What if Our Country Were Built on Wellbeing, Not Racism?
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June 2020

This is a letter first and foremost to people who, as I do, identify as white. 

To grow up and go to school in this country is to have a multi-year, even multi-decade, immersive training in being racist. Of course, it’s usually not called that. It’s called history and science and social studies because they are taught through the lens of white supremacy. These are a few of the legions of patently false “truths” we’re taught: Martin Luther King, Jr. can be understood through a few broadly palatable, inspiring quotes; there is no mention of genocide of Native people; racism ended with the Civil War; and then it ended again with the Civil Rights Act. 

Racism’s marbling and obscuring of every facet of our country is no secret to people of color. To be white is to be able to not have to look. To not see. To think we have plausible deniability.

Except when we can’t look away because cell phones capture the hunting of Ahmaud Arbery, the murder of George Floyd. We hear hollow excuses for the killing of Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, the extraordinary mortality rate of COVID in communities of color. White Americans are moved to do something about it.

Let us be clear. People of color have been “doing something about” racism for the hundreds of years our country has been here. Navigating, surviving, resisting, persevering, overcoming.

And being killed. By viruses, police and more. Killed by racism.

Against this lifelong indoctrination, too many white people now want the five-minute read that will explain racism and tell us the thing we can do to fix it, that will exorcise it from our spirit. But it took hundreds of years to get here. Anti-racism takes decades of personal study, change and daily workouts. It is not the responsibility of our friends and colleagues of color to guide us, teach us, hold us. White people, we have to put in the work. We have a lot of lifting to do. We have to read and learn and think. We have to hold each other accountable, and we have to show up again and again. Not just for a protest. Not just for a week. But for months and years. When the media isn’t looking.

People of color don’t need white people to save them — just to stop killing them. And that’s not just the police. It’s so much in our country, our systems.

COVID is a pandemic atop endemic racism. This moment is the closest our country will come during our lifetimes to a chance to rebuild our most problematic, inequitable systems from the ground up. In the next six to twelve weeks, policymakers, systems, and communities will be deciding on new paths forward. Whether systems are rebuilt on principles of equity, justice and wellbeing is far from a given.

But it is possible.

The spark of hope I am fiercely nurturing lies in a new, rapidly growing effort to advance a field-agnostic, people-first blueprint for transformation, launched by a growing group of nationally recognized system and community leaders and FFI. Together, we are transforming the systems that too often hold problems in place. 

This is work to exorcise the historical, racist roots of so much public policy, and instead root policy in people's innate drive for wellbeing. This isn’t about reforming each system in its silo; it’s laying out a set of common principles and cross-cutting reforms, most of which have been demonstrated at a local level. In a few weeks, this group will be launching this as an online platform for change-makers. Stay tuned for more information and ways that you can get involved.  This is some of the most hopeful work I’ve been a part of and the potential to co-create real and lasting change in our country is enormous. 

When only some of us get to breathe, we must hold hope and rage together. 

Educate ourselves, ally for transformation, act for equity. So that when we breathe, we all breathe justice.



Katya Fels Smyth

Full Frame Initiative News

Statement on Equity and Social Justice

The Full Frame Initiative believes that ending racism and advancing racial equity depends on increasing access to Wellbeing — the needs and experiences essential in combination and balance to weather challenges and have health and hope.

Please take a moment to read our statement on equity and social justice


Have you seen Tips From [the] Inside? COVID-19 has challenged everyone’s assumptions about how the world works. The authors invite you to re-examine your perceptions about people who are or have been incarcerated. And then get involved.
Staffing updates

We are pleased to announce that several staff members have recently stepped into new roles at FFI. Please join us in congratulating our amazing colleagues!
Phyllis Becker has been named a Senior Fellow, Emma Golden is now FFI's Operations Manager and Matthew Leger-Small has been promoted to Senior Manager of Special Projects.
What Are We Reading and Listening To?

The Full Frame Initiative believes that racism is a key part of what keeps inequity alive in the United States. Right now, we are heartbroken and angry that a culture of injustice and racial violence continues to traumatize and brutalize black and brown people in our country. Here are a few resources we have found helpful in the last few weeks to process recent events and to inform anti-racism work in our own homes and communities:  

  • It's important to start somewhere, even though there is no endpoint. This Anti-Racism Guide is continuously updated to address the current climate of our country and the personal growth needed to sustain a life-long journey of empathy and care for humanity.
  • In this recent episode of Pod Save the People, Ahmaud Arbery's murder, pandemic-infused police violence and the Cheyenne River and Oglala Lakota tribes' fight with South Dakota's governor are discussed. 
  • In the May 21 episode of the Tradeoffs Podcast, Dan Gorenstein speaks with Dr. Gabriel Felix of Cambridge Hospital about the serious consequences a mandatory order to wear face masks carries for people of color. 
  • Filmmaker Ava DuVernay's newly launched online educational platform, Array 101, features a learning companion to the film "When They See Us" designed to deepen the conversation, explore systemic injustice and inspire personal action.
Found something helpful in your work and want to share it with us? Please email Tanya Tucker, Chief of National Partnerships and Outreach at

Holding Cognitive Dissonance During COVID-19

Senior Capacity Building Manager Lotus Yu reflects on how the pandemic has impacted her life and explores the complex and contradictory truths that have defined her experience thus far.  

Founder and CEO Katya Fels Smyth shares her thoughts on the role of leadership in finding new frameworks for social change on Check out Kayta's most recent Forbes posts:

It Should Appall Us That Equity Is A New Framework For Leadership. But It Is.
Happy Mother's Day. We've Got This.
COVID-19 Recovery Depends on What We Scale
I'm From the Government, And I'm Here To...

Resources on Wellbeing, COVID-19 and Health:

A Wellbeing Orientation is vital for helping people and communities cope with disruption.
Check out Our Latest Video!
COVID-19 has forced all of us to adapt to unexpected, major life changes that have come with many challenges. Chances are, you’ve been analyzing all of these challenges and looking forward to the day when they aren’t there. We know that when we get overly focused on challenges, we can sometimes accidentally undo the things that are working. Here are questions to consider as you navigate through change to ensure that you keep those helpful things in place.
Looking for a PDF version of this to share with your networks?
Download a copy of Moving Forward With What Has Been Working
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The Full Frame Initiative sends periodic updates to individuals who share their interests with us.

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