COVID-19 Update

Silence is Not an Option

By George Karabakakis, Ph.D., HCRS CEO

Our world seems to be erupting around us. We’ve spent the past three months dealing with the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted almost every aspect of our lives. Now, our hearts break at the senseless and horrific killing of George Floyd and many others before him. These tragic deaths have put a spotlight on the systemic and institutional racism deeply embedded in our society and culture. We must commit to transforming our communities by dismantling racism with compassionate action - silence is not an option.

People across the country have taken to the streets, fueled by their frustration, anger, hopelessness, and outrage at a system that perpetuates racism. It is evident in our criminal justice system, housing, employment, and educational and health care systems. The disparities exist and persist and must be addressed - silence is not an option.

Studies suggest that the experience of racism and discrimination raise the risk of emotional and physical health issues. We are living in a racism pandemic, according to the American Psychological Association, whose health consequences include depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use disorders. Racism is a public health issue that impacts black and brown Americans and diminishes all of us. Our actions must be intentional and compassionate - silence and inaction is not an option.

The grievous harm we have seen affects all of us. I believe it reaches deep into our psyche, and we must do the hard work necessary to confront racism. It will not be easy since racism has deep roots – centuries old in our country. We have much work to do, both individually and collectively.

Yet, I know we can do this. I am proud to work in Vermont where an outpouring of support and solidarity of more than 1,000 people in Brattleboro and thousands more across the State have come together to demonstrate and speak out for change. Many of our community partners, including Chiefs of Police, have been willing to commit to citizen engagement and community policing and begin the very difficult conversation that leads to culture change. Transformational change takes compassion, empathy, trust, vulnerability, and accountability.

I am also particularly proud of all our staff at HCRS whose compassionate caring in supporting people with mental health, substance use, and development disabilities in our community is truly inspirational. They strive to live the values of inclusivity, respect, and mutuality, while honoring the humanity we all share. We at HCRS will be doing our part to dismantle racism.

These are the times when we must unite in solidarity and do everything we can to show that institutional racism has no place in our society. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

If we are to take meaningful action we must commit ourselves to a just, inclusive society and heal our wounds. We must confront the inconvenient truths, collectively recognize racism, and say no to oppression, discrimination, hate, and violence. As Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” - silence is not an option if we are to dismantle racism.