As with the rest of the country, IFR staff were horrified by George Floyd’s murder nearly 3 years ago. Since then, there have been over 200 police killings of Black people per year, including Tyre Nichols. When Floyd was killed, IFR board and staff didn’t simply want to acknowledge this travesty; intrinsically, we knew we had to do more. After several discussions at the staff and board levels, IFR formed the Dismantling Anti-Blackness Work Group comprised of individuals from various programs and teams within the agency. Part of this work has included designing a scope of work, recruitment and support for extended trainings with Edutainment for Equity (E4E). Three members of the Anti-Blackness Work Group—Lluvia Hernandez, Kevin Rios, and Enrique Ortiz—agreed to share their experiences and thoughts on this important work.
Lluvia started at IFR with RTP in 2019. When Gloria Romero was hired as IFR’s Executive Director, Lluvia assumed the role of Executive Assistant as part of the Administration team. As a San Francisco native, she has lived in New York and Chile, but has always calls San Francisco home. She enjoys and practices health and fitness as a way of meditating and a space to be with herself.
Kevin has served as Program Assistant for La Cultura Cura since 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Kevin studied Communications in Mexico City and has lived in the United States since 2019. He enjoys nature, hiking, camping, and going to the beach. Water is a natural refresher for his life.
Enrique has worked with Casa Corazón as a Family Support Specialist for the past 2 years and as a contractor for a few years before that. Originally from Mexico City, he has been in the US for the past 20 years. He loves working with his hands, teaching, and helping people.
Thinking back on how IFR came to identify Dismantling Anti-Blackness as an ongoing project, there was an unplanned consensus.
Kevin: Black Lives Matter helped us develop an awareness of systemic racism. The collaboration with E4E helped us deepen our awareness about our own organizational culture, including how we provide services.
Enrique: We realized it wasn’t enough to understand these issues. We all needed to do something, say something, take action. It wasn’t enough to observe these horrors and recognize them as unjust.
Lluvia: The workgroup expanded our knowledge and biases, as well as the importance of understanding solidarity. Racism is a plague. If we don’t tackle it up front, we won’t be able to impact any of the systems it impacts. At the same time, we can help create knowledge to ensure we all recognize each other’s humanity, but we also realize we are forever learners. Part of our task is to identify the best ways to plant seeds with those who don’t have access to spaces like we do in the workgroup and in IFR.
Lluvia notes that even small efforts can have an impact. She is quick to note that many of these discussions emanated from an email by IFR co-worker Sara Briseño who thought IFR needed to make a statement about the George Floyd murder. Kevin and Enrique agree.
Kevin: This work is a gradual process. Our initial ideas were scattered as we tried to figure out where we were at as individuals, where our programs were at, and where our clients were at. This led to discussions about how we provide and perceive services, and how our clients perceive our services. And the answers to these questions change depending on who’s walking in the door and who they engage with. Initially, many of us had now idea about how to address these issues, including myself. I now recognize my positionality and intersectionality has impacted my experiences so far. Now, my knowledge, awareness, and understanding is expanded so I can recognize where, when, and how these dynamics arise.
Enrique: We’ve also learned more about how to relate to people around issues of racism and anti-blackness. Everyone is different; they bring different lived experiences where these issues are new to them or where their experiences have created biases. So, if we want to really speak out when we hear racism, we needed the right tools to speak with people. Everyone is different and has different needs. Now, we are learning how to do that so that we can be responsive to the the differences. Still, it’s a process.
Lluvia: This might sound basic to some people, but it’s a huge challenge if you don’t have a background in racism. It’s also hard to experience racism without having the language and tools to speak to it. It also makes me aware of how blessed we are at IFR where we embrace a culture of learning. The anti-blackness space we’ve created is helping us learn how to better serve our communities and embrace our Pilares.
The commitment and transparency of Kevin, Enrique and Lluvia is evident in their words.
Kevin: I come from Mexico where there can sometimes be a little denial about racism. We see it in the movies, but don’t always recognize that it’s happening in front of us all the time. I have the privilege to be fair-skinned, well educated, and from a middle class family. I had access to many things and was in my own bubble of privilege. When I came to the U.S., people suddenly treated me differently. It was a big shock and I began developing an awareness of racism. When I started participating in the workgroup, I came to understand that I’d been experiencing various microaggressions. Now, as I watch my [Mexican] from a distance, I see the dynamics, and recognize the racism, colorism for what I once saw as normal. When we don’t recognize these things, we deny the existence of a problem and allow it to continue. Now, I’m trying not to take my privileges for granted, but I’m trying to use them to empower and mentor others.
Enrique: we learn that knowing there is racism isn’t enough. We need to know what it is and where it comes from. We live day to day without paying attention to it. Everyone has a trigger when it comes to our experiences with racism. It’s an intentional process to talk to people, learn, and come to terms with it for myself. It’s a collective and personal process.
Lluvia: Before, if I was in a space where a family member said something racist, I’d stay quiet, not because I agreed with them, but because I didn’t have the knowledge or language to explain where it was coming from. Now I stop them and explain why that isn’t okay; I’m much more analytical now. We’re in such a racist society that these things become embedded, even in other communities of color. Now I can challenge that. I ask questions and try to help others recognize how easy it is to adopt false narratives until we actually believe them.
The three of them talk now speak about the dangers of anti-blackness from a position of awareness, knowledge and strength. One speaks about the value of recognizing history and the shamefulness of some to try to erase the Black history. Another speaks of what it means to take concrete steps to end anti-blackness in our households, families and communities. It is clear that they have experienced a transformation, growth, and awareness. Perhaps the passion to fight racism was always there, but now they have new tools and language, and their new sense of empowerment and leadership is inescapable. And while this interview represents the personal views of three IFR staff, we recognize our work is far from done. This won’t be the last you’ll hear of IFR’s anti-blackness work.
Nevertheless, Lluvia, Kevin and Enrique reflect a new/renewed spirit to address racism and anti-blackness. They all agree that this is a key way in which IFR embodies its Pilares. Anti-blackness denies the humanity of Black people. Their fight is our fight. Tú Eres Mi Otro Yo.