Written by Deloria Nelson Streete
In my city, the circumstances surrounding the death of 22-year old Nevan Baker are puzzling. The Orlando Police Department says they “exhausted all leads” in the case and found no evidence of foul play. However, it is said that Nevan was found with his hands tied, teeth missing, and face bruised.
In this case, the ruling of “death by suicide,” is tragic. It leaves local communities not only grief stricken, but left with more questions than answers.
This situation reminds me of the bone chilling protest song “Strange Fruit” Nina Simone composed condemning racism and the lynching of Black Americans during the Civil Rights era.
“Strange Fruit” Lyrics
Southern trees bearing strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
Them big bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, clean and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the leaves to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
What we know for sure is that a beautiful young man is gone. His future has been cut short. Was it suicide? Was it a hate crime? I believe this situation is a warning for our country of the divisiveness that is tearing us to shreds. Is it 1920, or 2020?
If you would ask most Americans, they would tell you that they thought we were making progress on race relations and equality in this country. But the death of George Floyd and countless others, as well as information on disparate stopping by the police, sentencing, and the use of deadly force, paint a very different picture. The death of trust between African-Americans and law enforcement is real and it didn’t happen overnight. For far too long, there has been a steady drumbeat of names, faces, cover ups, unjust sentences, lies, confusion, and black death. The death of hope and the death of dreams. The death of opportunity and the death of equality. No relationship can survive or even hope to thrive without trust. If trust in the relationship between African-Americans and law enforcement is not restored, like the protesters chant says, “No justice. No peace.”
As a Diversity and Inclusion expert, the unconscious bias that exists in all of us, points to a myriad of unintended consequences, that sometimes lead to disparate impact and unfortunately death.
It is not time for denial or pretending that systemic racism is a figment of our imagination. It is time to do the work, have uncomfortable conversations, and facilitated discussions. We must explore our own unconscious bias and what we can do to reduce it in our personal decision making. We must also examine the policies and processes in law enforcement and other institutions that allow unconscious bias to not only survive, but to thrive.
It’s time for more diversity training, not less. It’s time for us to tell ourselves the truth about systemic racism, not based on hopes, but the ugly and real facts and statistics at most of our institutions.
If we do the work, we can start unraveling this tangled and interconnected history of race in America. It won’t be easy it will require authenticity, courage, and commitment. If we want a thriving and peaceful community just like any struggling relationship, we have to do the work.
I am hopeful that we can mend this relationship, not overnight, but with a strategic plan to tackle the dysfunction and to dismantle the policies, practices and processes that allow racism to hide. The death of Nevan Baker is a sad and tragic story. But the death of trust in American systems especially law enforcement, threatens to destabilize the foundation of hope, opportunity, and our ability to become a more perfect union.
Central Florida can create a positive outcome, if we do the work!
About the Writer
Deloria Nelson Streete is the President and Founder of Authentic Culture and Engagement Solutions, Inc. ACE. ACE is a dynamic consulting firm that has a dual focus on organizations and individuals. Dee was recently the Managing Director of Diversity & Inclusion for Charles Schwab & Company where she led the national Inclusion efforts for the firm. Deloria is a published author and speaker who has worked professionally in Human Resources for more than 25 years with various Fortune 500 companies including Walt Disney World.