Working in solidarity

Anti-racism work is uncomfortable, but worth it.

click to enlarge Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, director of the Illinois State Museum.
Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, director of the Illinois State Museum.

George Floyd, Breonna Tayler, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade are only the most recent names added to a long list of black men, women, and LGBTQI people who have become victims of racial violence. It is not a struggle that is new for today. It is a burden and pain felt since the founding of the United States of America.

However, to change this narrative, it requires learning and inward thinking and assessment. Each of us needs to begin our inner journey toward awareness that systemic racism is threaded throughout our society and that it is built to privilege white people. It takes daily work because we are coded for this norm. It is insidious. And when you peel back the layers of your journey, there is pain, confusion, denial and so much more that often stops us from even starting the change.

As a white woman, I have been on this journey for many years now. I can assure you it takes daily, committed work to serve my organization and the people in my life with anti-racist intention and impact. And when you do the work, it is joyful. Joyful because of the new ways you begin to see the world, the new voices who will enter your thinking and action, and the new understandings and approaches you adopt that have a deeper meaning for the people in your life and those you serve.

When I joined the Illinois State Museum in September 2019, it was in great part because of their stated commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion and to adopting decolonizing museum practice. This intention is demonstrated in the museum's strategic plan and was shared by the wonderful folks who welcomed me to this new role. Together, we are learning and growing as we assess, understand and adopt inclusive museum practice. We have a long road ahead and a deep history that will need to be examined and reconciled.

In the fall, we formed staff teams to begin building awareness and to take inventory of the museum's presence and past so that we can imagine an inclusive future. This spring, we engaged in an inclusion assessment process that has identified our opportunities for change. When our commitment is manifest, new faces and new stories will be found at the Illinois State Museum. We are beginning our institutional journey, and I hope you'll check in on our progress along the way.

As the next days, weeks and months evolve, my wish for all of us is that we take a moment to breathe. In that breath, I hope you also ask questions of yourself. Why do I think this? Why am I angry? Why do I feel the need to fight? What do I not know? As you exhale, I hope you emerge curious and willing to connect with this historic moment and join me, my museum colleagues, and the nation as we acknowledge that we can all do more to heal the past and build an equitable future.

Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko is director of the Illinois State Museum.

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