[caption id="attachment_187664" align="alignright" width="200"] Peter Osborne DBT Editor[/caption]
Over the past month, I’ve talked to nearly two dozen Black leaders about what business can do to help drive the conversation about racial equity from a business perspective and social justice.
There are some who think white people – particularly those like me over 60 – should just listen, and that this is a time for others to talk. There are others who believe it’s critically important for this to be a full-community dialogue.
But three things have happened recently that have influenced my thinking:
We published a story headlined “UD alumni encourage companies to lead on racial equality" that elicited a comment that used the “N” word and came from an IP address in Wilmington. Luckily, we moderate comments for just this reason but such a comment is the first time that’s happened in my 18 months here.
In one of the conversations I had with a group of Black leaders, the first question I received was, “How many Black journalists are in your newsroom?” I only have four people counting me, but the answer was zero and the point was well-taken.
I received, unsolicited, a column from the executive director of The Choir School of Delaware about his personal experiences with racism. We published it online and it has generated thousands of page views and more positive comments than any thing we've published during my time at DBT.
All of this is why I was particularly looking forward to a conversation with United Way of Delaware President and CEO Michelle Taylor and Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering (FAME) CEO Don Baker, who are leading what they describe as “a diverse, multi-generational group of partners and leaders from all sectors of our Delaware community” called the Delaware Racial Equity and Social Justice Collaborative (The Collaborative).
The Collaborative includes about 200 Delawareans who have “come together over the past few weeks to align our voice and resources” to address systemic racism and issues related to social justice, including textbook content.
“Delaware is a mirror and reflection of nationwide discussions about systemic racism,” Taylor said. “We’re at a historic crossroad. There is an opportunity to create a just and humane Delaware with equal access and equal opportunities for people of color.”
The group hopes to channel the frustration, anger and passions that this community has and move into meaningful action. It’s connecting young people who are new to the fight to people who have dealt with these issues for most of their lives.
“I’m 45 and been in this space for 20+ years,” Baker said. “Oddly, I’m one of the older people in this conversation today. I have friends who are white men and I NEED to know where they stand. I want to hear from them. If you look at the civil-rights movement from a similar perspective, African Americans make up a small percentage of the population and we can’t move the needle without support from majority allies who genuinely care.”
DSU President Tony Allen agrees that white people need to be prepared to listen before they talk, but he also emphasizes that many white people in positions of leadership like Janice Nevin (ChristianaCare), Chip Rossi (Bank of America), Tom Horne (JPMorgan Chase) "have made the pursuit of racial justice and social equity a significant part of their personal and professional lives. Having set the standard for white allies over the years, they should definitely be part of the dialogue. They have important things to say, and many will listen closely to their views."
Taylor agrees, saying that while she doesn’t expect CEOs to sit through all the meetings, “we need their voices and their recognition that there is a need for cultural changes within their organizations.”
One of the first steps for The Collaborative has been “asset mapping,” or developing an understanding of who is working in the racial equity and social justice space. Taylor said that everything “doesn’t have to be aligned under one umbrella, but we do need more of a united voice. And businesses need to think about their own biases and the cultures that we’re creating,”
There’s a difference between collaboration and alignment, she explained. The Collaborative has spent some time initially to create “safe spaces” where participants can talk about how they’ve been treated and about the talks they have with their kids that white parents generally don’t.
“I have felt isolated, so I am excited there are other voices,” Baker said “My mom has always been my go-to person and she says she can see the relief of hearing more people be vocal because
a few of us have been carrying this weight for a long time.”
Taylor said the week after George Floyd’s death was the toughest of her entire career.
“I have served on a lot of collaboratives and committees, and I choose to believe that this one is going to be more than just words,” she said. “The upside is there are a lot of people, but the downside is there are a lot of people. We’re seeing a lot of people who are new to the table. They’re saying ‘count me in’ if we’re going to do more than talk. They don’t want to come to another meeting. They want action.”
Asked what success will look like at the end of 2020, Baker said it’s already been a huge success considering the challenges of a pandemic. He said that technology like Zoom has kept everyone engaged and helped ensure Kent and Sussex counties are represented, which isn’t always the case.
“One thing we don’t want to get lost is that we’re continuing to build the system,” he said. “There’s not a silver bullet that happens over three months.”
From my perspective, we’re in a moment where business and community leaders can’t opt out. This requires people to get off the sideline, to be more intentional. But what’s equally important is that business leaders avoid the platitudes about how “we’re all in this together” and “we support Black Lives Matter” and focus on sharing the real changes they’re making in very specific terms.
What are we going to do differently here at DBT?
We’ll be featuring more stories about Black, women, and LGBQT entrepreneurs. We’ll be working with United Way of Delaware and others to bring you into the discussions. And we’re creating a “Racial Equity” landing page for our website that will aggregate the stories and columns we’re publishing on this topic.
I was struck by one comment from one leader that he pages through the paper – from the back – to see if he sees Black faces before deciding what to read. I believe we’re doing better on that front because we’re being more intentional.
So what are you going to do differently?
- Peter Osborne