Racial Equity Series
Unprecedented Times…Require BOLD Leadership:
25 Actionable Steps you can take to help address
structural and systemic racism.
Irrespective of our educational background, political leaning or positionality, this issue has deeply wounded many of us without exception. As a black man, I posit to you that what you're seeing is not new, America! What you are seeing are the daily lived experiences, realities and encounters of black people in this country. It was, it has been and still is our reality. Like many others, I am hopeful about the outpouring of support and leadership that is emerging on this issue. This is the time for action...
"a virus knows no race and has no boundaries. It does not care about our visible and invisible identities - that play no role in the selection of its victims, nor does it pick and choose who is superior or inferior"
What we are seeing across the globe in lieu of the pandemic and everything that we're experiencing nationally are not mutually exclusive, words cannot adequately express what we feel. For the first time in a long time, we're witnessing brutality at a time when we are supposed to wake up as a human race. This was an opportunity for us to realize, that a virus knows no race and has no boundaries. It does not care about our visible and invisible identities - that play no role in the selection of its victims, nor does it pick and choose who is superior or inferior. It did not decide where or when to show up. Shamefully, our institutions and leaderships' response did. From the financial institutions that refused to give black business owners support/funding out of biases and discriminatory practices; to the claims that are not being fulfilled by our local agencies; all the way to Congress- ignoring some of the pressing health care needs of marginalized communities across the country, not to mention what we see in the white house. Remember that all of these are not borne of Corona virus but human beings, exposing deeply rooted structural and systemic issues we have allowed to carry on for far too long. If there is anything we should learn from this global pandemic, it is that- in an increasingly interconnected world, we are one human race, inextricably connected, sharing a common fate and bounded by common moral and ethical principles. Therefore, what happens in other parts of the world should be our concern and our individual and collective responses should be guided by inclusive values not divisiveness.
Unfortunately, we have come to accept that certain areas and segments of our society, particularly black and brown communities will always receive the short-end-of-the-stick and that is not acceptable. Our institutions and leadership's decisions to selectively marginalize, undermine and overlook black and brown communities was painful to witness. Underfunded, ignored, discriminated against and then being murdered? This provides context and fertile grounds when coupled with what I want to share with you below.
"Leadership requires sacrifice, selflessness, moral and ethical disposition...instinctive and adaptive traits that truly manifest when we're facing imminent threat"
Compounding this reality is the lethargic financial, social, legislative responses and the hurtful rhetoric from leadership in the face of these brutalities. Now is the time for us to reflect. Leadership requires sacrifice, selflessness, moral and ethical disposition... instinctive and adaptive traits that truly manifest when we're facing imminent threat. True leadership require deep introspection and commitment to equity and fairness in times of ease as well as difficulty. When we neglect these tenets of leadership, we have create an atmosphere of fear, hatred, bigotry and wherever these symbols are celebrated racism runs rampant. For instance, less than a month ago from April 15-30th in Michigan, “Hundreds of protesters, some armed, gathered inside Michigan’s state capitol as state lawmakers debated the Democratic governor’s request to extend her emergency powers to combat coronavirus.” The Guardian. A group of white men and women walked into the state capitol with arms in protest about the shutdown and the president said;
“The Governor of Michigan should give a little and put out the fire. These are very good people,” in a follow up tweet he continued to state;
“They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
Calling them “good, patriots” and for the governor and mayor to be compassionate about their frustration in essence - of not being able to get a haircut/done or walk on the beach.
Contrasting this to the blatant ignorance, fear mongering, hatred and racism we’ve seen in his response to this protest from day one has been starkly painful and clear. He made statements ensconced in racist dog- whistles like;
“Most vicious dogs and ominous weapons” he said,
"Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!"
This is not the first time he has undermined black lives. He tweeted this during the NFL protests in 2017 “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,” referring particularly to Colin Kaepernick’s stands against police brutality in America.
When our very founding history informs us that there is nothing more patriotic and American than to mobilize and protest against any form of injustice. Irrespective of your political leaning/persuasion these statements and vastly different response are not helpful at the very least, and blatantly disingenuous after sharing how hurt you are about their deaths.
"They are tired of a failed system that tells them they do NOT belong and do NOT matter. I am struggling to reconcile to two as do so many of social justice advocates and black folks across the globe. Like them, I am mad and frustrated watching the cruel and inhumane murder of what could be me. Where is the humanity? Where is the justice?"
While many of us were processing and finding creative ways to navigate the new world, work and life, our collective reflections were akin to both the horror stories we’ve witnessed throughout the pandemic as well as being hopeful about what it brought; time to reflect, to be with family and loved ones, to communicate with lost contacts, and to finally relax from the constant pressures of a competitive global environment. Many of us were adjusting our lives to find innovative pathways to absorb the shock of a global pandemic. As if all these were not enough amidst this uncertainty, these happened:
Unfortunately, two white men (father and son) had to follow Ahmaud Arbery and gun him down cold blooded in February.
Unfortunately, Brionna Taylor had to meet her fate in a “no-knock searches in a narcotics investigation” in March.
