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Voices of a Nation: What everyone can do to help combat racism

‘It’s everybody’s job,' says Frank Joyce

DETROIT – If we want to see equality, social justice and reform happen, it will take all of us working together.

The fight against racism continues and whether you think you’re directly affected or not, fighting for equality is everyone’s responsibility.

“For a number of white people was a moment of reckoning to say ‘OK, I need to know figure out why this happens and what can I do, what must I do to change the conditions that permits this to happen?’” said Sheila Cockrel.

Cockrel, a former member of the Detroit City Council, is referring to the nearly nine minutes that cameras captured a white police officer with his knee on George Floyd as he told officers he couldn’t breathe. She is a lifelong Detroiter who was on the Detroit City Council for 15 years and she has spent her life fighting for social justice.

Her husband, the late Kenneth Cockrel, is a Black man.

“Those are eight and a half minutes that you can’t take your eyes off," Sheila Cockrel said.

Floyd’s death was one of the factors that led to protests, marches, riots and calls to defund the police.

READ: ‘Defund the police’: What it means and why activists are calling for it

This isn’t new for the Black people who have felt this kind of pain time and time again, but in 2020, the response seemed different.

“The number of white people willing to look at and entertain the idea of privilege is enormous compared to what it’s been in the past," Cockrel said. "Which has been virtually no interest.”

Nearly four months since Floyd was killed, Cockrel wants white people to keep that same energy in the fight against racism that they had they had when they initially saw the Floyd’s death on camera.

“Ending racism is everybody’s responsibility," Cockrel said. "White people have a role that’s different than Black people do.”

“It’s everybody’s job," said Frank Joyce, with People Against Racism.

Joyce formed the group People Against Racism in the 1960s. He attended Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I have a dream” speech in Detroit and proudly displays a Black Lives Matter yard sign in front of his Grosse Pointe Park home.

Joyce and Cockrel both explain what white people need to know and do.

“White people need to educate themselves on the real history," Cockrel said.

“Reeducating ourselves and, as adults, educating young people in a sharp break from the way people have been educated for 400 years," Joyce said.

“Speak up. Do not give the implicit permission to other white people to talk to you about Black people," Cockrel said. “You are enabling people when you don’t speak up.”

Cockrel also encourages people to take a look at where they live. She’s a believer in not just racial equality, but racial equity.

“Equity means that the people who need the most, get the most. If you choose to live in a segregated community, that segregation is rooted in the disproportionate allocation of resources, the disproportionate allocation of opportunity," Cockrel said. “Your ability to live in this segregated environment is at the expense of other people. You want to address structural racism? You want to address your personal responsibility as a white person? Let’s address that issue. Let’s raise the five hundred or eight hundred million that Dr. Vitti needs to fix the schools in Detroit and let’s do it in a month.”

READ: Housing discrimination in Detroit: An example of systemic racism

“When you are inspired to take a stand again, there’s a way to do it," Joyce said. "Do you have hope? I do have hope! Why do you have hope? Because I see people in motion and because compared to my experience 50+ years ago, the number of people in motion, white, Black, Latinx, indigenous etc. is inspiring. There are a lot of people who are ready to break with this past.”

Everyone working together helps fight the issue. Cockrel also emphasizes the importance of voting. Whatever your point of view is to make sure that your voice is heard.


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