The Minneapolis headquarters of food conglomerate General Mills is less than 20 minutes away from where Philando Castile was shot this July, right in the middle of my internship. I remember watching the video filmed by his girlfriend Diamond, and breaking down when I realized that her 4-year-old daughter was in the back seat. Imagine – watching the man you love bleed to death after being shot, even though he had complied with the officer’s orders, while your child watches in the backseat. Needless to say, it was hard for me to go into work the next day and function like nothing was wrong. Even though I tried to focus on my job, my mind continually drifted back to that video. It had happened again. Even worse, deep in my heart, I didn’t expect anything to change or anyone to be held accountable for that man’s murder – because that’s what it was. I was struck by my own hopelessness and resignation. I was angry but I felt powerless at the same time, which is not something that typically defines a strong willed HBSer with a bias for action.
But something else also happened in the aftermath of Castile’s murder – my white friends and colleagues reached out to share their horror and helplessness at the situation. They all asked one question: What can I do?
I had a similar response to my summer update to my section (old E). I openly shared how much the situation in America hurt me, and several members of my Famil-E asked the same question that my General Mills colleagues did: What can I do?
Earlier in the year, Duwain Pinder wrote a great piece about the power of empathy, and how much it means when others step outside of themselves to reach out to our community in the midst of its pain. At the same time, the next logical desire is to know what actions they can take to do something about the racism that continues to plague our society. There is a no silver bullet to a problem as complex as racism, but there are actions you can take starting today that will have a meaningful impact:
- Educate yourself. True empathy comes when you have a deep understanding of the root causes and enduring effects of institutionalized discrimination on the black community. You cannot fight against what you don’t know about. This summer, I’ve compiled a resource list for allies who want to learn more, which you can find at //allyresourcelist.blogspot.com/.
- Shoot down racist talk. We’ve all heard friends and family make casually racist comments. When this happens, do your part by pushing back and letting them know that it’s not just inappropriate, but destructive. It can be hard and uncomfortable to take those close to you to account for such behavior, but it is thoroughly necessary if we as a society are going to continue to make progress. Remember: to be silent is to be complicit.
- Hold government accountable at all levels. The presidential election has gotten all the attention for obvious reasons, but government at the state and local levels is where the rubber meets the road. Pay close attention to who you’re voting for – what they support, what they say/do, and – just as importantly – what they don’t say/do. For example, during an interview with BBC Newsnight about the protests in response to the killing of Keith Scott, Congressman Robert Pittenger (R, NC) was quoted as saying that blacks “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” Is that someone who should be sitting in Congress deciding on the laws of this country?
- Raise your voice against policies that perpetuate injustice. North Carolina just passed a law called HB 972 which prohibits police body camera footage from being released to the public, set to take effect in October. There’s a petition to Attorney General Loretta Lynch to pressure the DOJ into withholding federal grants from NC police until the state overturns the statute. This has clear negative implications for the transparency and reform that we as a tax paying public are entitled to from public servants like the police. Rallying against policies like this one is an important lever for seeing justice done and demanding accountability from the institutions that are supposed to serve all of us. Small actions can have big impact. Oh, and sign that petition as a first step.
- Vote with your dollars. Where possible, support black owned businesses by buying their products and services. Similarly, withdraw support from businesses that have been found to engage in discriminatory practices or have business models that negatively impact the black community. If you own share of private prison operators, sell them. Consider moving your assets and business away from banks that have been caught discriminating against black customers (like Wells Fargo and Bank of America, which were found to have given black homeowners higher interest rates and fees than white borrowers who were similarly qualified with similar credit ratings).
- Support organizations that address inequity. There are a number of organizations working to address disparities in access among underrepresented minorities. Donating your time and money to such groups is a great way to address structural inequity. For example, many black and Hispanic HBSers are fellows of a transformational organization called Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), which was founded by John Rice (HBS 1992) to prepare Black, Hispanic and Native American women and men for MBA programs and to fill the talent pipelines of top companies. MLT’s mission has since expanded to prepare high schoolers for college, among other initiatives. Other organizations making an impact include Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) and the Posse Foundation.
- Be active in your workplace. Many firms have diversity networks dedicated to supporting underrepresented groups. You may not be black, but DO NOT let that stop you from joining these networks. Get involved in planning events and engaging with colleagues. As you progress in your career, become an executive sponsor of the network. Public support is crucial and is always noticed. Even more importantly, make a point to mentor and sponsor junior employees of color, either formally or informally. Many young professionals lack the networks and institutional knowledge that you may have been fortunate to possess, and your support will be invaluable in furthering their careers.
Verdell Walker (HBS ’17) spent 6 years in New York at Goldman Sachs and The Wall Street Journal before coming to HBS. Born and raised in Georgia, she is passionate about brands and the entertainment industry. She is the co-president of the Christian Fellowship at HBS and is an avid cook