It’s a new year, but this is not the “Happy New Year” message I had planned.

Last week, a violent mob laid bare for the entire world the divided and fragile state of our democracy by attempting to halt the faithful execution of the Constitution.  As if this wasn’t enough reason to be alarmed, the response from law enforcement underscored—yet again—that there is a double standard in policing social unrest driven entirely by race. The hypocrisy was captured perfectly in a tweet from Baltimore Ravens player (and Illinois State University graduate) Davontae Harris, pleading, “We’re not asking you to shoot them like you shoot us, we’re asking you to NOT shoot us like you don’t shoot them…”

The mob assault last Wednesday and the response (or lack of response) did not materialize out of thin air. The riot followed weeks of false claims about voter fraud leveled at cities (Detroit, Atlanta and Philadelphia) with large numbers of African American voters. It followed months of voter suppression efforts including court challenges, the weakening of the United States Postal Service and other strategies to making the casting a ballot harder. It followed a summer of social unrest calling attention to the violent policing of Black and brown communities. What does all this say about us at this critical moment?

We cannot honestly claim “this is not who we are” as a country, despite the number of times we’ve heard the phrase since Wednesday. Sadly, the evidence makes plain this is exactly who we are: divided and unequal.

A fairer claim is “this is not who we aspire to be.” It means acknowledging our failures to be the “more perfect union” envisioned by an evolving Constitution and committing to the hard work needed to live up to its promise.

At Children’s Home & Aid, this work includes building an organization steadfastly committed to being more inclusive, equitable and antiracist. Accordingly, we are starting 2021 with an important event taking place in January. We are looking forward to our participation in the National Day of Racial Healing on January 19th, among other learning opportunities throughout the year. This event is being spearheaded by the hardworking leaders of our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Regional Champions. This represents a commitment to invest in something far too rare in the present moment: dialogue, empathy and understanding.

No, this wasn’t the week to say “Happy New Year,” but I see reasons to be optimistic about the future.

  • The people spoke. Despite a pandemic and well-documented voter suppression efforts, eligible voters turned out at rate not seen since in 120 years.
  • Our judiciary protected voters. Despite an unprecedented number of legal challenges seeking to disenfranchise millions of voters in contested states, each and every challenge was dismissed by judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats alike, including the United States Supreme Court.
  • Vice President-elect Harris shattered ceilings. The next Vice President of the United States will be an inspiration of firsts: the first woman, the first black woman, the first South Asian woman and the first graduate of a historically Black university.
  • The United States Senate saw new leadership. The state of Georgia—in a highly contested, nationally watched runoff election—sent the Reverend Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church (spiritual home to both Dr. King and Representative John Lewis) to the United States Senate.
  • Disingenuous lawmakers and a violent mob did not prevail. Chaos, violence and a once in a century breech of the United States Capitol did not keep the Congress of the United States from certifying the results of the most secure election in our nation’s history (another noteworthy achievement).

I know we all look forward to a day when a list like this isn’t especially noteworthy. But let me say this: such developments remind us that our setbacks are not our destiny.

True, such progress seems so slow in our rapidly moving world, but I take heart in Dr. King’s famous sermon inspired by the abolitionist Theodore Parker: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

I have no doubt there are better days ahead. None at all.