Middlesex United Way: It’s time to help elevate voices of others

MIDDLETOWN — I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about the impact of COVID-19 and the impact of racial justice issues that are wrenching our hearts. I don’t want to be silent, but I want my voice to add something to the conversation, to the pain, to potential solutions. I don’t want to speak just to speak.

I’m proud of Middlesex United Way for affirming our long-term publicly stated interest in making sure all people thrive in the communities we serve. We aren’t even close to achieving this.

I write this today as a concerned and interested human, not in my role as president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way, although that is one of the lenses through which I see the world and the people in it. I also see the world through the lens of my deep faith, and, for that, I am called to show love to all regardless of how similar or different they are from me.

I recognize that I am blessed that my job gives me a voice and a platform from which to speak. Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has the same access to be heard … yet. This is just one of the many inequities that make life much different and more challenging for people who don’t look like me. I want to use my platform to help elevate the voices of others. The platform I have with this column will become theirs to speak their truth.

Two of my oldest kids protested peacefully last Sunday in New Britain, one town over from where I live in Berlin. I also witnessed via social media the peaceful protests in Middletown recently.

My kids understand white privilege better than me. They understand better what it means to be an ally to people of color. I have read about white privilege and about being an ally.

I have been to trainings and workshops. I am trying to educate myself and learn because it is my responsibility to do so. No one is obligated to help me understand. I need to use my own eyes, ears and heart to learn, grow and try to understand. And most importantly, I need to act — to be part of the solution.

My kids understand better because they are growing up in a generation that seeks to love, accept and see people for who they truly are. They remind me it’s not my voice that really matters. It is about letting others use their voice who haven’t had nearly as much opportunity as I have had: to let their voices speak and be heard and to stand with them even if I don’t understand.

Looting and protesting are two different things.

Looting means to take something that isn’t yours. White people have for generations taken things that don’t belong to us, intentionally and unintentionally. We have taken the dignity and respect from people of color, specifically black Americans. We have taken away health, educational and economic opportunities.

Black Americans were treated as property for generations. We absolutely must value people over property. Looting is a codified crime and should be punished as such. Dehumanizing people and making it almost impossible for some people not to realize their full potential so that they can thrive is a crime against humanity.

It’s terrible to destroy property. It’s worse to destroy, and sometimes kill, people for the color of their skin.

I have much more to learn. I will listen and hear you. I will see you. I will support the leadership of others with lived experiences. There is much work to be done to make our unique and wonderfully diverse community value the uniqueness and diversity of each person who lives here.

It will take protests and likely much more to achieve the equality as promised in both the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. I will do my part to help create change.

Middlesex United Way would like to take the opportunity to use our platform to help amplify the voices of those in the black community.

This week will also feature a guest column written by Councilman Ed Ford Jr. We will continue to create an environment where everyone is heard and seen.

Kevin Wilhelm is president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown.