Make It Right It may seem more comfortable to look away from the unsavory parts of this nation’s past: That our wealth was built on treating black people as property and on killing Native Americans to drive them off their lands. When the righteous anger in communities of color breaks out, some can continue to look away and wonder why they won’t let the past be past. Or we can begin the hard work of facing the truth and working to make it right.scoll down arrow

Photo from Library of Congress

“I want to know, as fully and exactly as I can, what the wound is and how much I am suffering from it. And I want to be cured; I want to be free of the wound myself, and I do not want to pass it on to my children. … I know if I fail to make at least the attempt I forfeit any right to hope that the world will become better than it is now.” – Wendell Berry

From the Editor

How Can We Make It Right?

On May 1, 2015, Baltimore’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that six officers from the Baltimore Police Department will be charged for the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

Sarah van Gelder

Sarah van Gelder is the co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine


“I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace’,” Mosby said in response to the tens of thousands of protesters who occupied the city’s streets this week.

It seems that in Baltimore, activism paid off. Freddie Gray will not join the long list of black people who die anonymously at the hands of law enforcement. Mosby’s statement demonstrated that killing has consequences—even when the victims are young black men; even when the killers are police officers.

The prosecution is an important step, but only a beginning.

More than 50 years after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and six years after the inauguration of an African American president, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood is suffering from unemployment rates above 50 percent, and life expectancy is 10 years shorter than the national average. The exclusion and impoverishment of people of color continues, as does state-sponsored violence against them.

So is there hope of taking on racism?

This is what we asked as we developed the upcoming summer issue of YES! Magazine, “Make It Right.”

Cover of YES!

Noted civil rights leader Fania Davis guided us as we explored this question. Davis believes that restorative justice processes can be used to forge new futures based on transformed relationships, recognition of one another’s humanity, and new social structures. Her restorative justice work—which she practices in the Oakland, California, school system—involves truth-telling encounters, deep dialogue, acknowledging harms, and taking action to make things as right as possible.

That gives us a roadmap. It means we own uncomfortable truths: That this country’s wealth was created by the forced labor of kidnapped Africans using land taken by violence and duplicity from Native peoples. That the trauma continued after emancipation through convict labor, lynching, land grabs, Jim Crow laws, job and housing discrimination, and other practices that excluded African Americans from economic opportunities. Native peoples saw the intentional destruction of their culture and livelihoods, their children taken away to residential schools where they were physically and sexually abused.

The result of this brutality is enormous wealth for some (almost exclusively white people) while others are left impoverished. Acknowledging this truth is a first step toward reconciliation. Just as important is looking for the many ways injustice continues in our communities, workplaces, relationships, and in the criminal justice system—and working to make it right.

If we want to someday live in the Beloved Community envisioned by Rev. King, it will mean acknowledging the pain and anger, along with the love. It will mean the descendants of slaves and slave traders meet face to face and make peace. It will mean acknowledging that some of our revered universities were founded by men who fostered genocide. It will mean making real change in our police system and in the systems that create poverty, and ending mass incarceration. And it will mean drawing upon the best of our spiritual teachings on healing wounds. If we do that hard, challenging work, day by day—with anger, at times, and with compassion—we can begin to make it right.

Sarah van Gelder

Sarah van Gelder is the Co-founder and Executive Editor of YES! Magazine