The COVID-19 pandemic has fractured our complacency in terms of things we take for granted. The magnitude of disparity between communities of color and our dominant (white) culture gives us an opportunity to take a second look – at ourselves – and at the institutions that privilege some groups at the expense of others. We have much to learn. As a new year begins, I have a wish list to offer. It is an invitation to lean in, step outside of fear and discover a different reality from the one many of us live. Please consider:

Becoming more Aware. People represent a broad spectrum of identity, culture and experience. Each identity shapes who we are, how we see ourselves and are seen by others. Those who identify as Caucasian or European heritage don’t immediately think of carrying a white identity. Yet every aspect of who we are is defined by a white dominant culture. If we are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with terms like implicit bias, microaggression, white privilege, structural racism, cultural appropriation, white fragility or race-based trauma, a treasure trove of information awaits us. Becoming aware is the first step in becoming informed.

Engage. Divisions keep us isolated and stuck. They are political, racial, economic, geographic and social. To step outside such artificial boundaries requires a mix of curiosity, adventure and openness. Talk to family members and friends who have different viewpoints with a goal to learn something new. Listening is not the same as agreeing. Stretch yourself by learning the stories that shaped the experiences of others without interrupting them. Have as a long-term goal the opportunity to make a lasting, enduring connection rather than being victorious in battle.

Support others. Supporting the work of others can be done 1:1 and through a group connection. Find ways to partner, share resources and build coalitions across group lines. The more diverse the coalition, the better. Bring a friend with you. There are many ways to show your support for causes that unite rather than divide.

Take action. Being informed is empowering. As you share more of yourself and the stories that shape you, your relationships become more authentic. People appreciate authenticity. The Rochester groups to explore include Standing up for Racial Justice, the Levine Center to End Hate, RMAPI, the Urban League, Free the People ROC, the Children’s Agenda, Black Lives Matter, the YWCA and the National Coalition Building Institute. There is a place for everyone no matter where you begin. Start where you are. The next step will appear. We need young people as well as elders who identify as Black, Latinx, Asian, Native, White or somewhere between. We need YOU. This is what excites me about 2021.

Steven Jarose

January 3, 2021