A group of that focuses on teaching white people to be anti-racist has seen its relevance surge in the past few weeks.

In recent weeks, a number of organizations and nonprofits have stepped up to declare “Black Lives Matter,” but the local organization White People 4 Black Lives has been attempting to spread this message for more than half-a-decade.

Described as a collective of white anti-racists who organize, mobilize and educate white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority to fight anti-Black racism throughout the Westside and beyond, the organization operates under Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere – Los Angeles (AWARE-LA), an all-volunteer alliance that has been around for roughly a decade-and-a-half, according to member Karen Hilfman.

“The group began by holding Saturday dialogue groups on the Westside for white people to particularly explore their white identity, white privilege and what it means to be white,” Hilfman said in an interview last week, shortly after the group received an award for its efforts in the community. “We all wanted to work more effectively in support of people of color, both sensitively and appropriately.”

So, nearly 6 years ago, “when Michael Brown was murdered by the police in Ferguson and the officer was not charged with a crime, one of the AWARE folks created an event that was held at their home,” Hilfman said, “and about 25 people showed up. And it was such an incredibly great feeling to be in a room full of people who wanted to do something.”

The group has since grown to meet twice a week, up until Covid-19 hit, but many senior members, like Hilfman, have still found ways to stay involved despite the pandemic

“I always had this feeling that I should be part of this movement,” Hilfman said. “But I can’t say I understood why it was important for white people to work together with POC as white people before joining the group. It took a while to learn the role of white people is to support (people of color). It’s not to make decisions or be involved at that level, necessarily.”

She added White People 4 Black Lives was also very fortunate to have a couple of folks in the group who had friends in Black Lives Matter organization, “so they went to them and asked how can we help and support.”

The group then spent the entire summer of 2014 fundraising to help provide money for bail, attorney fees and other support.

“We raised about $3,000,” according to Hilfman, but members also began to “leverage their white privilege” by attending court, police commission meetings and speaking out alongside their peers.

And thanks to a network of like-minded groups united under the name “Showing Up for Racial Justice,” or SURJ, protests against Jackie Lacey’s house have been organized and some assistance has been provided to families who have been subject to police violence.

“It feels good we aren’t alone,” Hilfman said, as she continued to describe the local efforts to make it known “Black Lives Matter.”

“Last March, we had thousands of white people going to knock on doors talking about public safety. We call it deep canvassing,” she said, which in essence is when you dive deep into a conversation with somebody about alternatives to things like jail and other public safety measures. “We talked to thousands of people, collected signatures (for Measure R)… and then all of a sudden, in a very short time period, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia was killed, Breonna Taylor in Louisville was killed and then George Floyd in Minneapolis.”

“And all of a sudden, lo and behold, white people were coming out in droves. And it was like ‘Whoa!’ This is a dream to see,” Hilfman added, mentioning how the group’s monthly orientation meetings typically featured 20-30 people but the most recent one had 500 people connected via Zoom.

“In the beginning, we knew we would be in it for the long haul but the needs are ever changing and they’re certainly very different than they were just a few months ago,” Hilfman said. “We’re ratcheting it up to see how we can begin making personal connections and SURJ chapters around the country are experiencing the same thing.”

And while she’s older now with a little bit less energy than she had when she attended her first meeting years ago, Hilfman said it’s beautiful to see others come on board and continue the fight with the Defund the Police Movement and The People’s Budget.

“It’s really a help to all of us when white people work together with people of color because power dynamics are at play for everybody,” Hilfman said. “I think we’ll all be happier and more comfortable as human beings if the resources were not owned and controlled by the one-percent and race is a big part of that. So, we’re still in the battle. And our energy is devoted to these causes.”

brennon@smdp.com