repair clients are Black. We declare it to express our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter notion of ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. In a country where freedom from slavery was withheld for 2 ½ additional years, simply so that one more profitable cotton crop could be harvested.
We are committed to being not just part of the conversation around racial inequity and injustice, but to being a part of the change in our community.
We commit to being actively anti-racist. We commit to ensuring our workforce is diverse and has ongoing opportunities to learn, have tough conversations, and grow together. We commit to continuing our work in the Memphis area and to engaging with residents, other organizations and public officials to address the systemic racism that, frankly, is a major reason programs like Habitat for Humanity are so desperately needed.
So while we've struggled to determine exactly what to say—we believe that our actions speak even louder. And we invite the community to touch our work, understand our roots and try to help build back solidarity in our city. This is a call for connection. For understanding of the plight of our neighbors who are unable to access the ability to buy homes because of a system that’s been designed to work against them. A call for action to stop the killing and begin the healing.
So as we seek resolution this Juneteenth, I pray that we can find peace and understanding. Listen and learn with compassion. Stamp out hatred. Stamp out classism. Stamp out bigotry. Love our neighbors. Heal our hearts. Educate our minds. Accept those who are different. Forgive those who have wronged us. Speak out against injustice. Speak up for equity and inclusion. Vote in a lover of all people (vote!). Start a movement—like Clarence Jordan or Alicia Garza or Patrisse Cullors or Opal Tometi. Be the change you want to see in the world. Start with yourself. Release your better angels. Overcome the resistance. Find your voice. Say their names. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks …
In peace and solidarity,
President & CEO
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis