Beyond Black History Month

By Vicki Spriggs
Chief Executive Officer of Texas CASA

It might surprise you to hear that I’m a bit of a sci-fi geek. I’ve seen all the versions of the TV show “Star Trek” and the “Star Wars” movies. I grew up on “Lost in Space” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” A couple of weeks ago, I was watching “Blade” on the Syfy channel (for, admittedly, the hundredth time) when an ad came across my screen that got my attention:

“Happy Black History Month from the Syfy Channel.”

The ad was well intentioned, but for me, it missed its mark.

I’ll explain. “Happy Black History Month” is hard for me to hear, because as an African American woman, every day I’m faced with facts, encounters and experiences that can make me feel, well, anything but happy.

First of all, the underlying message that I hear in this phrase is a claim that we as a society have arrived. That we can celebrate, because we’ve made it through our troubled past, racism is no longer a problem for us, and everyone has the same access and opportunity to thrive. But when we examine things like hate crime statistics, police shootings and health disparities within communities of color, it’s evident that racism still maintains a grip on our society and systems.

I’m all for the intention of Black History Month – acknowledging the achievements of African Americans throughout our history – but what does it say about our society that we’ve been allotted the shortest month of the year to celebrate black excellence? And how can Syfy wish me a happy Black History Month with any integrity when it, like countless other TV channels and forms of media, still frequently misses the mark when it comes to positively and effectively representing African Americans and other minority groups?

For the sake of brevity (and the fact that I have much more I want to cover in this post) I’ll move on – and now, I’ll speak directly to my CASA family. Firstly, thank you for sticking with me so far. There’s no question that the topic of race is complicated, and discussing it, especially with people who are different than you, can be difficult. But with the ongoing overrepresentation of children and families of color in our foster care system, we cannot afford to shy away from this subject any longer for the sake of preserving the comfort of our conversations. We must actively seek to understand – to learn about, and from, those who are different than us.

To effectively advocate for the children in the foster care system, who we know are predominantly children of color, we need to do everything within our power to recruit CASA volunteers that reflect this diversity. We know that all volunteers are trained and ready to advocate for any child, but we can no longer ignore the reality of these children’s situation: they are suddenly taken away from everything and everyone they know. They are too often surrounded by people they don’t know – and who, frankly, do not know them or their family, nor do they fully understand the circumstances and culture they come from. Having a CASA volunteer who looks like them, talks like them and is able to relate to their experiences, or at the very least, is comfortable discussing the impact of their experiences without bias, can make all the difference for these children.

Many people and organizations will tell you the opposite: that the best way to deal with race is to ignore it altogether, to be “colorblind,” to downplay our differences and treat each other the same. But if we really want to change the world for the children we serve, we cannot ignore such a fundamental aspect of their identity. Say you’re speaking with two people, one of whom is below average height, and the other is pushing 7 feet tall. You wouldn’t ignore their differences, would you? Wouldn’t you agree that their life experiences have been shaped in no small part by their height? Isn’t it likely that they have faced different challenges, and have different strengths and weaknesses?

Failing to acknowledge racial, ethnic and cultural differences is not only harmful for the children we serve on a personal level – it contributes to keeping the status quo of racial discrimination. And it also means we fail to celebrate many of the things that make them uniquely beautiful and special.

But how do we recruit diverse volunteers, especially from predominately white communities? I’d answer this question by urging you to first challenge any assumptions you might have about your community’s makeup. After all, if the children are there, that means their community is, too. The reality is that outreach for people of color in your community may need to look different – something we’re currently learning through our Clergy, CASA and Community initiative. Last November, we brought together pastors from black congregations to discuss how we might best partner to recruit more diverse CASA volunteers for children. Our conversation ended up going much deeper, breaking down issues like disproportionality and how the black community is overrepresented in foster care, and how these and other issues have contributed to the community’s historical distrust of the child welfare, justice and other systems. Ultimately, we are learning that if we really want to recruit more diverse volunteers, we must first listen to and learn from the communities they come from. It will take an intentional, thoughtful and humble approach to bridge relationships and build real trust. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Race matters. It permeates and affects every area of our lives and the lives of the children we serve, both visibly and invisibly. So, CASA family, let’s not just watch another Black History Month pass by. Let’s do more to make our mark with communities of color when it comes to volunteer outreach, engagement and recruitment.

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If you are not currently involved with CASA, I ask you today to consider how you can play a part in making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children. Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming a CASA volunteer? Visit to learn how you can speak up for a child who needs you. You can also support the work of Texas CASA by making a secure online gift that will benefit the local CASA volunteer advocacy programs across the state.