Dear Sustainability Community,
I come to you again. It’s been three years since writing my first article for GreenBiz, "Why diversity is the key to unlocking sustainability." I provided a quick glimpse of the anxiety and pain that the black community feels daily and actionable steps that the sustainability community could take to advocate for diversity and stimulate unprecedented change.
I write to you again today with heavy grief and a set of earnest pleas:
As sustainability professionals, we must lead the cultivation of a more inclusive, equitable and safe world for all. We not only must steward the environment, but also explore ways to meet the needs of the vulnerable and create healthy platforms for people of all backgrounds to embrace commonalities, celebrate differences and heal tensions. If not us, then who?
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Say their names. These are just a few of many precious lives ended tragically and prematurely by people sickened by the venom of racism. The victims were not dangerous. They were not threats. They were unarmed. In their final seconds, they were powerless and vulnerable, diminished to a point where a cry for mother was the only hope.
If you really want to be a part of the change, it’s time to get uncomfortable.
Please know that these narratives are not new. They are just now being videotaped and disseminated globally across social media platforms. These narratives leave me and so many in my community numb, angry, speechless, depressed, traumatized, exhausted, afraid, emboldened and so on, all simultaneously. We have been crying out for centuries, for generations. We continue even today.
My good friend Joel Makower asked some poignant questions in his recent open letter. Among them: What led you to this work in the first place? Was it to protect the unprotected? To ensure the well-being of future generations? To engender community resilience? To create solutions to big, seemingly intractable problems? Or maybe, simply, to make the world a better place?
I ask you to reflect with honesty on your answers to these questions.
If you really want to be a part of the change, it’s time to get uncomfortable. It’s time to expand your social and professional circles. It’s time to listen. It’s time to ask questions. It’s time to engage with empathy. It’s time to study how our nation has systemically oppressed, crippled and stolen from the black community. It’s time to explore the part you have played.
As you shift your posture toward this crisis, your friends, family and colleagues may look at you funny. You may have to swim upstream. I acknowledge the looming tension you may be anticipating in this polarizing moment, but I promise you that it is miniscule juxtaposed to the generational anguish through which our community continues to persevere. However, I do promise that you would not be alone in your newfound, countercultural advocacy.
If you care — if you want to see justice, equity and restoration for my community, here are some actions you can take. Believe me. I encourage you to begin by picking one, two or more items from this list and leaning in wholeheartedly.
- Donate to your local NAACP chapter, Black Lives Matter and the United Negro College Fund.
- Before voting, understand politicians’ positions on environmental and social justice as well as criminal justice reform. Hold elected officials accountable once in office.
- Fight against voter suppression and gerrymandering.
- Find and support black-owned businesses
- Push for your company to hire people of color. Ask your company’s HR department to hire more people of color in leadership positions. Call out workplace bias and discrimination when it happens. Promote truly inclusive workplaces.
- Watch movies and read books that can help educate you on the black experience and race in America.
- Do research to better understand and process your own biases and privilege.
- Learn the difference between equality and equity.
- Stop appropriation. Many non-black people enjoy the social currency and financial profit derived from embracing elements of our culture, while simultaneously devaluing our very lives.
- Remember that silence is deadly. Address friends and family who spread ideals laced with racism and discrimination, no matter how subtle.
- If you witness racism and violence against, record and share the incident. Digital evidence can help protect us against people such as Amy Cooper who weaponize racism, putting innocent black lives at risk.
I hope this list gives you actionable ways to get the ball rolling. Your voice and support hold weight and can go a long way in changing the narrative for my community. Don’t let the overwhelming number of ways to get involved hinder you from taking that first step toward real action.
For more ways to get involved, I encourage you to explore this robust article, "75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice," written by Corinne Shutack on Medium.
In closing, I believe in us. As a community of purpose-driven professionals, we have an opportunity to help lead the conversation and lean into actions that provide hope for a better future.