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Black History Month 2021: Reflecting on the past and looking forward

Feb 01, 2021

This Black History Month, we’re reflecting on 2020: the ways it broadcast the harm of past and present policies, challenged our industry, and showed us how to work towards a future where we prioritize access to opportunity and mobility for those with the greatest need.

Last year, people took to streets to protest centuries of police violence against Black people—represented by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others—the damage of anti-Black racism, and the white supremacist systems that enable them.

NACTO stands in solidarity and commitment with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

These powerful events reminded us that, from streets to streetcars, transportation and protest are deeply linked in the fight for justice — and that our work to build safe, equitable transportation systems is far from over.

They also forced a long overdue reckoning about transportation’s role in marginalizing and oppressing Black communities. For generations, policy has been weaponized to harm; today, the field must work to reorient it as a tool of liberation and justice.

Racism and structural inequality are transportation problems. As practitioners, our job is to make streets and public spaces safe for all. A first step? Acknowledge & accept history. Next? Adopt anti-racist approaches & prioritize support for historically harmed communities.

For over a decade, NACTO has worked with cities to advance street design that enriches communities and shows we can change our cities for the better. Now, it’s our responsibility (and past time) to turn this same critical eye to structural inequality and anti-Black racism.

We cannot claim to build cities for all until we address how cities are unsafe for so many. That means directing resources and attention towards those with the greatest need, including Black communities who have suffered the worst impacts of hostile public policy.

As many of us join this work, it’s critical to remember and celebrate the actions of Black people who have been fighting for justice within transportation for generations, even as white America was unaware or actively suppressing it.

It’s also imperative to recognize and support people who are actively doing this work today — people who have been ringing the alarm and putting in the hours to fight for mobility justice long before the summer of 2020.

This Black History Month, we recognize our field is working through its past to build a more just future. What this means in practice is evolving, but one lesson from 2020 is clear: the pursuit of justice is essential. From rethinking enforcement to engagement to engineering, we have work to do.