Let’s face it: this is a horrible year by anyone’s standards. The murder of George Floyd and subsequent revelations of even more black lives “not mattering” at the hands of police forces across the country was an event that landed like Thor’s hammer on planet reeling from its first pandemic in generations.
I’m encouraging my clients, most of whom are business owners with influence to wield, to be in solidarity with the spirit of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. For generations, black Americans have not felt like their lives mattered as much as other lives.
Many neighborhoods, including my own in downtown Indianapolis, now resemble America’s most impoverished areas. Boarded up windows, broken glass, shuttered businesses, empty streets. As I walked around my city after the riots, I couldn’t help but marvel at my own hypocrisy: I want my surrounding blocks cleaned up. Boards down; graffiti cleaned; glass swept. I’m frustrated that the only sounds of civilization I hear now are police sirens and ambulances horns. This beautiful downtown that was once booming with traffic and new restaurants opening looks like an economic wasteland that no one cares about. It looks abandoned—as if it, and the lives of those who live here, doesn’t matter.
Boards and buildings are nothing, however, when compared with human lives.
I have no idea what it’s like to be 21x more likely to be shot dead than someone else, because I’m not black. I have no fear that anonymous racist citizens, hiding behind their curtains, will call 911 because I’m standing on a sidewalk or “loitering in a park.” Because I’m not black. I haven’t had to send my children to a public school without air conditioning and I haven’t lived in areas abandoned by city authorities and left to crumble (literally). I haven’t had to rely on a public transportation system designed to avoid areas of the city that need public transportation the most. I haven’t felt like I needed to “stick to sports,” as the person in the photo I took obviously feels.
I haven’t had these experiences because my life matters because I’m white. And that is the most asinine statement I’ve every written. In a nation that calls ourselves Christian, we struggle to fully embrace the words of the Apostle Paul: “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor gentile, slave or free, male or female. We are all one.”
We are to live and lead as if race doesn’t matter; because it shouldn’t.
How do we, as leaders, lead through this transition?
- Don’t get into debates over the violent protests. Violence isn’t the answer and BLM isn’t about violence.
- Read multiple sources of information to understand the issues.
- Walk through struggling neighborhoods and imagine you live there. Wonder why sidewalks are crumbling, street lights darkened and pot holes the size of Texas even exist.
- Research public policies in your area. One of my pet peeves is education funding. In many cities, education is funded by property taxes. Impoverished areas will, by nature of the funding rules, have the worst education facilities.
- Understand the movement to create a new policing paradigm. The city of Camden, New Jersey effectively dismantled and rebuilt its police force over ten years with significant results. Both of my brother-in-laws are police officers and I’m a strong supporter of the police. They are harassed and abused daily while being called to a higher level of self-control than most of us have. It’s a thankless job. And yet, we can’t deny the fact that perhaps, it’s time to re-invent the wheel of public safety.
- Embrace the wonder that is America. We live in a nation that is and always will be striving to “create a more perfect union.” Let’s view the activities of the last few weeks as opportunities to address issues that have plagued this nation for two hundred years.
John Donne, the 17th century English poet wrote:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Many deaths have diminished us. Now the bell is tolling. Let’s step up as leaders and tackle these serious issues as would any concern in our business.