We are all living through some extremely challenging times. It has been excruciatingly hard to find the words to express how I am feeling. I am shocked, saddened and angry at the place we have devolved to as a society. What we are in the midst of is legitimate frustration over deep rooted systemic racism that is being brought to the surface by our failures to reform police practices and the criminal justice system. The implications of this frustration combined with the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic (which is disproportionately affecting communities of color), has lead us to a point where inaction is no longer an option.
For me this has been quite an overwhelming time. On one hand, I have complete and utter rage about the long history of society failing people of color every chance it gets. On the other hand, there has been an overwhelming wave of support and genuine love sent my way from a diverse group of colleagues and friends around the globe. I will never dishonor the generation that came before me and fought so hard to allow for what we have now, so succumbing to feelings of rage and hopelessness is a non-starter for me.
I have to believe that the large majority of us want to bring about positive change. We have to work together. There are dire consequences for all of us if we don’t work consistently to create solutions that are meaningful and lasting. I’ve been asked numerous times for my perspective so I thought I’d share in this forum with the hope that it may help someone.
As a leader, a large part of your success can be attributed to preparedness and being informed about the challenges you face. This is a perfect time to grasp how deeply imbedded racism is in our collective DNA. Again, we are in the midst of legitimate frustration over 400 years of systemic racism exacerbated by a group of flat out murderers who masquerade as police officers. The situation is equally troubling as it relates to education, healthcare, housing, employment and wealth. You don’t have to look far to find some very startling data that can help you truly understand the issues at hand. I am personally asking everyone I know to listen to ‘1619’ a podcast from the New York Times. It is a great place to start and get an intimate (and to some controversial) perspective from one of the most brilliant minds of our time on the subject of racial injustice. I promise it will be of value to you.
Be ok with being vulnerable
You must acknowledge how you have been complicit in all of this. You have not done enough. I have not done enough (which is part of the reason I am writing this). It is uncomfortable. It’s not something you need to profess to the world, but you do you need to be honest with yourself when you look in the mirror. The things that come up for you will serve as a beacon that can help you navigate to places you’ll be most impactful.
Make the commitment to not let this become a back burner issue
One of my best friends said this week “so this passion will eventually die, just like it dies for every other cause that we have a 2-3 week attention span for – for example, what have you done about gun violence since Sandy Hook or any other mass shooting?” That hit home hard for me. We can not fall into the trap of this being the latest “trend.” Let’s be honest, no one really cares that you came out and made a statement on social or shared something your organization posted. That will soon fade. What matters is finding ways to confront racism on a regular basis by engaging in activities that remind you and force you to act. It isn’t necessary to have a fully formulated plan immediately, but you must commit to identifying instances where you are complicit and work to keep these front and center.
Find your stride
Find a place to have a consistent voice. It could be the hiring practices of your organization or the procurement process of how you select vendors. It could be finding a local organization committed to racial justice and getting active. It could be you deciding to leave the private sector to run for office. But know this is a marathon, not a sprint. Consistency of effort is critical.
The bottom line is we must all do better. A hell of a lot better.
I am available to have a deeper 1:1 dialogue with leaders of any sized organization. What I can promise you is a place where you will be able to speak freely without worry of “offending.” However, you should to be prepared to hear some hard truths. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.