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Guest View: Judge others by character, not by color of skin or uniforms they wear

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A letter from Highlands Community Services’ executive director regarding racial equality:

Highlands Community Services and those around us continue to find ourselves in the midst of an experience where, each day, there are new and unprecedented challenges. These challenges continue to erupt and demand immediate attention or action. Most of which have no “playbook” or script for how to respond. Most of which have literally had the potential to be life or death.

It is in this same vein that I feel compelled to reach out and attempt to begin a conversation about the global outcry. An outcry resulting from the senseless and callous murder of a man that has been witnessed around the world. While the issue of racism is unfortunately nothing new, the current situation reminds us all that racism remains alive and well, that it is vicious and that it is destructive.

That being said, HCS stands ready to support staff, consumers and other community members who are struggling to understand or identify the wide range of emotions and reactions being experienced by our nation and the world. If you have watched any media coverage of the nation’s events across the last two weeks, you have likely seen and even experienced countless displays of shock, confusion, helplessness, fear, anger and rage — as exhibited across a range of peaceful and organized protests — all the way up to chaos, destruction and large-scale criminal mayhem.

To many, these events seem counterproductive to the advocacy for racial equality. Systemically, they are a symptom that merits management, but the underlying problem of racial inequality is the ultimate issue that needs immediate focus and intervention.

As such, HCS remains committed to the following:

» Listening. Seeing. Being a compassionate and consistent part of the solution.

» Being a public presence advocating for the treatment of all with consistency, decency and humanity.

» Recognizing there are cultural challenges unique to some minority populations that must be understood before they can be overcome. Therefore, we commit to further education of staff to be sensitive, compassionate and effective in the selection of appropriate clinical curricula and the delivery of services to people of color who seek our care.

» Review and revision of policies and procedures, impacting both staff and consumer services, to assess for and remove any system inequities serving as barriers to success for minorities.

We urge our community partners to join us to:

» Foster open and collaborative conversations about the difficult and often unique issues facing our minority neighbors.

» Be patient with those in the impacted communities who may be unable or unwilling to raise their voices and speak out with any confidence that they will be heard, understood and respected — particularly in the current environment. It does not mean they are not in pain, are not angry, outraged, disappointed or even afraid.

» Get comfortable with being uncomfortable — it’s how we all grow.

» Transition a race issue into a humanity issue.

We continue to support our law enforcement partners who remain on the front lines protecting and serving us all, in the sentiment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who once said, “Judge a man by his character and not by the color of his skin.” In today’s world, perhaps we should build upon that philosophy and seek to judge an individual by the character they display and not by the color of their skin or the uniforms they wear.

We can all be better together.

In unity,

Rebecca Holmes

Highlands Community Services is a multifaceted Community Service Board providing mental health, substance use and developmental services to the residents of Washington County and Bristol, Virginia. Serving thousands of individuals each year, their goal is to provide a full continuum of care and to increase access to innovative behavioral health services by “improving lives and discovering possibilities” along the way. To learn more, call 276-525-1550 or visit


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