Vera House Looks Within to Acknowledge and Address Systemic Racism
After more than two years of difficult introspection, leadership at Vera House has taken a very public step toward recognizing that the domestic violence agency has contributed to systemic racism in the community.
"We're not saying everyone who works here has racist ideology and wants to do harm," said Executive Director Randi Bregman. "I believe everybody who's working or volunteering with Vera House has wonderful intentions. But, sometimes we have an impact that people experience as racist or off-putting or not welcoming."
Bregman, who is white, and Vera House Board President Barbara Karper, who is Black, wanted to turn that around, so they put it into a strategic plan. It reads in part, “Dismantle the white supremacist and racist foundations and systems of the organization to enable Board, Foundation, staff, Interns, volunteers and victim/survivors full engagement.” That caused some high-profile foundation board members to resign over the statement’s implications, including Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, whose office Vera House has worked with for decades.
"I have seen them move mountains to get justice for victims. I treasure the work and the commitment and the difference they have made for the people we serve. At the same time, I acknowledge Black and Brown people have had a very inconsistent experience, and they often haven't felt safe to use the criminal justice system."
Bregman says that might have prevented some from seeking services.
"We've had some Black board members who've shared with us that one of the reasons they got on the Vera House Board is because where they live on the south side, people say, 'oh, Vera House isn't for me.' It might be because they see us so closely connected with the police and district attorney's office. Or, it might be because a lot of our leadership is white."
Bregman acknowledges that even she’s been blind to understanding how her own desire to treat all in a warm, welcoming way doesn’t always include everyone. She says while the agency has improved access over the years, Bregman feels they can always better serve the community if they take a deeper look at the foundations of racism that are getting in the way.