After the death of George Floyd, people from all walks of life have been marching in cities across the United States, and recently in many other countries to share the message that Black Lives Matter. Not only are they seeking justice for Mr. Floyd, but others before him such as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, just recently Rayshard Brooks, and far too many others who were killed in police-involved incidents.
The protestors who walk in solidarity and share a demand for change have sparked a movement. They have shined a light so clear and bright on systemic racism that you can’t possibly ignore it. It’s everywhere and it has to change.
That change is happening. Widespread news reports have shared companies’ reaction to the protests. Corporate America has pledged millions of dollars to social justice, but many businesses are going even further. Some, for the first time, declared June 19, also known as Juneteenth, as a paid holiday for their employees.
Businesses are also making public statements of support that they are backing up with policy changes. They are looking inward at their priorities. They are examining their internal practices, setting hiring goals to increase representation of Black employees in managerial and executive positions, reviewing their culture related to diversity and inclusion, committing to adding more minority representation on their boards, examining vendor relationships and creating new ones with Black-owned businesses, and working to create equal opportunities.
The Flint & Genesee Chamber stands with these businesses. We want to be a part of eradicating systemic racism. To start, we are looking at ourselves to ensure that our values
are truly reflected in our organization. We’re having intentional conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion with our employees and board members, and listening to their opinions and suggestions for change. We are also determining how we can best serve as a resource for our members as they, too, seek to learn and make changes where necessary. We believe only good can come from this. However, the need for change does not lie solely on entities such as police departments, governments and businesses, every person can affect change.
Talking about race is not easy and it’s uncomfortable. However, it is a necessary step if we are going to address the racial injustices and inequities that exist in this country. To start, here are three things that will get you started:
Educate yourself. There are many well-written books and articles about systemic racism. Talk to your Black and Latino friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow congregants about how they feel about the current environment and the injustices that many have suffered for decades.
If you are white, it is critical that you have conversations within your families, especially with your children, and with your friends. Ask tough and sometimes awkward questions. You may even say the wrong thing, but don’t let that stop you. Some of us have a lot to learn.
Racial injustice and inequities demand action because words are not enough. So, take a stance… do what you can within your sphere of influence – whether that’s in your workplace, at school, home, at a coffee shop or a family gathering – to advance a more equitable society.
Tim Herman is the CEO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce