A message on Racial Injustice from Oasis Institute President, Paul Weiss

It is the natural inclination of social impact organizations to measure words carefully in public forums. The nonprofit community depends on the grace and generosity of a broad constellation of donors, public and private. However, in this singular moment in American life, I believe having a platform carries with it the responsibility of using your voice.

George Floyd, yet another human being whose name is sadly woven into the tapestry of Black men and women killed or persecuted at the hands of law enforcement. Another victim of a pandemic—not viral, an epidemic of systemic oppression of people of color—one that has ravaged this country for decades. An epidemic not curable by any vaccine. This man, another casualty, leading to a nationwide scream of outrage—justified and righteous protest, unfortunate violence and vandalism, and reinjury of a never healed wound. The senseless loss of George Floyd’s life occurred not only within the context of several other recent acts of violence against Black men and women but against the backdrop of a global health pandemic—one that is undeniably more lethal within low income and minority communities, further exposing a crisis in health disparities. Confronting inequalities in access and outcomes is central to our work at Oasis. While a vaccine will come for the COVID pandemic, when will it happen for the racial pandemic? How many more names need to be added to the list to drive REAL change?

The Oasis Institute was founded in 1982 in St. Louis, Missouri, where the headquarter office resides. North County communities in St. Louis, like Ferguson, a township with a 70% Black racial makeup, known nationally because of the death of Michael Brown and considered the birthplace of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, experience disproportionate variances in investment for education, infant mortality rates, lifespan, the incidence of chronic disease, and all measures of resources and infrastructure.

Two years ago, The Oasis Institute in St. Louis partnered with North County communities and faith-based organizations to expand our reach into North County and North St. Louis. My colleagues and I formed new relationships with over 1,200 new North County registrants for lifelong learning, health and exercise programs, and over 400 older adults volunteering in North County schools for the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring program. We’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants in predominantly Black communities emphasizing the difference Oasis programs have made in their lives.

Oasis stands to defy ageism. It follows directly from this “organizational DNA” that Oasis stands against racism with equal vigor.

We believe in the value of lives at any age, of all races, from all communities. These fundamental guiding principles are not just constitutional. They are biblical, and part of every social impact organization working to lift the marginalized.

At Oasis, older adult lives matter. Black lives matter.

I am a White man; I will never know what it feels like to grow up Black in America. But I’m also the son of a Jewish father who immigrated to America in 1940 as our family fled fascism in Europe. I don’t know that fight either, only the stories of it. What I know is that silence is the enemy of change. We are committed to standing with the Black and Brown community. I hope the collective will of local and national nonprofit communities, regardless of mission, will amplify and sustain the voices of Black and Brown men and women. We are the vaccine against racism in America. Herd Immunity to racism is achieved when the majority speak up, act up, and lift up. We must do better. We can do better.