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Business has role to play in ending racism

As if the virus pandemic weren’t enough, we now have a social and political pandemic sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody. The anger and frustration we’re seeing didn’t start with George Floyd, it has been building up for years. What should we take away from this and what’s next? 

The video of Mr. Floyd’s death is terrible on many levels. To me, the worst is the banal manner of his death. The body language of the officer perched on his neck and others on the scene was that of people experiencing an ordinary event. 

I’ve reached out to friends, colleagues and family members who are in law enforcement for their perspective. They all say the method used to restrain an already handcuffed suspect was very wrong, the results were horrific, and that those officers should never have been allowed on a police force. 

Some Black friends and colleagues agreed to have conversations with me about their experiences. Their stories weren’t identical, but all had the same themes. Being pulled over for no good reason. Being followed by store employees. Seeing people cross the street when they approached. Having colleagues or friends stare at them for being part of a mixed marriage. Having anxiety about what might happen to their children when they go out. 

These friends come from many different places, but they have one thing in common: they are very well-educated and successful people. If they are dealing with these constant indignities, what can it be like for people who aren’t that successful, who live in the poorer parts of their communities? Is it any wonder people are frustrated? 

As we’re trying to determine what to do, we’re witnessing what seems to be a hyperactive search for every possible offense, no matter how small. Statues are being toppled, brand icons replaced, and careers ended. I was taught not to confuse activity with progress. What real societal progress are we making?

Taking well-considered steps to end the lionization of Confederate leaders will likely lead to progress. When it is explained well and handled lawfully, most people get it. Move the statues to museums and teach the unvarnished history of the Confederacy. It will take time, but it will help things improve once most people accept it and get used to it. 

On the other hand, I question the lasting value of large corporations rushing to be first to issue apologies about everything imaginable, splashily ending careers, writing new mission statements, and cutting big checks. There is much activity, but where is the progress? How will these actions contribute to societal change?  

I believe lasting change must begin at the grass roots level in our communities. It will have to be led by community members who can have honest discussions without screaming at or past each other. Businesses at that level can play a real role in making progress.  

In York County, we have been blessed that the Black Ministers Association and County Chiefs of Police Association, have quietly worked together for several years, building relationships and understanding. Both groups recently participated in peaceful demonstrations in York. The leaders of this collaboration, BMA President Pastor Bill Kerney, York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon, and the Rev. Aaron Anderson, CEO of Logos Academy, don’t flaunt activity, they make progress.

So, why just ministers and police? Business leaders can help if they’re willing, providing financial support, job training, jobs and service to local communities. How can your business walk the talk and collaborate with other community organizations? The right activity can lead to real progress. 

Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County. Email him at [email protected]

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