That 8:46 minutes was truly horrifying.
When I watched George Floyd being killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, I felt completely overcome. I know I’m not alone in being triggered by the degradation of human life. It brings me back to the adversity I have faced as a Ugandan refugee, an Indian woman, and a lesbian. But while I am feeling all these feelings about Black Lives Matter, I understand that this moment—this movement—is about racism toward Black Americans.
While we all do our best to grapple with how to make sure we are anti-racist, the truth is that being Black isn’t a lived experience for all of us. As I started fielding questions from my non-Black friends and colleagues looking for advice on how to best show up in solidarity for the Black community, I decided to reach out to some of the smartest, most accomplished Black women I know so they could share their own experiences. These women are challenged with holding the weight of their own fears as Black women and also tasked with leading change against systemic racism in their professional lives.
I reached out to Shawntee Reed, head of Inclusion & Diversity at Square; Dr. Sheila Robinson, CEO, Diversity Women Media; and Cecilia Nelson-Hurt, Diversity & Inclusion at L’Oreal USA. Here they are, in their words, sharing thoughts on this historic moment.
I think every day about families that have lost their loved ones to the coronavirus. At the same time, I am also consumed by thoughts for justice for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others. In light of all of this,
I am committed to continuing my efforts to create spaces for all to learn, grow, explore, and engage in conversations on racial injustice, and impacts to marginalized communities with an aim to improve and repair relationships between communities and people.
As a country, we are in need of radical change and restorative relationships. People need to see immediate reforms of social injustice in our judicial systems, public health, public schools, and economic wealth, to name a few. Our country, leaders in for-profit organizations, local, state, and federal governmental agencies must change to eradicate any entities or people who do not promote consistent equitable processes, practices, and distribution of resources.
When I speak to family and friends, we speak positive affirmations of hope and encouragement and share information on resources related to discussions on matters related to the Black community.
Dr. Sheila Robinson
I became the first Black cheerleading captain in the history of my high school. My fellow teammates, who were predominantly white, led the initiative to select me based on my ideas, energy, and inclusive leadership. For the first time, they changed the selection process from unilateral decision-making by the team sponsor to a meritocracy. A proud moment for sure, but I was also devastated when the coach featured the white co-captain instead of me in an annual community newspaper article highlighting the captains of the football and cheerleading squads. I healed by being the best captain I could be, from introducing stunts and leading the team to a first-squad championship. I also helped build a school policy instituting an equitable selection process for team leadership. This experience has informed my life’s mission, which is to live a life of purpose.
I have established my own life business plan and mission, to live a happy, healthy, purposeful life. I constantly work on developing me—the innovation of Sheila. I am fortunate that I have built a network of trusted advisors and mentors representative of all races and backgrounds to keep me on course.
It’s up to our nation to build a just society. A great place to start is voting.
We are at a point where people are using their words and being more candid than what they may have been a year ago. These discussions are very intense, very real, and often uncomfortable. There is a heightened awareness of how life can be taken away. But calling out our words seeds progress as we all come together.
I am doing my best to live my authentic truth and show up for others. It’s been a challenge to navigate the intersectionality of being Black and being a woman. I am learning it’s okay to not have closure as we are not going to solve this all today, and I will celebrate moving the needle even if it’s in small measure each day.
There is a heightened awareness of how life can be taken away. But calling out our words seeds progress as we all come together.
Thank you to my friends Shawntee, Sheila, and Cecilia for standing on the front lines to influence change. I hope we can be introspective, reflect on our own lived experiences, and elevate each other.