In this bitter year that began with hope, we have endured sickness, isolation and economic devastation. Then a few short weeks ago, we watched in horror the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that marked the last moments of a black man’s life as it was brutally and heartlessly squeezed from his body by a police officer. George Floyd called out at least 16 times, “I can’t breathe.” He called for his Mama. Witnesses tried to help, but not one of the three other uniformed officers intervened.
We are undone, emotional and angry. The videos of George Floyd’s death are records of our national shame. Now, with ever more examples of grave and deadly injustice, and evidence of our long history of violence against Black Americans, this is our time of national reckoning. How on earth do we repair our deeply flawed and beloved country? Do we have the courage to examine our institutions, businesses and government? Do we have the courage to examine ourselves? And do we have the resolve to be unrelenting in our pursuit of true equality?
Let me speak from my heart as a woman, for after all I am a Girl Scout just like many of you. I have no moral authority here. I am an older white woman who can weep and be angry; be broken-hearted and horrified by the depth of our country’s culture of racial bias; and be appalled by our long history of institutional racism. As women, we have so many things in common and those conversations are easy to have. What is not so easy to talk about are the inequities and differences among us. We need to talk about and understand how our lives are different. I can and do read the articles and stories about racial injustice. I get angry and sick at heart. But my experience as a white woman, filled with explicit and implicit white privilege, is quite different from black women – sometimes in ways that I don’t always even recognize. I am keenly aware that I never for a moment fear that my adult son will be endangered by the police or some vigilantes. I am aware that the color of my skin has opened doors that were locked to women of color. But I know that discovering how our life experiences have differed can help us communicate better with one another.
If we educate ourselves about the realities facing our black sisters, listen to one another with respect and love, and take a leap of faith to share our own experiences, then we have a chance to truly communicate and find common ground. We have an opportunity to be impeccably authentic and brave today. If we find the heart and courage to do so, we can listen with respect and love and, in turn, give to other women the gift of deep insight into one another’s own unique lives and experiences. We must be generous with one another, participate in affinity groups with peer learning, surround ourselves with other truthful, honorable women – and open doors and support them. If we can do that, we can stand as one.
As CEO of Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council I make this commitment: We will eliminate institutional racism and the structure that supports it within our own Council.
I am painfully aware that Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio has fallen short in addressing institutional racism and diversity. We must and will examine every aspect of our work through the lens of racial justice. We will closely evaluate staff and volunteer training, hiring practices, the composition of our staff leadership teams, promotions, volunteer and staff policies, and our recruitment and outreach to Black and Latinx communities. We will hire an outside professional expert to examine every aspect of our operations and provide a very clear and unbiased picture of where our Council stands and where changes need to be made. But this is only step number one and must be followed by actions that will build a culture that ensures every girl and adult, everywhere throughout our Council, is valued and respected. We will be unrelenting and unflagging in the important work before us. We are in it for the long haul.
As we gain a full and honest picture of our current operational realities, the Board of Directors will also work with the outside professional expert and establish a Diversity Committee to evaluate all of our governance practices. This will include the composition of the Board itself, bylaws, policies, committee functions and committee composition. The Board will make the necessary changes.
We will invoke our Council’s Zero Tolerance Policy on racism and discrimination among all of our members. We will respond firmly and quickly to violations of that policy. We will also provide mandatory anti-bias and anti-racism training for all of our staff and volunteers.
We are Girl Scouts with a vision that women can come together and be an unstoppable force for good. Join me as we get to work and make our world a better place for every woman, man and child, without regard to race or ethnic origin. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and we must be brave and honest. It is our only hope.
This is our time to stand up and stand together.
In love, humility and faith in the future,
Cynthia H. Breunig
President and CEO
Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council