Dear Greensboro and Guilford County community leaders:

All of us have grieving hearts overcome by the tremendous losses suffered in our community and across the country from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 100,000 deaths …4.2 million jobs lost.

Disproportionately, people of color are represented in these high numbers, each of them a person with loved ones and personal responsibilities touching many others. It is overwhelming.

But the impact of the coronavirus is only deepening old racial disparities that we have ignored for far too long. We know when we face them that they are representative of the societal structures created to ensure white supremacy and privilege over the generations. This is the toxic reality of institutional racism that is baked into our cities, our state and our nation. And the resulting disproportionality is in the formula of institutional racism. The lopsided impact of the pandemic was inevitable.

Added to this sadness are more horrific deaths of African Americans killed by the police: Breonna Taylor in her own home in Louisville, Ky., Ahmaud Arbery’s modern-day lynching in Georgia and George Floyd’s death on the streets of Minneapolis at the hands of police.

These deaths are added to the long list throughout our history of violence against brown and black people living among us. The 400-year history of violence against our fellow human beings has resulted in the intense fear and distrust that exists among us today. Understandably, our black and brown neighbors are responding with deep anger, while we who enjoy the benefits of white privilege most often remain silent and complacent. In these days of dark sadness, we must recognize ideas of privilege that have resulted in wealth disparity, health disparity and education disparity, supported by underlying structural racism. This must not continue.

This must change. And we are beginning to see hopeful signs. We see hope in the huge, intergenerational and multi-racial crowds of protesters marching in our streets.

In our own community witness the long list of names signing the statement “We Will Not Stand Silent” and enumerating ways to address racism, and eliminate the prejudice and discrimination that permeate many of our public policies.

There are numerous examples of places to begin to address discriminating policies. The area where we can have the deepest and longest-lasting impact for change is addressing deep inequities in our public education system. Although every child is constitutionally entitled to a sound basic education in North Carolina, policies at all levels of government too often lead to the disparities of opportunity for our children.

We claim to be committed to equity but the disproportionate number of school buildings falling into disrepair in the neighborhoods where people of color live; the lack of home internet access for students attending these schools; and the large percentage of students’ families whose low income puts the family in poverty, are all the result of discriminatory policies that limit opportunity, particularly for children.

The disruption to our society through COVID-19 has provided us the chance to view the world through a lens of race and see the differences that exist. The horrible acts of violence that have heightened understanding of discriminatory practices in law enforcement accentuate the disparities. We must strive to transform the institutions and systems that shape our everyday living and work to dismantle racism. Those of us living lives of privilege and power simply because we are white must name the truth of white supremacy and lift our commitment to interracial justice and equity for all.

Let us begin with equity in public education.

Margaret Arbuckle was director of the Guilford Education Alliance and is a former Guilford County commissioner.

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