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Praying for peace while working for justice

As I write this note, many of America’s cities are consumed with unrest as thousands protest the killing of another unarmed African American by police. But no one should mistake these events as a reaction to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is a reaction to countless assaults and humiliations experienced by over 40 million Americans every day, in plain sight, with no one looking. I can’t begin to imagine how that feels, because I don’t have to. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to people like me, and that’s part of the problem. It should never happen to anyone.
When President Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, it was easy to believe that we as a nation had turned a corner in our racial relations. Today we are reminded how thin the veneer of progress can be and how easily it can be ripped apart. But there is still hope. Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson took off his helmet and baton and joined protesters in Flint, Michigan, exclaiming, “these cops love you,” and asking, “you tell us what you need us to do.” The crowd’s response: “Walk with us!” And they did. It’s the exception, not the rule, but it is a vision of what our society can look like – if we work for it.
All of this is occurring in the midst of the worst pandemic the world has seen in 100 years, and the worst economic disaster in over 80 years. One in five Americans is out of work and more are likely to lose their jobs before things get better.
Hanging on the wall of my office is a plaque with a pen President Lyndon Johnson used to sign the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. That historic law was passed following three years of civil unrest, including devastating riots in Washington, D.C. in the wake of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The act called for the construction or rehabilitation of 26 million housing units, 6 million of these for low- and moderate-income families, over the next ten years. While major advances were made, that goal was never met.
As we watch the horrifying images on TV this week and ask ourselves what we can do, it is useful for us to remember that social justice and economic justice go hand in hand. As Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said on FOX News Sunday today, “people are upset for a reason.” No human being should have to die like Mr. Floyd, and no parent should have to fear that their son or daughter could suffer the same fate for no reason whatsoever. Yet every one of my friends who are not white live with that fear every day. It is equally true that no one should have to live on the street, or die of COVID-19, in part because they were denied adequate health care for their entire life. These are all basic human rights.
As members of the National Housing Conference, our mission is clear. We need to pass new landmark housing legislation for the 21 st century that finally fulfills the goal of providing “a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family.” This has been our objective for the past year, and we have made significant progress working with our members to draft proposals to achieve it. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that anything about this is going to be easy. It won’t be. But it has never been more important.
Please be healthy and safe, and join me in praying for peace while working for justice.

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