After nine months, my daughter and I were informed recently that the charges and fees against us (totaling almost $1,000) for sidewalk chalking at the Great River Landing in Onalaska were dismissed.
Thank you to Joe Veenstra, our attorney, for defending us pro bono through pretrial, trial and post-trial briefings.
The washable chalk messages we wrote on Easter Sunday in 2017 were intended to be welcoming to people of color, but they were also meant to be encouraging for our local, largely white population, to embrace being more intentional about addressing inequities in our society.
We live in a time and place where people who don’t want to acknowledge harmful systems of racism can avoid the issues by expressing anecdotes like, “I sit next to black parents during my son’s basketball games and we get along great,” “I fought in the war with black people, there’s no problem,” or “I don’t even see color, we should all just be nice to each other.”
The problem is that these narratives don’t acknowledge policies and systems that have a significant detrimental effect on people of color in our own community.
This past year my family and I, along with our friends in the Showing Up for Racial Justice local chapter, (La Crosse Area SURJ), have found ways to show up with people of color to make positive changes in our community. This showing up has taken many forms.
One, in collaboration with Kids First, Equity Now, was fundraising and distributing more than 120 books to La Crosse public schools and their students. This collaboration developed a more inclusive and historically accurate curriculum. We have also recently started an endowment through Western Technical Foundation in conjunction with Project Proven. Funds generated by the SURJ Endowment will go toward educational costs, employment preparation costs such as developing a resume, and other costs that present barriers to successful re-entry for incarcerated people of color in our community.
Since December 2017, our grassroots fundraising efforts for this endowment have raised more $4,000 toward our goal of raising $12,000 by the end of 2018.
As a frequent participant in learning sessions at the Three Rivers Ho-Chunk House in La Crosse, I’ve heard firsthand how old stereotypes continue to fuel intergenerational trauma. Indigenous people are active members of our community and deserve modern representations of their culture.
Attending community meetings has helped me gain a greater understanding of the many ways our neighbors of color are made to feel marginalized. This is a learning process that takes an investment of time and a great deal of listening in order to build relationships of trust.
The La Crosse Human Rights Commission meets monthly and works actively to address issues of inequity that occur locally. These meetings are open to the public and are held at 5:15 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month at City Hall.
Our sidewalk chalk messages came from a deep longing for justice for all people. This will not become a reality until more people are committed to learning, understanding and confronting the systems that keep people of color from being treated as equals.
As Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
Our chalk messages were not intended to be graffiti, but rather, small messages of hope to those who face challenges in our community.