WINCHESTER — Recent protests over racial intolerance and inequality have led many Americans to question whether society will ever be equitable to all races.
On Thursday, The Winchester Star sat down with three African American community leaders to hear their perspectives.
Tina Stevens-Culbreath and her husband, Rodney Culbreath, founded the nonprofit I’m Just Me Movement in 2013 to put troubled children on a path toward success. While their message has been well received, the Culbreaths said their Winchester-based organization has had to fight harder for funding because grants and partnerships that could further their cause are usually awarded to white-led nonprofits.
LaTasha Do’zia created the nonprofit Selah Theatre Project in 2012 to encourage young people in the Northern Shenandoah Valley to express themselves artistically. In 2018, she also became executive director of the Youth Development Center in Kernstown, but she resigned that position last month because she felt she was being held to a higher standard than her white predecessor.
Some people would argue the difficulties faced by Do’zia and the Culbreaths are no different than those of white nonprofit leaders, but their collective experiences could point to subtle, systemic racism, the three nonprofit leaders said.
Do’zia, who said she has experienced little overt racism in her life, has noticed how some white people seem surprised that she is black when they meet her in person.
“I’ve been told how articulate I am, and I just wasn’t what people expected when I walked into a room,” Do’zia said.
“That’s what I get, too,” said Stevens-Culbreath, who also serves on Stephens City’s Town Council.
I’m Just Me Movement, Selah Theatre Project and the Youth Development Center serve people of all ethnicities. Do’zia and the Culbreaths said that actually puts their groups at a disadvantage because a common misconception is that nonprofits run by African Americans only cater to African Americans.
“If you’re [an African American] working with a nonprofit that is not specifically for black or brown children, it’s a lot harder,” Do’zia said. “People say, ‘We have this white counterpart to what you’re doing, so we don’t need to invest in you.’”
“Anything that’s minority-led — whether it’s women, black people — you have to go undefeated,” Rodney Culbreath said. “Any mistake could bring you down.”
Do’zia said she has been asked to serve on the boards of numerous nonprofits and organizations, but she suspects that some of those offers were extended simply because she’s “the one black lady we know who’s articulate.”
“If they don’t know how to engage people of color, women of color, children of color, then I get called,” Do’zia said.
Also, she said, there is often only one chair for an African American at an organization’s board table.
“If there’s one chair, either we fight for that chair or we give up because we don’t see ourselves in that chair,” Do’zia said.
Even when a black person gets a seat at the table, he or she frequently feels like they are being held back or taken less seriously than their white counterparts. Do’zia and the Culbreaths said they have all submitted ideas that were rejected by organizations, only to see those same ideas accepted when presented by a white person.
“People steal your ideas,” Rodney Culbreath said bluntly. “The more they take from you, the more you look like you’re not capable of doing your job. Then you’re on the outside looking in, wondering, ‘Are they going to throw me a bone?’”
“It’s not a level playing field,” Stevens-Culbreath said. “We have to bang on doors loudly, and still we’re not heard.”
Do’zia and the Culbreaths said it has taken a very long time, but thanks to the recent protests and marches across the country, many Americans are finally recognizing the disparities experienced by black people.
“The marches have changed the playing field,” Rodney Culbreath said. “We need to build a better America that we all can be proud to live in, where there are opportunities for everybody.”
“It is time for us to build our chairs and bring them to the table,” Do’zia said. “We’ve been quiet and we’ve been still, but we’re waking up.”