Remembering Rochester's Day of Racial Healing

[Remarks delivered by Hank Rubin (ICL and RocLeads founder) at Rochester NY City Hall 1/22/2019 commemorating Rochester's Day of Racial Healing.]

I am honored beyond any simple “thank you” to be invited to join this train of distinguished speakers. I only have two minutes so I’m going to get right to the point.

I grew up in Rochester.

55 years ago-in 1964-I was 11 years old and curious about everything. For whatever reason, I was particularly curious about issues of race. I watched on TV that year as people were marching in Rochester and I didn’t understand what was going on. My parents didn’t really understand either. But, when I asked, my father said that if I finish my chores he’d drive me down and let me see what it was about. So for over a week, every day I’d clean up around the house and my father would drop me off. I wandered around, made some friends, and asked a lot of questions.

I remember one day sitting on a curb with a tall skinny black guy who looked at me, waved his hand at what was going on around us and said son, one day you’re going to have to figure out where you fit into all this“. This started my lifelong journey.

I moved back to Rochester a bit more than five years ago to my 90-plus-year-old dad and an incredible job opportunity.

I came back to find that not much had changed around issues of race and racism since I left Rochester nearly 40 years earlier.

In fact, reports generated by our Community Foundation on poverty and hard facts on race tell us things are getting worse. We are more segregated, less well-served by our schools, and the colorline is more of a predictor of poverty in Rochester now than it was before I left.

With the mayors in this room, let me remind us all that Rochester is renowned for its leaders. racial, gender, business, artistic and intellectual leaders: Frederick Douglass, Susan B Anthony, George Eastman, Robert Putnam, Kate Gleason, Danny Wegman, Cab Calloway, Garth Fagan.

In their shadows, it’s important to remind ourselves of the power of leadership. Change only happens when one leader joins with and influences others and decides to make change happen.

So, I want to spend my remaining seconds talking to the hundreds of nonprofit, philanthropic, faith and community leaders in Rochester – and other cities around the nation – today trying to figure out where we fit into all this.

If racial equity is going to happen, it will happen because we - you and I - make it happen, make it part of our mission and the change we intend to make. Whether we operate in business or healthcare, arts or education; no matter what community we find ourselves working in: there is a racial dimension and a racial impact to what we do. We can make that impact better or worse depending upon how much attention we pay to this leadership responsibility.

So - with deep appreciation for every caring soul listening - I am here to give this message to Rochester’s hundreds of community, philanthropic, faith and nonprofit leaders: Whether we are white, black, brown, Asian, immigrant or Native American, we are the agents of the racial changes we want to see in in our communities.

It won’t happen unless we make it part of the work we do.

When all is said and done, it’s simply up to us.