May 31, 2020
Dear NOVA RPCV,
It is with deep sadness I write to you all this evening (which also represents the 99th Anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre). This week has been especially hard for the Black and African American community of our great nation. As a result, many have taken to the streets to express their anger and frustration with a system that fails to bring justice to our murderers, oppressors, and more. We live, today, in the country the forefathers envisioned when they drafted the Declaration of Independence as there was an unwritten understanding that it did not include everyone. Political changes tried to remedy these wrongs, yet 137 years later, the cries to be treated humanely persist. How can Americans wish to bring about peace around the world while we, ourselves, have so much internal strife as observed with xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism?
As one of the few Black members of the Northern Virginia RPCV group, I found it important to come to you - my Peace Corps family - to ask what will you do? Silence is deafening. At what point will we all decide enough is enough and work together in a common cause to assure peace, survival, and equality for all? While PCV/RPCV efforts will not save the world, the least we can do is start sweeping around our own front door to make positive and sustainable changes.
I am proposing we start from within. As a Black PCV, it was difficult being ignored because I wore the wrong color of skin. It is even more frustrating to serve on African soil and have a fellow volunteer say, “I see why we enslaved them,” and watch how they continue to benefit from their title of RPCV despite their condescension towards communities they served. Imagine hearing your PC leadership mock the hosts; I experienced it all. Despite these facts, I continued my service because I heard a call and answered. It was the best decision I ever made.
Sargent Shriver once said, “I’m not defending the old Peace Corps, I’m attacking it. We didn’t go far enough!... We never really gave the goal of ‘World Wide Peace’ an overwhelming commitment.” Circling back to my original question, how can we when we are not looking at ourselves?
Last year, founding member, Debra Pinkney, presented at our quarterly meeting where she spoke of her experience as a volunteer and later a staff member with Peace Corps. She expressed many of the challenges of minority volunteers and some of you asked her (and me) to come up with the solutions for NOVAs involvement. Debra and I can only ask for you to take action. Only you have the power to make the changes we seek in this country.
I am inviting you to join me and other RPCVs to discuss injustices within the Peace Corps community and explore ways to stop the cycle of internal racism. Working on the RPCV Oral History Project, I learned that the complaints of Black volunteers in the 60s are exactly of those today. As peacekeepers, let us be an example to our country and Make America Peaceful.
Please join me and RPCV/W on Monday, June 1, where RPCVs will begin the conversation. Please use this link to RSVP if you wish to learn more and get involved: www.rpcvw.org/town_hall_june1.
I look forward to seeing you there.
Charlaine V. Loriston