We’ve paused our regular content to create space and reflect on this cultural shift we’re experiencing. The Black Lives Matter movement has had a profound impact on the world and it’s time for long-overdue change. Thank you for continuing to support The Gift of Struggle and thank you for reading this blog post. I invite you to learn alongside me so we can push towards a more equal world.
On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was brutally and unjustly murdered. His death came on the heels of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others. It sadly took his death to spark radical change and protests around the country, and a cultural shift I hope continues until we’ve achieved racial equality.
Two months later, this subject is still heavy in my heart. I think it will always be heavy on my heart.
I’ve experienced a spectrum of emotions. I was shocked to learn what had happened and in disbelief at the lack of judgement by those officers; angered by the blatant act of racism and unwarranted violence. My heart hurt and I was (and still am) saddened for the losses and grief for George Floyd’s family.
Though it took the loss of a man’s life, the public outcry and activism encouraged me—a tipping point has been reached. I felt hopeful seeing so many people coming together to echo what the Black community has been saying for so long: ENOUGH. We’re ready to answer the long over-due call for action and change.
On a Personal Note
First, I want to start by acknowledging that I will never know what it means to be Black. While I’ve experienced racism, it has never and will never be on the same level as what the Black community experiences. With that said, my experiences with racism had a profound impact on my life.
My family experienced racism many times growing up. In one instance, I was asked to leave an establishment because of my brown skin and the language I spoke. That experience hurt. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and I also felt angered at the blatant lack of humanity. However, that was one moment compared to a lifetime of discrimination, generation after generation. Our Black brothers and sisters feel this every day of their lives and have had to “just deal with it.” We MUST change that and it must begin with compassion.
There’s power in compassion—we truly see others. Compassion has softened my soul. We all just want our stories to matter.
As a Leader
This movement led leaders around the world to reflect on themselves and ask, “What are my organization’s blind spots? What are my personal blind spots?”
My initial reaction was to cry out against George Floyd’s senseless murder. He should still be alive today. And I knew my organization needed to hear me say that. As leaders, we guide the values of our organizations. I want my Climbers to know that I stand in solidarity with the Black community. That we, as an organization, will support, uplift, and defend our Black employees.
I immediately shifted my focus to listening mode. I wanted to personally understand the pain my organization was feeling and how this was impacting them. I knew I needed to listen intently to best understand who my community needed me to be during this time.
The more I listened to the stories of my Black employees, the more I realized that in order to truly understand today’s protests and their feelings, I needed to look further back in history. I didn’t know American history as well as I thought. I studied the deep-rooted tensions dating back to the early 1900’s and before. Many times, I stopped reading because I was angry or shocked at the brutal tactics used against Black people for far too long—racism and police brutality have plagued the Black community on levels many of us can never understand.
Honestly, I felt overwhelmed by the deep-rooted anger that began to surface. I worried that this could cause divides I hadn’t believed existed (they do). People tend to channel pain and negative energy unintentionally at those they feel safest around, like children do with their parents. I was concerned this could create unhealthy tension.
But tension can be a catalyst for change. When people confront the uncomfortable reality in front of them, when they take the time to educate themselves and listen with empathy, they can generate change. At my core, I believe everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed. I’m hopeful that by working on ourselves, we make a collective effort of anti-racist action more powerful, to ultimately create a better world.
Anti-Racism in Organizations
The movement exposed our blind spots.
They have brought systemic racism to the forefront of the national conversation. I believe this moment also presents a tremendous opportunity for us to be better leaders. Most people haven’t been led in a manner that creates the safety to challenge the system. This is where the biggest gap exists. Leaders should create safety, give people a voice, see them, and put them on a platform for their gifts to shine. We must lead them in a manner that demonstrates we want more for them than from them.
As a leader, I believe I must have the same level of high involvement and demandingness with everyone. I must intentionally flip the resume over and select people for my community who are different than me AND share my values. Not doing this is detrimental to diversity, thus detrimental to deeper growth and understanding of the world around us. In order to combat racism within my organization, I must trust myself enough to accept the discomfort—we must challenge our deep-rooted beliefs and grow. And that starts with listening and learning.
I went straight to the source—the Black community. I’ve had meaningful conversations with Black Veterans I’ve served with and strong Black leaders of different industries. I’ve done the same with people from other backgrounds because I have much more to learn. I’ve become more of a student of my own Mexican heritage. It’s inspired me to better understand the history of racism and current struggles Mexican-Americans continue to face.
Learning from others has opened my eyes to the different experiences people of color and Black people face. Each person’s story is unique, and each person faces different challenges, but there are similarities in our stories that help us better understand others. We become more empathetic to the struggles others face.
Anti-Racism at Populus Group & Beyond
Our core belief at Populus Group: Everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed. My first step was a deep examination of this statement.
I assessed my actions living this belief: What have I done well? What can I do better? Where have I missed? What do I need to start, stop and continue?
At first, I felt tempted to think, “I’ve done better than most.” I am proud of our ratios and the many flags our community celebrates. But this isn’t the time to rest on our laurels. It’s never been clearer that it hasn’t been enough. We must go beyond diversity. We need to catalyze inclusion, equality, and equity. So instead of celebrating our flags or what we may have done well, I celebrated vocally with Populus Group that there exists a significant opportunity to build more competency and create better leaders. Leaders that can have meaningful conversations about race, our differences, and our beliefs. I realized I hadn’t done enough to make sure my leaders had the tools, resources and support to be able to have truly honest and vulnerable conversations about hard topics.
And although D&I has been an active part of the way we operate, it wasn’t on equal footing. While well intentioned, without the current climate, I don’t know when I would’ve realized where I fell short as a leader when it came to race.
We can’t be successful in creating a community committed to anti-racism if I don’t create the safety to identify and address the many areas where we’ve missed. We need to acknowledge our shortcomings to truly move forward. We’ll lead from the front and openly discuss what we missed and how we will change, with an open and safe invitation for all to edit, enhance, and challenge.
I’ve shared with my community that we will view all our operating objectives through the lens of D&I. It’s no longer a “by the way” program, it’s THE way. We started with listening, we’re continuing to learn, and we’re putting our learning into action.
The road to equality will be long and worth it. We’re committed to making change, starting with ourselves. I am committed to making change, starting with myself.