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02/04/2021


Things that are Important in this Moment 
by Karen T. Jackson, Ph.D. 

I am working with several groups on community and organizational transformation projects. Our conversations are candid and while the groups on the surface appear to be different because we can categorize them: police leaders, government officials, residents of neighborhoods, faculty, researchers, and commercial lenders, there are common threads in our conversations about the things that are important in this moment. 
 
First, as a collective individuals’ ​emotions are varied and fluctuating​ constantly. At this moment we are in a global pandemic that is entering the third phase of heightened infection
rates, civil unrest is a norm, fires are destroying thousands of acres of land and homes, there were 30 named tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean in 2020, so many that they started using Greek names for hurricanes when we got to the end of the alphabet. Nature appears to be out of control. We are human beings having a human experience and heightened feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, apathy, despair, and acceptance, the stages of grief are normal. 
 
I along with the members of these teams are searching for answers to questions that could mean life or death for people. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports an increase from 2015 to 2018 in the number of violent-crime victims age 12 or older, from 2.7 million to 3.3 million. From 2015 to 2018, the number of persons who were victims of violent crime, as well as the percentage of persons who were victims of violent crime, increased among the total population and also among whites, males, females, those aged 25 to 34, those aged 50 to 64, and those aged 65 or older.​ ​For the third successive year, the number of violent crime victims is higher than in 2015[1].​ 
 
Meanwhile, police shootings of Black U.S. citizens have fueled an unprecedented surge in protests across the country[2].​ For some, the actions by police have confirmed long held beliefs that police operate within a vacuum of intentional and institutionalized racism. So, it makes sense that our conversations have also included the common thread of searching for ways to ​feel and seek safety,​ a basic human need.
 
The third common thread is the ​desire to change our current situation and to seek justice.​ I have provided social and moral justice information, research, and data to leaders of community agencies that will be used to inform social justice process and policy change in organizations. We are tackling tough questions like: 
  • How do we get the humanity back into policing?
  • How do we address the fear that is a catalyzing bad behavior by both police and by citizens? How do we re-imagine the use of evaluations as measures of effectiveness?
  • How do we help investor owners envision the application of their corporate social responsibility? 
 
The problems are complex and go far beyond categorization, stereotypes and constructs. Catalysts like Mr. George Floyd’s murder have triggered social change movements before. The murder of Emmett Till and the advent of the civil rights movement in the 1960s is one example. However, I found myself looking for the expected outcomes of the demands to defund the police. I was also left wondering how these demands if met bring about social justice. What is the change you hope that these demands will accomplish if executed? With these questions in mind, the role of data and research must be paramount in answering them. Far too often people are looking for quick and easy solutions to complicated problems. Using an evidence-based approach is one way we can begin to deconstruct these issues. 
 
However, I also see that many of the asks requested are outside the purview of law enforcement. There are other organizations doing some of the things being asked and perhaps that is where those asks should be made. 
 
I have been fortunate to work with organizations and programs that intend to increase access to jobs and education for marginalized groups, others that want to equip citizens with tools to express their voice in a manner that gets the attention of people in power to move on their behalf, and to influence local, state, and federal policy to increase access to capital for entrepreneurs of color. I hope you too are using your power and the opportunities you have in your spheres of influence to engage in social justice reform and that you were doing this long before the catalyst of Mr. Floyd’s murder. ​We must keep in mind that the very nature of power when harnessed means that it has to be held by something or someone. ​I’m reminded of a quote from the late Representative John Lewis. 
 
"Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”​ – From Representative John Lewis’ 2017 memoir, "Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America" 
 
What I hope to see happen in this moment is that we use the best of who we are to bring about positive change in the places where we have influence so that many people can be saved alive. Using research is one avenue to get us there. 
 
Dr. Jackson led a team that had the privilege to perform research that led to the publication of an article for a ​feed-back loop process implemented by Habitat for Humanity’s Neighborhood Revitalization unit​. She has also worked with ​law enforcement agencies to study implicit bias and is active in community engagement which is evidenced by her coordination of the Department of Justice Project Safe Neighborhood program for the Greensboro Police Department. 
 
Dr. Karen T. Jackson is faculty in the Leadership Studies and Adult Education department at North Carolina A&T State University where she teaches research design, quantitative and qualitative research methods, ethics, and policy courses and works with students to design their dissertation studies. She is registered as a preferred evaluator by the Expanding the Bench ACE Network which is a network focused on increasing diversity in research and evaluation funded with support by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the American Evaluation Association (2020 – 2023). Dr. Jackson received her Ph.D. in Educational Research and Policy Analysis from North Carolina State University, M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction and Mathematics from The University of Southern Mississippi, and B.S. in Chemistry from The University of Southern Mississippi. 

[1] Morgan and Oudekerk, “Criminal Victimization, 2018.”
 
[2] Gabbatt, “Protests about Police Brutality Are Met with Wave of Police Brutality across US.”