Unfortunately, officer Chauvin had to put his knee on George Floyd’s neck. People are watching a video of someone who could be their age-mate, friend, classmate, and colleague killed in broad day light.
Unfortunately, we have watched Amy Cooper call the cops on an innocent black man in very disturbing video in Central Park.
In addition, we must remember when sports teams win championships and cities erupt in flames they are typically called “just children celebrating.” This inconsistency must be addressed as while the behavior and action are the same, the outcome is consequentially different for black and brown bodies. An example of systemic inequity via autocratic policies geared for marginalized communities.
Now as I watch everything unfold and reading some of the statements being put out by leaders across the globe, I am moved and cautiously optimistic. This is because I am conflicted with two realities;
The first: the idea that this violence and vandalism taking place is overshadowing the impact/effect of what actually happened. Stripping away the power and purpose of peaceful protests across the country/globe to respect, honor and provide some closure for the victims’ family even though nothing will ever give them adequate closure. While we can all empathize with the frustrations, I believe most of us agree that looting is flat out wrong and certainly do not agree with vandalism.
The second: is that I understand and empathize with why people from all walks of life are in the streets angrily protesting. They are tired of a failed system that tells them they do NOT belong and do NOT matter. I am struggling to reconcile to two as do so many of social justice advocates and black folks across the globe. Like them, I am mad and frustrated watching the cruel and inhumane murder of what could be me. Where is the humanity? Where is the justice?
"We're all walking on different paths to the same destination...whichever path we take, we must have the courage and conviction to reach that destination."
People have been marching since the inception of this country. Some have been silent for so long and can no longer bear the agony of watching the future of young black women and men snatched in front of our eyes. Remember when folks used to march before cell phone videos? Everything was behind closed doors and we had to watch arrests on the news with curated messages about criminality. Remember Central Park Five and who perpetrated negative stereotypes and image about them – only to be found innocent? Remember Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American Minneapolis Police Department officer “the other” cop who received 12.5 years sentencing - one of the harshest we have seen in the history of this country. No matter what happens on this journey, remember that we're all walking on different paths to the same destination...whichever path we take, we must have the courage and conviction to reach that destination.
"Sometimes silence speaks louder than both action and words…if we neglect this moral and ethical duty in moments of great injustice, we have failed humanity."
Research Findings - Consequences & Action
I'm especially perplexed with one group of people and I'm speaking to you more directly. If you're educated, aware, or knowledgeable about these matters and/or informed about their complexities but yet remain silent, you are enabling and participating in perpetuating the problem. We want to share why people may not want to act and have what seems like a lethargic disposition.
While there is a large body of research that describes the negative consequences and adverse impact of the various forms of racism. Which includes empirical findings that correlate with heightened levels of depression (Brown et al., 2000; Noh, Beiser, Kasper & Sidney, 1999), increased hostility (Utsey, 1998), lowered life satisfaction and self-esteem (Broman, 1997), feelings of trauma and helplessness (Ponterotto et al., 2006), and a broad range of physical health problems to the different types of racism that non-White persons routinely experience (Chunn, 2002).- D'ANDREA, DANIELS 171. An increasing body of research now focus on the adverse consequences of racism on White people as well. These research findings for instance, indicate that Whites experience feelings of anxiety, guilt, shame and confusion surrounding issues of racism (Ponterotto et aI., 2006). If you want to further understand why black colleagues might be alarmed and concerned, here is a reference point. Officer Chauvin and George Floyd worked for the same employer. While they were not known to be friends, this detail may at the very least contextualize your colleagues' state of mind for you. I have been receiving messages from friends and strangers about what I think they can do in this time. I remember as a young boy growing up in the Bronx, I thought I had seen it all learning about Rodney King and seeing Amadou Diallo’s killing but here we are 20 years later.
Sometimes silence speaks louder than both action and words…if we neglect this moral and ethical duty in moments of great injustice, we have failed humanity. In that context, I have taken the personal step and time to publicly share one of our resources that we only shared with our partner clients. I have also opened up our blog for anyone to join and discuss/respond to this and many other articles coming in our Racial Equity Series. We have made some changes on our website to reflect this new step. This resource is a methodical approach - listing steps you can take to bring about solutions and healing now. We also have some other initiatives in the works and will share them as they become available. Here are a few things you can do today, and right now:
1. You can start by denouncing these murders and brutality by calling them what they are.
2. You can like, celebrate, comment or support and share an article or post. The least you can do. (Read commentary below about this).
3. You can call your "black friend(s)" and check in on them. Just make sure you're just checking in. It's okay to keep it here without asking for a lesson plan.
4. You should listen attentively to your employees, team members and colleagues.
5. You can set aside your fear for a moment to acknowledge the pain and frustration of your fellow human beings. While checking your privilege and not draw comparisons with your experiences.
6. You can text, chat, zoom them instead if you're working remotely.
7. You can write a simple note to your black colleagues. If you couldn't do the steps above.
8. You can speak about your steps with your family or community members who may portray notions of racism when talking about the victims and protesters among other issues.
