My journey in learning, listening, and making changes
Back in June, I wrote about the tragic death of George Floyd and the subsequently renewed focus on social injustice in our country. Since June and what I have observed happening in my company and community, I have reflected on my actions and adjusted from running a sprint to pacing for the marathon.
While we have seen so much outpouring of support and Allyship for our brothers and sisters of color, it simply isn’t enough. We have seen more deaths, continued protests, more unrest, lack of action by our elected leaders, and continued deafness to centuries of history that make up the lives of our African American citizens.
When George Floyd died, and I witnessed the anger and frustration of my own community, I felt paralyzed. I realized that I didn’t know enough about the history of systemic racism in our country. I reflected on my circle of friends, and everyone looked like me and came from similar backgrounds. I looked at buying habits, entertainment choices, and reading and realized I had little to no exposure to African American business owners, writers, or artists. I decided to make some changes, most of which were small.
The first was to write about my perspective on George Floyd. The second was to start reading — articles, blogs, and books. The third was to change my news and social media sources, adding Black voices to my daily content consumption. The fourth was to find minority-owned businesses to buy products and services from. First, I switched from my wife’s hair salon to an African American barbershop. As we looked at the services we used or needed to use, we started searching for African American owned businesses. At the time, we were trying to find a service to clean our HVAC ducts in the house. We found a great business owned by an African American gentleman. His company did an outstanding job. As we need to consume products or services, I continue to look for minority-owned businesses to patronage.
As I looked at my social group, I realized that I don’t have a very diverse set of friends. From a work colleague perspective, my network is diversified but still predominantly white. My network has a healthy mix of women and men, but a much lower mix of People of Color. I started to participate more actively in groups where women and People of Color show up. I wrote back in February, my experience with the Women Leaders in Technology group and finding similar forums have helped expose me to so many people from whom I can learn.
Between engaging in these groups, sharing my thoughts through my writing, and having more dialogue with my friends and colleagues about diversity, I found that I was slowly changing the make-up of my network. It is common after I write something on social media or attend a networking event, that I reach out to others or vice versa. Over the past 90-days, I have seen the number of connections I have to a diverse set of colleagues grow. What I have enjoyed the most is learning of their upbringing and career journeys. Listening to how they have come up in this world, established their careers, and what their wants and dreams are have been so enlightening. On the one hand, their journeys and wants and desires are so similar to mine. On the other hand, the challenges they have overcome are so different from mine.
The more I purposely engaged with others, the more comfortable I got about reaching out in ways I may not have done before. My current employer has a robust internship program, doing an excellent job bringing in a diverse group interns. I reached out to each intern on my team to connect with them. I saw other interns post their excitement of joining our company on LinkedIn. I would send them an email and set-up time to connect. I was able to meet such a creative and passionate group of technologists. I learned what their interests were, their perspective on Corporate America, healthcare, and technology. They shared their stories about their families and what they hope to accomplish when they go back to school this fall. While none of these conversations focused on race explicitly, I learned so much about the value of diversity first hand and hoped the connections we made were valuable to them.
I believe that over the past five months, I have learned more about the struggles and challenges our Black citizens face. I have learned about the often subtle actions that discriminate against Blacks and women. I realize that even though I believe I never have conscientiously discriminated against others, I have unconscious biases. To combat it, I have to continually challenge myself and ask if I am biased in a decision or comment. I have loved seeing how my company has introduced these dialogues to help all of us be more inclusive and turn towards active Allyship. As I reflect back, since George Floyd died, I have realized that we are running a marathon and not a sprint. Even though I want this to be a sprint, I have woken up and joined the marathon that so many others were already running. Now, I must keep pace, continue to listen and learn, and be the change I want to see.
There are a couple of resources that I have used in my journey to better understand Race in America and how I can make a difference.