There will never be Equity without Equal Access to Justice

June 3, 2020

United Way Worldwide, Alexandria VA

There will never be Equity without Equal Access to Justice


I’m outraged by what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis. Every day there are killings, incidents and mistreatment of black people in the United States. Yet society’s silence and inaction only continue.

While more and more people are aware of the injustice that remains in our society, too many of us are not taking active steps to change racist and discriminatory attitudes and practices. The scales of justice are tilted, and reform begins with removing the prejudices that many of us possess.

As a white man, I recognize my privilege. I don’t have to think about whether I’ll be pulled over for an imaginary broken taillight. I don’t have to wonder whether I’m being followed in a store. I don’t have to worry that an innocent step will be misperceived, with the result being a police officer meeting me on the sidewalk and a knee to my neck.

United Way fights for greater opportunity for all and has been heavily involved in equity work, but if our society cannot ensure equal access to justice for all, then it is time for us to increase our engagement and elevate our role.

For more than 130 years, we’ve tried to bring about community change by rallying disparate groups. That’s meant non-profits, corporations and government working together to address problems like inadequate education and job training. Our belief is that community challenges are sustainably solved when all parties come together.

Until all parties do that around the issue of race and discrimination, and until we institute meaningful police and criminal justice reform, I fear there will be more stories – and killings – like those of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others.

Each of them deserved justice, dignity, and a different fate. Which is why as we work towards equity in schools, jobs, and health care, we need to ensure that the basic rights and freedoms of everyone are protected.

Achieving that goal requires everyone to act. So, no matter your race, get involved. Engage in critical dialogues, fight for reform, and hold people accountable, starting with the mayor, district attorney, police chief, and business and civic leaders in Minneapolis and communities everywhere. Petition, march, advocate – don’t let up.

It takes all of us to change the narrative that we can’t do better. Because if you believe that narrative, then you’ve already given up, and you don’t know the history of progress in our society.

We need to commit to equal access to justice if we’re to commit to equity. If we fail, there will be another flashpoint soon, and we won’t have lived up to our responsibility to ensure every person in every community is treated how we want and expect to be treated ourselves.

Decades later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still said it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The time to wait is a luxury of privilege. Get involved.