I don’t even know where to begin on the events of the past few months, especially the past week, in the United States. I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a year of tremendous pain and suffering. This has been the case all over the world, and has been heightened by the racial tensions and unrest that we have seen in the US over the past week.
The months-long lockdown due to the pandemic, as well as the shambles of the economy, have created ripe conditions for the unrest we are seeing. People are tired and stressed. Throw in the catalyst of George Floyd’s death, which we all witnessed with our very own eyes, and it’s all a recipe for disaster, which we are seeing unfold now. People of color have been tired and stressed for generations, just by being people of color.
Their reality is one that I cannot begin to understand firsthand. I’m a middle-aged, middle-class white woman who lives in a middle class, predominantly white, neighborhood and drives her kid around in a Honda CRV. I grew up in a middle class family. I didn’t feel privileged at the time, but I did grow up with white privilege – I ate well, had nice clothes, lived in a nice neighborhood, did well in school and it was never a question that I would go to college and continue life as a productive member of the middle class.
As I process what is happening all over the country, and in Washington, where I have lived for 23 years, I have been taking a long, hard look at myself, my business, how I am living my life and how I am contributing to inequality in our society.
Yes, I said how, not if. The truth is that no matter how open-minded or inclusive we think we are, we all own a piece of this. Figuring out what’s ours to own and how to own it is the hard part, and it’s very uncomfortable (or it should be uncomfortable if we’re actually doing the work and being honest with ourselves).
Many of you know that I’m not a full-time fertility coach. I do this work because I’m passionate about health, wellness, fertility, and female empowerment about their bodies and lives. It’s an outlet for me from my day job, which is being a federal employee for Uncle Sam. (yes, I am a bureaucrat). I love working with women on their fertility and wellness.
When I was in college, I took an Urban Studies course where I read a book written by a man named Norman Krumholz. Krumholz had been the city planning director in Cleveland during the 1970s and had made it his department’s priority to bring equity to the workings of his city and give a voice to the impoverished majority in Cleveland. His book, Making Equity Planning Work: Leadership in the Public Sector, inspired me so much that it led me to pursue my MS degree in urban planning and become a practicing planner. I wanted to be the Norm Krumholz of my generation.
Early in my planning career I worked for local government, specifically on public involvement and engagement in local and regional decisionmaking for transportation projects. I created fair, open processes – before the proliferation of the internet and the explosion of social media – for citizens to understand the transportation decisions that were being debated in their neighborhoods, how transportation projects were developed, discussed and ultimately decided upon – and the role that ordinary citizens could play in helping to shape those decisions. As a planner I started the first Citizens Advisory Committee for transportation in the region I was working in. I worked with grassroots organizations, community activists and neighborhood leaders. My mission was to bring urban planning to empower the people of my region, all 2 million of them. I loved my work.
That passion brought me to Washington DC in 1997. I wanted to take everything I’d learned at the local level and use it to shape national policy for urban and metropolitan planning and decisionmaking. Like so many others before me, I came to Washington because I wanted to make a difference. When I got my federal job in 2000 I was thrilled. When I saw Norm Krumholz speak at a planning conference in 2001 it was like seeing a rock star.
Four days after my college graduation in 1992, Los Angeles erupted in flames. The verdict on the police beating of Rodney King had just come down, and the city exploded for five days after a jury acquitted four police officers for their use of excessive force in the arrest and beating of Mr. King. I watched, horrified and shocked, on TV. I’d never seen anything like that before and I felt sad and scared. But I was also glad that I was going to begin my urban planning studies in a few short months, and would work to right the wrongs of inequality and injustice.
Now, almost 30 years later, it’s the same story all over again. A black man has again suffered at the hands of excessive use of force by police. Unlike Mr. King, this man paid the ultimate price, with his life. It is again 4 officers, and again the events have been captured on amateur video that has shocked, horrified and angered the world.
I’m now established in my government career. I haven’t righted the wrongs of inequality and justice during my career. I haven’t made a difference. I’m a soccer mom in the suburbs, and my son is living a life much like the one I did at his age.
I’m thinking long and hard about how my fertility work with Your Fertile Self can help all women who want to build their families. If you have thoughts or ideas, particularly if you are a person of color reading this, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to hear from you.
When I googled Norm Krumholz to get a link to his landmark book, the book that inspired me and countless others to become planners and a voice for the voiceless, I discovered that he passed away this past December. I can’t believe I’ve fallen so out of touch with the ideals that were the core of my being that I didn’t know until 6 months after the fact that the rock star who inspired my career was gone.
I’m sad but not scared. I’m ready to continue the work that I started 25 years ago as a regional planner. I’m ready to use the platform of Your Fertile Self to do this. I did get sidetracked, and I did forget, but now I remember.