Black Lives Matter at Copperleaf and beyond. I wrote this article to give you a peek into the everyday lives of Black professionals, beyond the boardroom. My goal is to help knock down some of the barriers built out of lack of knowledge or lack of concern, and open up conversations that are diverse and inclusive. I know this topic may be uncomfortable, but racism exists in the world today, and the issue will never go away until all of us take an active part in helping to overcome it.
There was something different about the response to the George Floyd murder. It wasn’t the fact that another Black man died at the hands of police officers, because there had been many prior to George Floyd. In fact, this was a part of everyday life that has been woven into the fabric of Black America. Oscar Grant (2009), Jonathan Ferrell (2013), Michael Brown (2014), Eric Garner (2014), Tamir Rice (2014), Freddie Gray (2015), and Philando Castile (2016) are only a small sample from a long list of black deaths caused by police in recent years. Floyd’s murder was nothing new and neither was protesting. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt during the national anthem at the start of NFL games to protest police brutality and social injustice. He was ostracized, labeled unpatriotic, and arguably blacklisted by the NFL. So, why were people suddenly protesting against racial injustice all over the world? Why now? What’s different this time?
Perhaps the timing of Floyd’s murder, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, created a global, captive audience. It was as if the whole world was seeing the pain and injustice that Black America has dealt with for centuries, for the first time. When my global team at Copperleaf began discussing these social issues in our company’s internal messaging app, I realized that they had no clue that this is my life story, too. They assumed that their professional, well-educated, executive colleague—the only African-American person working for the company in North America—was far removed from the George Floyd narrative and racism altogether.
When I chimed in on the conversation and shared a couple of personal stories, I was asked by my colleagues to share more about my experience of being Black in America. I saw this as an opportunity to speak for my fellow Black professionals, who haven’t had the opportunity to share their stories with their professional networks. For those of us who are committed to driving corporate success, we spend the majority of our time with the people we work with—sometimes even more than we spend with our own families. But for decades, African-American professionals (myself included) have felt the need to mask their pain and live a double life in order to thrive in their careers.
I organized a panel titled “Black Lives Matter: Beyond the Headlines & Boardroom”, featuring guest speakers:
- Frankie Rachell-Bruce, Associate Broker, United Real Estate Prestige Denver
- John Hairston, Acting Administrator and CEO, Bonneville Power Administration
- Gloria Berry, CEO, Berry Powerful Ladies
- Michael Antonio Hill, Activist & Law Student, Southern University
- Derrick Dunkley, Asset Manager, National Grid
- Dr. Frederick Gaines, Chair of Ethnic Studies, College of San Mateo
The discussion gave my Copperleaf family the opportunity to learn what it’s truly like to be Black in America. I wanted to “open up the Kente cloth” and openly share the things we only discuss around the family dinner table or amongst our Black peers. I wanted to create a safe place for my non-Black co-workers to be able to ask questions without feeling judged or labeled “racist.” I knew it would be risky, so I carefully evaluated the best way to make this educational and informative, and discussed it with some of my Copperleaf colleagues. One well-respected colleague told me flat out that he would not attend the event, thereby confirming my belief that some were disinterested or offended by the topic of discussion. But I chose to proceed anyway, hoping that the uncomfortable conversation on race would begin to uproot the seeds of racism sown systemically into our corporate world.
The panel was a great starting point and the overwhelmingly positive feedback leads me to believe that we can effect change. I have already been asked to work on creating a follow-up session, which suggests that people are listening, they truly care, and together, we might be able to help create a better world for future generations.
Watch the full “Black Lives Matter: Beyond the Headlines & the Boardroom” panel discussion below: