Black Lives Matter #4
Leading in tumultuous times
I was born in 1968, a year many describe as the most tumultuous of the second half of the 20th century. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered April 4, 1968, as he was protesting the conditions of Memphis sanitation workers whose rallying call was “I Am a Man.” Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was murdered while campaigning. The US was engaged in the Vietnam War. It was a presidential election year, and civil unrest and violence ravaged major cities, taking decades to rebuild.
These events spurred singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye to record “What’s Going On” 50 years ago.
As I assume leadership of ALA, we are confronting an unprecedented global pandemic, the likes of which has not been seen since 1918; an economic collapse, including the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression; unjust police killings of unarmed Black people and domestic civil protest not seen since the Sixties; and, like 1968, another pivotal election year. Racial animus and a pandemic make a perfect storm for a revolution, and we are in uncharted territory.
COVID-19 made us stay inside the house, and George Floyd brought us out. What’s going on?
In addition, our Association is in the midst of change. We have a new executive director; we continue to evaluate the effectiveness of our governance structure; we have moved into a new headquarters building; and we continue to be challenged by financial issues.
If someone had told me I would be ALA president at a time of so much change and distress—and that the beginning of my term would be virtual—I would not have thought it was possible. But the reality is that I will serve a mostly virtual presidency, and our new reality will be to connect remotely in a virtual environment.
How do we adjust and thrive in this new reality and focus on ALA’s mission? How will we confront systemic racism and discrimination? How do we support library workers faced with COVID-related unemployment? And what is ALA’s role? Where do we go from here?
I will recognize, accept, and embrace your identity and humanity. I want us all to proactively address the social issues that affect our daily lives: police brutality against Black people and the systemic racism against Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). I want ALA members to accept individual responsibility for our social issues. I want each member to take our values of equity, diversity, and inclusion to their libraries and communities and make a difference. The change we want begins with each of us.
We are not going to end centuries of institutional racism, oppression, and economic, social, and political exclusion in the next year. We must continue to advocate for providing information access to all. We must continue to safeguard our right to read and maintain our privacy. As ALA–Allied Professional Association members, we must continue to support library workers during COVID-19 by sharing their stories.
We must move the needle of equity and justice in our Association and in the libraries where we work and the communities we serve. It may be uncomfortable, but systemic change is necessary. Join me in this fight for social justice and humanity. We must go forward together because we cannot continue to live in tumultuous times.