The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are visceral in our collective consciousness. All three murders were completely unnecessary and vividly demonstrate that all men are not created equal under American Law and the American Constitution. The 13th Amendment drafted in 1865, which was supposed to abolish slavery, clearly created a loophole for continued slavery through incarceration summarily reads: “slavery shall not exist in the United States … except as punishment for a crime whereof the party has been duly convicted.” The vestiges of the 13th Amendment have fueled the growth and development of a criminal justice system where blacks are incarcerated at five times (5x) the rate of whites, and is a direct product of police brutality against blacks. The recent murders and the inability of the criminal justice system to respond in an equitable way has led to protests and/or riots in all 50 states.
Martin Luther King Jr. explains it best when he said, “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
Despite the reality of injustice, Martin Luther King Jr. did not practice or participate in riots but promulgated non-violent protests, civil disobedience, and voting as the best way to achieve justice and equality. He was joined in Philadelphia by OIC Founder, Rev. Leon Sullivan who practiced non-violent protests against businesses that did not employ blacks, while simultaneously creating businesses and job training programs for blacks in the community. Today, these legendary leaders were joined in thought by Terrence Floyd, the brother of George Floyd (deceased), who stated, “I understand that you are upset, but not as upset as I am. If I’m not over here wilding out … if I’m not over here breaking stuff … if I’m not over here blowing up stuff, then what are you doing? You are doing nothing. You are destroying your own community. Let’s do it another way. Let’s do something different. VOTE! Educate yourself, know who you are voting for.” Mr. Floyd brilliantly summarizes what we must do as a society to bring change.
As business/organizational leaders and business owners, we can bring change now by speaking out against visible injustice and implied bias, versus being a part of the deafening silence practiced by the majority. This is especially true for our white business and civic leaders who remain largely silent. We can begin to adopt diversity and inclusion as a core value in our organizations both in word and deed. Business leaders must make visible and equitable changes in hiring, staffing, promotions, board and executive appointments, vending, and supply chain. As Stephen Glasko, CEO of Jefferson University says, “we must reimagine diversity as our new reality.” We must advocate for equitable funding in education and job training, and take a leadership role in both supporting and holding our schools and government accountable. We must support voter education and citizen participation, versus voter suppression, so that the very people that are destroying our businesses and neighborhoods can become civically engaged.
The rioting protesters also want to bring about change in the broader society, but they are going about it the wrong way. Organizing and voting is the best way to bring about immediate change. As a nation, we have the timely opportunity to make changes in our leadership within the next five months, versus another five decades of waiting since the death of Martin Luther King. If all the protesters would vote at the local, state, and federal levels, they could change the country in 150 days. Therein lies the power of change that gives hope to our democracy. Will they do it, or do they just want the satisfaction of burning down the neighborhood? Burning and looting will only lead to more of the same.
Blane Fitzgerald Stoddart
Small Business Advocate
Senior Advisor, Econsult Solutions, Inc.
President and CEO, BFW Construction Project Managers
Commissioner, PA Governor’s Commission on African American Affairs
With Blane Stoddart’s permission, Econsult Solutions amplifies this message to our network as published on 6/4/2020 in the Philadelphia Business Journal.