To the Darden Community,
As we grapple with the violence that was perpetrated against George Floyd and the surge of civil action, we share reflections and thoughts from leaders of the Darden community. This is a difficult time for many, and there are many emotions to process and realities with which to grapple. President Ryan noted this in his statement, Looking Backward, Looking Forward. The reflections below begin to capture the range of reactions, thoughts, and feelings experienced by members of Darden’s Enterprise Team. Each paragraph was crafted by a leader and is provided in whole cloth. We have woven them together—without altering substantively any leader’s words—to provide a collective narrative. Every leader contributed to this essay, even if some of their words do not appear in print. Recognizing that it will take time, commitment and energy to work toward substantive change, the words below speak to a commitment to engage with the reality of racial injustice in a substantive and enduring way.
-Martin Davidson and Christie Julien
How we feel
“I can’t breathe.”
Those words, spoken in Minneapolis where I was born, broke my heart and will continue to haunt me. How is it that in 2020 we are still mourning precious Black lives lost to racism?
The events of the past few weeks and the images from across the US are truly horrific. The images of solidarity provide some comfort, but the despair is overpowering. I find racism so disturbing and deeply heartbreaking because, at its worst, it points to real evil and hatred amongst people. I have been watching the news unable to stop. I feel hopeless and helpless.
To witness this murder was heart-breaking. To witness bystanders do nothing is incomprehensible. Honestly, I want to scream. I’m heartbroken because we all know there have been way too many injustices inflicted on Black men, women and children that weren’t captured on camera that are inhumane and have caused deep scars and we all need to be healers.
Like most, I feel frustration and anger at the vicious cycle that continues to repeat itself with the murder of George Floyd. How many lives will have to be lost before we begin to awaken to the injustice around us and change our behavior?
I am incredulous: How can it be that this continues to happen? How could anyone at this point possibly claim that they are not aware that this continues to happen –every single day. Or that they do not know what they are doing? Or that their actions were in a context that they could not control? How could others stand around and NOT do anything?
I feel outrage that America will not seem to wake up to horrible racism and brutality that is all too evident. Sorrow that our fellow citizens feel they must resort to violence to make us notice. Intense frustration that in 2020 we are still trapped in the prejudices of our past. I understand those whose patience waiting for justice has run out. Yet I have to hold out hope that real justice is possible. Without that, where are we?
What we are learning
Last year, I took a trip to Montgomery, Alabama, and spent a day at the Legacy Museum and the nearby Memorial of Peace and Justice, both established by the Equal Justice Initiative. The exhibits tell the unvarnished, painful truth about racism and injustice in this country.
It is no wonder African Americans do not feel safe in their communities. Given the racist history of Charlottesville, I can only imagine the underlying stress that African Americans and other people of color feel from living here, particularly since Charlottesville is ever-present in the news.
I realize that I do not daily live with the challenges that my friends and fellow people of color do. I am privileged in so many ways, and being white is one of them. That is not under my control, I do not “deserve” this privilege—it shouldn’t even be a privilege, for goodness sakes. The whole concept is ridiculous that skin color confers privilege. But yet I benefit from it every day.
I also recognize that my frustration and anger is passive. I do not have to live with the day to day minor injustices that plague those of color in the U.S. I do not have to live with the day to day threats to my very existence.
This is an experience that will never be my own and a burden I do not have to carry – yet it is a burden that I should have to carry, as an ally, a friend and a leader who is willing to speak out against hatred and injustice in all their forms
My wife and I both come from working class towns. We both can get our hackles up quickly in the rare instances when confronted with a perceived injustice. How do so many people of color keep their cool when confronted with real injustice on a daily basis? What does that do to a person knowing that a reaction to injustice could equal death?
Businesses play a key role in helping shape the society in which they exist, both as a tool for good — saving lives and drawing attention to a cause— and also as an impetus for change. As our society increasingly expects corporations to embrace social responsibility and holds them accountable for their practices, business leaders can use their influence in very direct ways.
Our Darden students, the responsible business leaders of tomorrow, should be properly prepared to: be aware of racism, seek it out, mitigate, neutralize, and overcome it. If we don’t teach our students how to see, talk and act around racism, they will be ill-equipped in the fight against it.
What we can do
From a very practical and shorter-term perspective, my call to action includes working to create environments where all students feel they are learning in a safe and inclusive classroom. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets. I pray we all have the strength for that journey.”
To engage and learn about anyone in life who is significantly different from you takes effort, time and a care well beyond oneself. It is hard. Easy to talk about but hard to act upon. Facing a person, old or young, Black or white, who has “lived” is humbling. It takes open ears and a focused mind to do such. And it takes a GENUINE BIAS toward action. — You must be willing to be taught.
We need to confront and discuss racism and the state of our country more directly and more openly than we have ever allowed ourselves to do before. Racism as deep and systematic as we have in the US requires institutional bravery and action.
I was struck this week by a point that one can only be racist or anti-racist – you cannot be “not racist” for if you are not taking purposeful action to combat the explicit and implicit racism in our society, you are passively condoning it.
While taking to the streets to protest has never really been my style, I endeavor moving forward to be less passive and more active as we try to cure our society of the ills of injustice.
In a time when it seems that years of work have led to regress, not progress, focusing on what I can do, what our institution can do, and a commitment to action are more important than ever. As someone who does not have to fear being judged by society for my skin color, gender identity, creed or social origin, I have to serve others, always, and do my part to stand against racism.
I pledge to have hope, courage, persistence and faith, and from my perch as a communicator and in my role as a mother of two to do what I can to educate, to keep learning myself every day and to do my bit to help turn the tide.
If we are to make meaningful progress on the underlying issues of racial and economic inequality in our nation, we must be outraged by and act on the sickness that is staring at us in the face with the wanton and callous taking of a human life. How many more such acts of stark and brazen violence against a minority group must we endure before we recognize that we are not one nation, a decent nation? If some of us are unsafe all of us are unsafe. Divided we fail, united we prosper.
Kirby Armentrout * Scott Beardsley * Dawna Clarke * Julie Daum * Martin Davidson * Jim Detert * Heather Enos * Greg Fairchild * Yael Grushka-Cockayne * Marc Johnson * Christie Julien * Dean Krehmeyer * Mike Lenox * Jeanne Liedtka * Jeff McNish * Kara Mullins * Larry Murphy *Tom Steenburgh * Venkat * Maureen Wellen * Ron Wilcox * Ashley Williams