Opinion

To become ‘the city on the hill,’ we must fight systemic racism

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Ron Bacon was appointed last year to fill a vacancy on the East Lansing City Council, becoming the city’s first Black councilman. Bacon is a Saginaw Valley State University graduate and a manager at Genentech Inc. He has also chaired the East Lansing Human Relations Commission and has served on the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Mid-Michigan.

How do you lead when a select group has decided that our common rules, laws and norms do not apply to them? This feels like the point of inflection in history that we must meet with great intentionality and an eye on the future. It appears that the forces of the past and a very dark history of America are literally on the march in this country. If we choose to not meet this moment, I fear those forces will repeat the atrocities of the past.

Based on my perception of where we actually reside at this moment, I will speak to the role that I need to play in my local community to promote a fair and equitable system for those still willing to participate in the system in an honest way that is also hinged in reality and facts.

When I consider my primary functions within my family and for the community of Greater Lansing more broadly, they are to lower the barriers to opportunity and to provide a voice and representation for people who do not have a seat at the table. I take it rather literally that if you are not at the table, you are probably on the menu.

It has also become abundantly clear that power will cede nothing without a concerted and focused effort. Therefore, in many situations either in business or politics, I may be the lone representative for a different racial or cultural perspective. When a diverse orientation of people is not represented in the halls of decision-making, the byproduct may range from benign to catastrophic, but we are definitely not receiving the most complete picture.

In 2021, we are experiencing a wave of people of color being the first to reach some new stations and heights in this country. This representation demystifies and helps to unwrite some of the false and racist narrative that permeate our culture and shape many of our systems even today. Many of these stations are arrived at with no clear path, without firm mentorship and achieved through great personal risk and loss.

I am always looking for ways to bring greater equity, particularly for young people and those without access to power. By this, I mean seeking ways to lower the opportunity cost and shorten the journey. That is why I tend to focus my energy on the system rather than “hearts and minds.”

Systemic racism and inequality so acutely damage the fabric of the American dream and destroy so much of our collective potential — particularly in the Black community. If we as a people are spending all of our time trying to figure out how to navigate systems of inequity, then we have squandered the opportunity for that same ingenuity to solve some of America’s most daunting challenges.

I also want this to be the final generation of firsts. As a nation, we have a great affinity for firsts. We celebrate them and demarcate them in our history. Unfortunately, some firsts beg the question: How is this just now happening? If equity of opportunity and representation are the critical gateways to the future, how do we clear that path for members of underrepresented groups to dream bigger and often to escape the gravity of their current circumstances?

By lowering the systemic barriers to entry through representation, thus unleashing the untapped potential of our diverse citizenry. Greater Lansing broadly and my constituents in the city of East Lansing have a beautiful history of being out front in the quest for true equality. I hope we can all be more intentional in our efforts and truly live out the creed of a “shining city upon a hill.”

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