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Reflections on Violence: A Letter from Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanity's CEO

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Earlier this week Steffanie Rosalez, CEO of Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities, issued a powerful reflection on this weekend's protest to her organization's network and the community at large. We asked her to share it with The Rapidian readership as well.

Dear fellow community members: 

The events happening across our nation and in our very own city have spurred many conversations about race, violence, and morality. Many people are condemning or condoning the actions of groups that gathered and how they chose to protest. Some are applauding the "peaceful protestors" while expressing feelings of sadness, anger, or disgust about the property damage. Many are expressing fear. 

As an institution that works to be a trusted space in a Black and Brown neighborhood, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities is reflecting on both our role in the problem and our continual work towards solving it. We care deeply for our neighbors who are fighting for justice and also for our partners in the arts and business community whose property was damaged. As we reflect, we want to encourage everyone to do the same, and remember that what is transpiring is complex, and is a result of systemic inequities and a history of white supremacy culture in our nation. (We recommend this article authored by a member of the National Equity Project if these terms are new to you.) Oversimplifying the weekend events into right and wrong will not help us work through the problems together. We ask you to consider the following.

Violence enacted upon people causes physical harm and death. There is no way to replace this type of loss. This specific type of violence is what people gathered to protest - the irreversible criminalization and state violence against Black people. The amount of stress, fear, sadness, and pain that come with this type of loss is felt acutely by the Black community in ways that white people and non-Black people of color do not understand because they do not live it daily. 

Violence enacted on property is a form of indirect violence that causes capital losses - a business owner, a taxpayer, or a landlord must suffer the consequences indirectly. Human life is not lost when this happens. In the end, the property can be repaired and restored. Many of our systems are there to support people who suffer these types of losses. There are ripple effects to indirect violence though. A community suffers the emotional and symbolic loss of not having access to spaces that hold meaning to them. Business owners and families lose income and may struggle to support their families. Fear, mistrust, and uncertainty are bred. Although this violence is indirect, it still causes pain. 

Now, let us consider this type of indirect violence that many Americans experienced this weekend. It comes with feelings of despair, distrust, lack of power, and wondering why your fellow community members would do something to hurt you and others, although indirectly. It feels so obviously wrong. The feelings caused by the indirect violence of property damage reflect a mere fraction of what communities of color experience every day due to the systemic and structural violence that causes ongoing loss. The ripple effects of property damage are real. The ripple effects of ongoing systemic and structural violence are real too, but they are also sustained and maintained with power. These indirect forms of violence are so common that they have become part of our nation's fabric. The racialized outcomes and disparities are indisputable but have become normalized: police violence, poverty rates, education and housing disparities, health outcomes, infant mortality rates, death rates during a pandemic - the list goes on. It is harrowing and long. 

When buildings and monuments are destroyed, our neighbors, leadership, and institutions cry out for safety. Institutions leverage their power in unyielding ways. Curfews are instated. The National Guard is brought in for help. The property is repaired and restored. 
When Black and Brown bodies are destroyed, we are told to wait patiently, and that safety will come soon. Institutions do not leverage their power or take sweeping actions, and communities themselves do not have the institutional power to wield. There are no reparations, and there is no restoration. The direct and indirect violence continues, while data revealing the impacts of the violence continues to circulate, and communities of color wait for solutions. The feelings of despair, distrust, and lack of power are overwhelming. It feels so obviously wrong. 

Why do our institutions leverage this unyielding power when property is destroyed, but not when lives are taken and destroyed? Questions like this are at the heart of the protests this weekend. Communities of color are exhausted and are seeking change. One of the complexities of this weekend that we are grappling with is the statement that "Property damage is not the answer." The question then becomes, "What is the answer?"  Violence looks and feels different when it is paired with power. There is much work that needs to be done to find answers and real solutions to ending the historic violence in our community. 

This statement is not a justification or condoning of property damage or indirect violence. It is a reflection on the historic violence that has brought us to this moment in history. GAAH has never condoned violence; rather, we recognize it has been here all along, and are working hard to understand it and dismantle it in our community and our institution. We are committed to the work, and we encourage other institutions to reflect along with us. Don’t let the narrative around violence be simplified.

While it may feel small amid all that is happening around us, we still see the arts and humanities as powerful tools for youth and families to express themselves, document their narratives and histories, and find and celebrate joy. Although we don’t have immense institutional power, our community claims it’s power through care and love for one another. We continue our work boldly and ask for you to join us in seeking an end to violence, in all of its ongoing forms. 


Steffanie Rosalez, CEO
Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities

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