9. You should call your local elected officials and US Congress representatives to express yourself. To vote against any bill that stems to kneecap laws protecting our civil rights/liberties in this country.
10. You should reflect and write your own statement of equity, diversity and inclusion.
11. You can provide water to peaceful protestors and police officers on the streets.
12. You can get up, get out and march/protest peacefully in your community. If that is too much then;
13. You should certainly join an online/virtual Program/Walk-Out/Protest/Talk.
14. You should NOT loot/destroy anything while you protest and prevent others around you from doing so if you're able to protest. (Reference history of vandalism of sports championships above).
15. You can volunteer to help your city/town clean up during and after this unrest.
16. You should grow your circle of friends, colleagues at work or in your neighborhood.
17. You should travel to broaden your scope on the beauty of diversity, humanity and inclusion.
18. You should take a solemn personal and/or professional oath to never support or perpetuate any form of implicit bias, stereotype, micro/macroaggression, racialized aggression, oppression, hatred, bigotry, racism etc.
19. You should spend time learning and working in marginalized communities and integrate what you learn with your family, friends, workplace, community and country.
20. You should unlearn attitudes and behaviors to become ANTI-RACIST by taking racial equity courses and diversity certification to acclimatize yourself with structural and systemic racism.
21. You should teach, train and provide your expertise to people who reach out wanting to learn more.
22. You can donate directly to the Official George Floyd Fund, to support his family on this uphill battle. Also to Black Lives Matter Foundation, The NAACP - Legal Defense Fund, The American Civil Liberties Union -ACLU, The Equal Justice Initiative, The Colin Kaepernick Foundation (KnowYourRightsCamp) to support those who might face retaliation for exercising their legal rights to organize. Your act of donating to these organizations is encapsulated in the quote below;
“Qui facit per alium facit per se is a Latin legal term that means, "He who acts through another does the act himself." It is a fundamental legal maxim of the law of agency.” ~Law Times Journal
23. You should NOT be like Amy Cooper or Derek Chauvin - (i.e You should NOT call the cops every time you see an innocent black woman or man walking, jogging, bird watching, driving or sitting on their front porch etc...in your neighborhood.)
24. You should certainly NOT FOLLOW black people with a gun or any weapon either. If you fear for your life, then stay in your house and if you must call your local police, don't exaggerate the scenario. Don't use the lives of black women or men as practice for your second amendment rights.
25. SPEAK UP AND ACT with BOLD conviction. Knowing and differentiating what is right from wrong is the moral and ethical first step to conquering racism and making our world a better place.
*** Bonus and most importantly: YOU SHOULD REGISTER TO VOTE. VOTE TO END THIS MADNESS IN THIS COUNTRY. (Locally and Nationally). See you from now – November.
Note: While I personally do not think 'liking a comment or posting on social media platforms' is the best form of action, it is certainly a step in the right direction. If you have Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other social media account, utilize them to take this crucial first step highlighted above. As cited in the 25 steps above for example, you can like something associated with social justice, share or repost. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines anymore. Remember, in the face of injustice, silence is more dangerous. Let us reimagine an inclusive United States of America.
"We should all try to understand that the protesters are coming from a place of hopelessness not in themselves, but in a failed 'justice' system."
Be compassionate, equitable and inclusive.
We should all try to understand that the protesters are coming from a place of hopelessness not in themselves, but in a failed 'justice' system.
The perpetrators of the vandalism stem from all walks of life and we should put things in context.
But we must also understand their anger is coming from a place of pain, grief, fear and justifiably so.
We must endeavor to ask ourselves, how many lives would it take before a law can be passed to reign-in these senseless killings and brutalities?
To understand that the vast majority of police officers who join the force do so risking their lives in order to protect our lives and the communities they serve. And this is not about individual officers but a cry for a failed system.
Taking action doesn’t have to be grandiose. We can all start at our own pace. But Act We Must.
Come what may, leadership has failed us time and again. Now is the time to get the right leaders in place.
We can extend a hand at work, in our neighborhoods, and communities.
No act of kindness is too small. Every little action counts and can make a difference.
Commit and Recommit to a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive America. The one that brought us all our glorious achievements. Not the divisive kind.
Challenge ourselves and others around us by calling racism for what is it whenever we see, feel, or sense it.
Give back in whatever capacity we can.
Lastly, you don’t have to change your political leaning to do what is right. At the core, these are fundamental and basic human rights that all of us should be fighting for. But if you sit aside watching what is happening and continuing to bask in your privilege without acting on some of these rudimental steps we have highlighted above, you may very well be contributing directly or indirectly to these injustices. Fortunately, we're waking up to this reality; that we are all in this together and that it'll take our individual and collective effort to undo the injustices that have plagued this country and humanity for so long. Nonetheless, the question still remains - would you like to be part of the problem or part of the solution?
Mohammed A. Ahamed
CEO & Chief Diversity Officer
EDI Executive Search | Consulting Firm
EDI (Engaging Diversity and Inclusion) is premier diversity consulting firm focusing on inclusive executive search practices, racial equity education and social justice initiatives. The firm is located in Rochester, NY.