Plan Beyond Platitudes

We must act for the long-term. Anything less means George Floyd’s death, and the spark alight from Protests were in vain.

Dear friends and colleagues leading Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts in your respective organizations,

It will be easy for the rise and fall of the anger to result in great activism but minimal action towards what we desire to create in our organizations and the world.

It will be easy right now for platitudes. People are shaken and emotionally taken aback.

Watching a man die in front of your face is jarring. We have been on screens so much that we might not have seamless distinctions between what is live human content and or interaction and what serves as entertainment.

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By now, it is clear that this was not an extraordinary Netflix or HBO docudrama. For Gianna Floyd’s sake, I wish it was.

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Former NBA player Stephen Jackson with George Floyd’s daughter Gianna ( AP )

#GeorgeFloyd wasn’t suffocated to death unintentionally. #DerekChauvin the officer who choked him, knew the camera was on him. He knew, and he also must have had to weigh the potential consequences of his actions.

Chauvin took a calculated risk. He took a chance that only someone with a history of behavior such as his would take. He had a high-percentage “winning” record. There were as many as 17 reported complaints of excessive force and brutality. He got two reprimands out of those 17, and that speaks just to those filed. The 18th time, fortunately, didn’t work out the same way.

It is also a testament to his brazenly vicious violation of a human being. He likely didn’t feel deep down like it was all that risky; it occurred as justified. A privilege and power that came with his role.

It almost seemed like he was motivated by the possibility of like-minded revelers seeing a viral video of what occurs as (and I believe was) a modern-day lynching.

Communities throughout the US and around the world are scared. We are angry. I am, and you should be. People of all races, orientations, and creeds throughout your organization are, too.

At the least, if not moved to anger, (I hope) many are deeply affected and shaken by such a violation against humanity broadcasted on all the social media platforms that we frequent. It makes me sick to my stomach every time I think about it.

Yet, that ill-feeling serves as a reminder of the distinction; a space between activism as a reaction and incisive action in response to the need and our most sincere wishes for our communities’ well-being. Both are important. Activism is the fuel for the vehicle of Action and Creation.

Action starts with clarity about what we want to create in our organizations. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the word “systemic” in the past week. I must have said it or wrote it 100 times myself. I use it because we have a gateway of possibility to honor the life snuffed out of Brother Floyd. Can we afford to allow his televised lynching to be in vain? I think not. Not again. Not amid the matrix of global crises we all are facing at present.

So, Colleagues, CEOs, and Boards I invite you to consider the following:

1. Start with stemming the tide. Publicly support Chauvin and accomplices’ speedy trial and conviction. They are guilty, and they should serve as examples. The reason I start here is that police who kill Black people rarely are convicted. There is always some excuse related to contextual evidence that was unknown before trial. Evidence gets falsified. Historically, video evidence didn’t exist.

Now, there is video evidence. It cannot hastily be whisked away. So, apply pressure. Not literally to anyone’s neck, but socially like an unbearable weight.

If any of these officers are ever on the police force again or if they don’t go to prison, the retaliation will be 10x worse for Black and Brown people than we have ever experienced. (It may already be happening given some responses to protests.) It will be a melee, and we will all be complicit.

Historically, I have always wished for a fair trial. I don’t change my position in this case. What’s fair is that Chauvin doesn’t get to see the light of day outside of a maximum-security prison after he is delivered. His colleagues perhaps get a lighter fare but still do time.

2. Make sure your own house is in order. Internally in your organizations, there are people whose behavior is abhorrent, toxic. It likely impacts many, independent of their identity. It is also likely to have an impact on people who are in non-dominant groups, more. Address the behavior; create clarity about behavioral expectations that lead to keeping their job or being properly exited (including regular multi-directional feedback). If they cannot make the turn, they should be made redundant immediately. That means FIRED! In case it wasn’t clear. And, some just need to go. NOW.

3. Show people that you sincerely care. Words are a start, but they aren’t enough. Dr. King calls (and President Obama often quotes) it “confrontation with the fierce urgency of now.” Words should contain what leaders will commit to for how long and for whom like any other business priority. Incremental progress in representation, development, and advancement is not and has never been about the aptitude of Brown and Black people. It has been about prioritization. Create the conditions for systemization now. It’s doable, it is not expensive, and it doesn’t take a five-year plan to see progress if it is adequately resourced and measured.

Caring is an interdependent act. Act with care as if your business’s success depends on it.

4. Remember: This is not a job for CSR or D&I to take on as a project. It is time to integrate clear elements of fairness, equity, and inclusion into every aspect of your organization while simultaneously contributing meaningfully to where you do business locally throughout the world. This “poison goin’ on” is not limited to the 50 US States and territories. The systemic impact of racism, colorism, religious discrimination, etc. is a worldwide phenomenon. Neglecting it anywhere is a threat to humanity and businesses everywhere. I hope we have started to figure that out with global protests happening in Germany, Switzerland, UK, Canada, Iran, and New Zealand, to name a few.

5. Meaningfully commit to addressing the disparities caused by #COVID19. The backdrop of all these protests makes it evident how committed these activists are. They put their lives on the line to speak truth to power. 25% of all deaths in the US (where data is known) have been amongst Black people. Also, there is what Trevor Noah refers to as a domino effect. That is people living through the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd against the backdrop of other police killings of Black people and adverse health outcomes due in part to injustice and bias in healthcare.

So, there are health disparities. As well, other gaps are often precursors, including economic ones where Black workers are historically disproportionately impacted by market downturns. With 26 million people unemployed in the USA, this time, it will be worse.

As employers, investors, banks, business owners, be intentional about discovering the talent that is available to you. If you need a vendor, find one outside of your old networks. Allow a black business to help with your supply chain. If you are looking to invest in start-ups, consider Black-owned firms. (Note: One that I am excited about is changing the future of vending.) If you are a financial institution, make sure you are prioritizing identifying Black and Brown owned companies in need of debt funding.

If you are not doing so already, intentionally network with Black and Brown people who are as talented as any people you already know and invite them for an informal interview. Or better yet, identify Black and Brown people as candidates for roles you are hiring. And then, find reasons to hire them vs. the oft laundry list of items why not to do so.

6. Plan beyond Platitudes: Many companies felt compelled to make a statement concerning George Floyd. Some made financial contributions. The economic implications of not doing so were likely much more significant than depositing something “supportive” into the social media streams. I commend their efforts.

The problem is this: Platitudes don’t equate to progress, and they are not progressive.

Progressive is as progressive does. If there are beautiful statements on social media and no planned, budgeted, executed, and measured actions, such statements are platitudes.

If there are strategies and dedicated resources, you have created the possibility for meaningful shifts in how you operate, communicate, and advance with purpose.

It is much more useful in the long-term to do this right. The juxtaposition of the crises at present will create a long tail and thus a long shelf life for people to remember the distinction between who made a nice statement and took a temporary stand. And, those who planted a stake for change in the center of their organizational mind.

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