An open letter from FLY’s President and CEO, Ali Knight, about FLY’s long-standing commitment to racial justice.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As we begin to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, our thoughts turn to another crisis: the recent hate crimes against our Asian American and Pacific Islander sisters and brothers.
Dr. King told us that “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We stand unequivocally in support of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities everywhere. We stand unequivocally against hatred and discrimination in all its forms.
And we are reminded that we can never rest in our pursuit of justice, particularly racial justice.
I recently wrote how we see ourselves leaning in more deeply to justice work in the future in this blog: The Need for FLY Continues. But what about our past? Our Founder Christa Gannon would make a strong case that FLY has been doing justice work since its founding, because her conversations with the young people of color in juvenile hall inspired our service model.
Since then, FLY youth have overwhelmingly been youth of color. Our funders and system partners recognize our ability to support them in culturally sensitive ways. Just as one example, several years ago the Santa Clara County Probation Department asked us to help them address the fact that youth of color were failing a specific type of probation at significantly higher rates than white youth. The result, FLY’s CAFA (Court Appointed Friend and Advocate) Mentor Program, helped achieve a dramatic turnaround in the failure rates.
Now I wanted to revisit some more recent history with you. FLY’s evolution to become more visible as a racial justice organization actually began to crystalize in the summer of 2016, when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered by police in two separate American cities within days of each other.
Those murders rocked me to my core—and for FLY they sparked a set of important conversations about racial justice.
The conversations moved into various efforts to understand how we should evolve to support our black youth, volunteers, and staff to process these grave injustices, and to reconcile it with the work we were doing: teaching youth about the law, preparing them to be community leaders, and providing positive mentors and role models.
But before we could get too far in our activism, that fall there were presidential election results that almost immediately sparked a change in immigration policing policies and practices both federally and locally. We found ourselves springing into action to help protect our Latinx youth and their families, and some staff, against unfair and inhumane immigration discrimination practices.
Since then, we’ve supported our youth in real-time and we’ve worked with our community and systems partners to create structures of support for those who are undocumented or have vulnerable citizenship. Immigration discrimination is very real in our communities. We will continue to do so even with the recent win of the DACA renewal.
This work has been happening as a backdrop to the organization growing in size and evolving to meet the changing needs of our communities. All the while, conversations about race, racial justice, ethnicity, immigration, and equity have been shaping us in every way. You can see it in the revisions to our Theory of Change in 2017 and the roll out of our strategic plan, Imagine 2030, in 2019.
Then the pandemic hit, and we saw the rise of hate crimes toward Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders due to the misinformation around the cause and spread of the Coronavirus, we spoke out. It was the right decision and an easy one to make.
This was followed by months of demonstrations and public discourse at a level never before seen regarding police violence against people of color and support for the Black Lives Matter movement. During that time, FLY called out that it is “unequivocally pro-black in this moment.” We made, and continue to make, this claim because we are unequivocally pro-justice.
And given the racial inequities that exist in this country, you can’t advance justice without addressing racial injustice in all its forms.
Moving forward, we will continue to advocate and actionize our efforts in service to all youth who are marginalized because of race, ethnicity, citizenship status, gender identity and sexuality, poverty, or ability.
We are a pro-Black organization, a pro-Asian organization, a pro-Latinx organization, and a pro-LGBQ/gender nonconforming/trans youth organization. We are a pro-justice organization.
Thank you for standing for justice with us in the past, in this critical moment, and in the future.
In pursuit of equity, justice, and belonging,
FLY’s President & CEO