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Extension Must Act to Address Racial Disparities

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When you’re at a loss for words, the time has come to listen and to act.

When I saw the videos of George Floyd’s killing, I was left speechless. My thoughts and prayers immediately went out to his family. Yet I felt there was more that needed to be said, and I simply did not have the words. As events unfolded in the wake of his killing, I heard voices that spoke to what I could not understand. What happened to George Floyd, and what has happened and continues to happen to American citizens every day, simply because of the color of their skin, is an unacceptable injustice. It bothers me, and it is the kind of thing that should bother all of us.

It’s then that I realized my speechlessness came not from lack of empathy, but from lack of personal experience.

From my position of privilege and relative safety, it’s impossible to speak for people who are denied that privilege and safety every day of their lives. I do not know what it is like to be treated in such a way where a sense of fear exists just because of my race. And because I have not lived this, I cannot even pretend to know what this is like.

However, what I can do – what we all must do – is listen. We must actively and intentionally listen and engage with our friends, colleagues and neighbors who have and are dealing with this.

And beyond listening, we need to act. We must get to the point where we are truly moved to do something, and not dismiss the situation any longer.

We in UF/IFAS Extension have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to act and be a force for change. We have a core mission, which is to improve the lives of all individuals in our state. This applies to all people, everywhere. It cuts across all fence lines, from rural to urban communities, all nationalities, and all ethnicities. People who look like us, as well as those who do not.

We have several faculty who for many years now have been taking steps to bring people together for intentional dialogue that will lead to greater understanding that will ultimately lead to action.

Community Voices Informed Choices (CIVIC) is a partnership of UF/IFAS and FAMU Extension to help communities understand and work past their differences and find common perspectives, so that they can address the issues that affect their community.

CAFÉ Latino is a coalition of UF/IFAS Extension faculty dedicated to education and communication that reflect the demographics, cultures, and aspirations of our diverse youth, families and communities. This applies not only to Florida’s Latinx population, but to people of all races and cultures.

These are excellent examples of Extension efforts to address racial disparity. But we need to do so much more. We will be implementing the UF President’s actions towards positive change against racism. Additionally, there are several steps that I feel UF/IFAS Extension needs to take:

We need to ensure that UF/IFAS Extension is a culture where all people are treated with dignity and respect. This is one of the core values of UF/IFAS Extension, and we need to incorporate it into everything we do.

We need to make specific efforts to recruit and retain faculty and staff of color.

We need to listen purposefully to our diverse faculty and staff such that will lead to understanding of all peoples and cultures.

We need more training of all our faculty and staff in racial disparities, diversity and inclusion. One way we can do this is through joint training opportunities for the program “Coming Together for Racial Understanding” being offered jointly between UF and FAMU.

We need to work closely with UF/IFAS Extension faculty, including CIVIC, Café Latino and others, on specific ways to facilitate dialogue and understanding around the state among the communities we serve.

I will work to ensure that I am representative of all faculty and staff and ensure that I am leading UF/IFAS Extension in such a way that we will show positive change in the steps noted above.

These steps need to be taken immediately, and they need to be more than a fix, applied to just this one point in time. Instead, these will be an integral part of our identity, a declaration of who we are and how we do our work into the future.

I greatly appreciate those of us who are already taking these steps and I invite everyone in the UF/IFAS Extension family, our partners and our stakeholders, to help move our society to a place where there is greater dignity and respect for all people.

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