Part 2 of an ongoing series about local organizations addressing racial inequities.
It was eight minutes and 46 seconds that may change a centuries-long battle for racial equality in America. “That video, of a nonchalant police officer, hands in his pockets, knee on the neck of a man not resisting, has sparked the most activism I’ve ever seen,” says Diana Robertson.
President of the NAACP Main Line Branch, Robertson believes that George Floyd’s murder showed the world what people of color have always known about racism in America. “He was a martyr,” she says.
Now, people of all colors are joining the struggle against police brutality as they increase their awareness of institutional racism. “We have to explain that structures were created to hold Black people down and keep us in place,” Robertson says. “It starts with the U.S. Constitution, into which it was written that a Black man equaled only three-fifths of a white man.”
Correcting that historical scar is the ongoing mission of the NAACP Main Line Branch, which was founded in 1930, 21 years after the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Robertson joined the regional branch in 1987, assuming its presidency in 2013.
One of the chapter’s longest ongoing missions has been to ensure educational opportunities for people of color in the region’s six school districts. According to Robertson, Black children who demonstrate academic excellence are routinely overlooked for gifted tracks by the white teachers acting as gatekeepers for those programs. “In Lower Merion School District and many others, that’s a battle we’re still fighting,” she says.
Other Black students are denied remedial resources and incorrectly placed in special-education programs, Robertson says. To help rectify the situation, Ardmore’s Zion Baptist Church and Bryn Mawr College created a tutoring program for Lower Merion students of color. “It’s like going to the doctor and being diagnosed with one thing but given medication for something else,” says Robertson.
Following Floyd’s murder, other organizations and residents of all backgrounds have come forward to support the Main Line chapter’s work. Right now, its Zoom meetings are enjoying the largest attendance in branch history. But there isn’t a fast or easy way to correct racial inequities. “We’re having thoughtful conversations and sharing information and ideas,” Robertson says. “I’m hopeful that, this time, we’ll work with our allies to create change in this region and this country.”