The Benefits Law Center is committed to work toward racial equity, both within our organization and in the community we serve. As part of that equity work, the Board is reading and discussing short works on racism, racial inequality, and the systems that perpetuate these harms. Our reading for February is Hilton Als, “My Mother’s Dreams for Her Sons,” from the New Yorker, June 21, 2020. It’s a wonderful tribute to his mother, to resilience and survival, and a stark reflection of the complexities of race in America. It is also a clear portrayal of how we as a nation have yet to deliver on a promise that lies still out of reach. He writes:
Hope dies all the time. And yet we need to believe that it will come back and attach itself to a new cause—a new love, a new house, something that gives us a sense of purpose, which is ultimately what hope is. Ma always had hope, because she knew that it had helped to change the world, her black world. But I had no clear examples, growing up, of what might make a difference in mine.
Through this lens, will be discussing our hope and our purpose in these early months of the new year.
Our reading for March will be a piece by James Baldwin, published by The Nation on July 11, 1966, “A Report From Occupied Territory.” Though over 50 years old, it could have been written yesterday, and is a sobering reminder of the work yet to be done in our country. Baldwin was not just an eloquent observer of America’s struggle with race, he consistently celebrated the promise of equality, should we own the struggle and fulfill our country’s aspirations. In 1962, for example, Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time:
. . . America, of all the Western nations, has been best placed to prove the uselessness and the obsolescence of the concept of color. But it has not dared to accept this opportunity, or even to conceive of it as an opportunity. . . What it comes to is that if we, who can scarcely be considered a white nation, persist in thinking of ourselves as one, we condemn ourselves, with the truly white nations, to sterility and decay, whereas if we could accept ourselves as we are, we might bring new life to the Western achievements, and transform them.
I was thinking of Baldwin during the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris this week, a virtual event that celebrated among other things the wonderful diversity of the American experience. One of the highlights of inauguration day for me was listening to Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, echo Baldwin’s challenge and hope when she recited her beautiful poem, “The Hill We Climb,” which closed with these lines:
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
We are looking forward to continuing to build bravery and light in 2021.
BLC Board Member