“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As we observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Monday by closing our offices, we’re glad for the opportunity to think about what his work means today – for the country, and for us in our own work. We know that his courage, his visionary leadership, and his rejection of systemic racism resonates these days more than ever.
But it’s easy to praise his legacy – and harder to examine our own progress, and our own limitations. Many of the clients we serve every day are among those affected most by inequality in this country, and many of the cases we take address those inequities. To do our best work, we must start with ourselves.
In the fall of 2020, we enlisted an external firm with a legal services background to provide ongoing organization-wide diversity, equity and inclusion training. Our staff has diverse backgrounds and cultures reflecting the communities we serve, and the goal was to create a safe and productive way to talk about racism, at the individual level as well as a systems level. We wanted to identify, in the words of the trainer, “how each of us can take action to make the spaces in which we live and work inclusive and equitable for our colleagues, clients, and communities.”
These conversations were not easy. It was sometimes painful to confront our biases, and to hear the biases of others. Not everything that came up can be easily resolved. But we are glad to be having these conversations, and feel that we cannot conscionably move forward any other way. As we build our long-term plans, we are shifting our efforts from dialogue to action to ensure equity is at the heart of NNJLS’s culture and work.
This weekend, as we honor Dr. King, we wish for you and our country what we wish for ourselves – the opportunity to face our failings, and the chance to change them.
-- Northeast New Jersey Legal Services