In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year, I like many white Americans was shocked into the uncomfortable truth that appallingly blatant racism exists in this country and that, aside from some admirable feelings and empty words, I hadn’t been doing a single thing about it.
So exactly one year ago today my company, BCS Interactive announced that from that day on, Juneteenth would be a paid company holiday. The goal was to take the day to reflect and take action on how we will confront racism in this country, and then spend the next year working to make the country a more equitable place. My commitments:
How did we do? Did we put our money where our mouth was? Did we truly commit – by taking action – towards racial equality?
I’d give us a “C.”
Early on, we went out and read a couple of books on black history and on the idea of anti-racism, so there was some initial education involved, but that momentum subsided during the course of the year as clients, deadlines, kids, vaccinations, and piano lessons (i.e. “life”) took over again.
I will say that our stated commitment to equality did spur me to seek out conversations with black friends, clients and colleagues to simply listen and learn. For that I’m enormously grateful; I feel those discussions are critical to appreciating the circumstances and experiences of others.
This was an area that I was (and remain) excited about, because it’s just so obvious and so easy to take advantage of. Black-owned businesses are everywhere. How could we not be all over this? And yet, I feel I could have done more.
I read a fair amount and I located an excellent and independent black-owned bookstore in Detroit, so I started to send some business that way. I began to use and share with friends and colleagues the Official Black Wall Street app to locate businesses. And I began to explore a terrific–and again, glaringly obvious–idea: depositing money at banks that serve black communities. (I got this one after Netflix announced it was allocating $100 million towards that goal).
And yet after a brief but fruitless search to locate local banks that served the black community, and that were primarily black-owned or directed and that met traditional banking standards, I gave up.*
A couple of months ago we began hiring for a new project manager, and I’m happy to say that for the first time, we incorporated platforms such Black Tech Jobs in our search that catered specifically to diverse candidate pools. This may not seem like a big deal, but we’re a small shop and have never before even considered reaching out to candidates through a non-traditional (i.e., white-centric) platform. I can also say that we’ve now become more intentional and aware in our hiring decisions and processes to accommodate and seek out more candidates that don’t necessarily look like us or share the same backgrounds.
Overall, I feel we made some baby steps towards our goals, but after that initial shock-leads-to-anger-leads-to-action moment, we lost momentum pretty quickly, I think due to the fact that (speaking for myself now) as a white man, I’ve never remotely had to deal with the challenges Black Americans deal with every day, and so I was lulled back into inactivity. We’re now in danger of falling back into that comfortable and safe “it can’t really be that bad” mindset. And that’s a dangerous place to be.
So I’m putting this report, this confession, out there not to let us off the hook, but rather to reboot that sense of wrong that spurred us all into action to begin with. My colleagues and I are going to go back now and start again, maybe this time aiming to double the amount of action we took last time, and perhaps more importantly, be consistent in our actions over the coming year.
And if you yourself are seeking inspiration in your own efforts towards social justice, maybe consider this: on its back side, the U.S. dollar bill carries the latin phrase E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One. If we hold that statement to be true, then it’s on all of us to live in a way that will make it happen. Right now is a great time to start.
Until next Juneteenth,
*If you’re reading this and have guidance on how I can locate a New Jersey-based bank of this nature, please let me know. Unlike Netflix, we don’t really have $100 million to deposit, but every little bit counts and the idea of providing more capital to help people start businesses and buy homes is incredibly inspiring.
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