Arthur W. Page Society

What I’ve Learned

The guilty verdicts in the Derek Chauvin case in Minneapolis are a welcome response from the criminal justice system, but it doesn’t make the broader issue of systemic racism any easier to bear, and it doesn’t begin to address the change that’s still needed. I think it’s important, as the year since the George Floyd murder approaches, to reflect on what I’ve learned.

My first lesson, delivered to me after the Floyd murder in no uncertain terms by Page Chair Charlene Wheeless, was that my voice is important. I felt strongly about what had occurred, and had marched in a peaceful demonstration with my adult children, but frankly, I was afraid that anything I said publicly might be the wrong thing. With Charlene’s encouragement, I wrote a blog for Page Turner and made a set of commitments of what I intended to do. Charlene also recently sent me a heart-wrenching video of a Black woman appealing to her White friends to use their voices. I got the message.

My second lesson is that systemic racism requires active engagement from all of us. As Ibram Kendi wrote so powerfully in his book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” “… there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. … The opposite of ‘racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is antiracist.’ … One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or locates the roots of the problems in power and politics, as an antiracist.” I’m working now to understand what systemic racism is, how to identify it, and how to eliminate it.

My third lesson is not new, but it’s been powerfully reinforced over the past year: Business has an opportunity and a responsibility to work with governments and NGOs to drive positive change. I’m encouraged by the rise of what’s now being called stakeholder capitalism, including significant steps by many organizations to fight for racial justice. It’s not been a traditional focus for businesses, but they can be more engaged and influential in advocating for policing reform and expanding voting rights. At Page, we’re convening our members to discuss these issues and to share approaches that work. We had more than 100 members on a call this week.

The fourth lesson, encouraged again by Charlene, is that we can’t afford to get discouraged, to feel that the problems are intractable, to turn away, or to give up. Instead, we must greet each setback with new determination to press on, to do the right thing, to argue for and to work for change.

As a reminder to myself and a public restatement of my determination, I reiterate here my commitments from last June:

  1. I will continue and increase my support for two organizations in my community that are working to ensure that diverse children receive the help they need to learn and grow and to be accepted into college: Horizons National and Future Five
  2. I will support financially and with my time and efforts and vote for candidates who are committed to police reform, prison reform, sentencing reform, and promoting economic opportunity for all.
  3. I will continue to offer my help to diverse students entering the strategic communications profession, especially but not exclusively those at the two institutions where I have formal responsibilities, Elon University and The Ohio State University.
  4. I will continue to support the Page programs that help diverse professionals succeed and advance in their careers, the Diverse Future program and Leaders of Tomorrow.
  5. I will rededicate myself to the success of the Diversity Action Alliance (DAA), which we have created to increase DE&I in all public relations and corporate communications organizations.
  6. I will continue to work to advance DE&I in Page membership and in the Page staff, where I am proud of our extraordinarily talented and diverse team. We can do even better, and we will.
  7. I will be even more attuned to listening to my Black friends and colleagues and other voices, and to examining my own unconscious biases to ensure that I’m seeing the full truth that others experience and express.

I have tried to live up to these commitments, and I see signs of progress, however fledgling they may be. My interactions with diverse students have been a source of joy for me. And I’m proud of the progress we’ve made with the Diversity Action Alliance with 249 organizations and 230 individuals now committed. The recent New York Times story on police reform efforts is encouraging, as is Attorney General Merrick Garland’s pledge to re-engage with oversight of local policing issues. But these efforts are only just beginning to get to the root of the problems. 

In all these areas, much more needs to be done. At the DAA, for example, the organizations’ commitments are only the beginning. Fulfillment of the commitments will require diligent focus and determined action. We need a profound change in the way that people of color are treated throughout all aspects of our society. I hope that this moment of justice will be a reminder that we can all do our part as we move forward with mutual respect and support for one another. 

As I commit further to use my voice, I ask that you join me in using yours so that we can help create lasting change and a world where justice, to quote Amanda Gorman, “just is.”

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