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May 2022Vol. 23, No. 4The Warmth of Other Suns

Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

(This message is an excerpt from remarks delivered at the Kansas Racial Equity Collaborative Symposium.)

Years ago, I read a book by Isabel Wilkerson called The Warmth of Other Suns. The title of the book relates to a poem by Richard Wright, wherein he writes, in part, "I was leaving the south, to fling myself into the unknown." The book is about the Great Migration of Blacks living in the south seeking opportunities in the north. When I think about this journey we are all on toward advancing racial equity, it can certainly feel like we are flinging ourselves into the unknown.

There's a specific passage in the book that stays with me. The author describes a moment when, as a young girl, she discovers a photo of two Black migrant women and writes, "Why did they go? What were they looking for? How did they get the courage to leave all they ever knew for a place they had never seen…? Was it a braver thing to stay or a braver thing to go?"

This is how I think about this journey toward equity. Is it braver to stay where we are, or is it braver to take the journey and move toward achieving racial equity? Can we fling ourselves into the unknown?

A few weeks ago, I was asked to encourage attendance for a training on a racial impact assessment tool. The first question in this tool is, "Is there a diverse group of people at the table?". There is a 2-minute video of advocates in New York City picketing outside of a Prada store because Prada created a whole line of products with blackface imagery, including black monkeys with big red lips. How did this get approved? Who was at the table, and maybe more importantly, who wasn't? 

I flung myself into the unknown and played the video for my colleagues. Then I asked, "Who was at the table when this decision was made?" The truth is, none of us had any idea who was at the table, or who wasn't. A few days later, a colleague who had been in the leadership meeting emailed me. She began by writing, "In the spirit of the Prada example…" and went on to suggest that we begin having conversations to assess the language we use in framing our policies. She was moved to act toward racial sensitivity.

I flung myself into the unknown and I felt the warmth of impact.

We do this work of advancing racial equity and equity for underserved communities because it is the best thing we can do for future generations—not only for Black and Brown people but all people. Everyone will benefit from an equitable society.  

Is it braver to stay or go? For me, it is a braver thing to go.  

I want to move toward racial equity and justice. 

I want to fling myself into the unknown. 

I want to feel the warmth of impact. 

I want to feel the warmth of other suns.