Over the next few weeks, the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream will be sharing public statements from leaders and organizations addressing racial inequality, in response to George Floyd’s death and the related protests. We are sharing statements that we have found to be valuable and thought-provoking.

Below is Daniella Ballou-Aares of Leadership Now Project's Statement reprinted in full:  

Racial Injustice and the Foundations of Democracy,
and How We Can Start to Respond

America’s founding principles of liberty and justice have always been compromised by the reality that black Americans were enslaved when those words were written.  Our democracy will never be strong until we fully acknowledge and address that.

The tragic death of George Floyd is the latest reminder of enduring structural racism in America. The resulting protests have felt inevitable, as so powerfully expressed by Trevor Noah. The repeated violence and death, lack of justice in the courts, and political leaders who fuel intolerance had to boil over at some point.  

Racism shows up in many of the challenges Leadership Now works to address: voter turnout is reduced due to efforts to disenfranchise black voters, and gerrymandering is used to explicitly dilute the influence of minority communities.  Leadership Now’s founding principles recognize that diversity is essential to our democracy.  But what is at risk right now is even more fundamental than diversity, it is the very recognition of every American’s right to equal justice and protection under the law.  

We know that Leadership Now's response needs to go beyond a single statement or initiative. Over the weekend, Leadership Now’s Steering Group began a robust exchange on what this means for our country and what we should do next.  A group of black Leadership Now members, led by Craig Robinson, a member of Leadership Now’s Steering Group, and NY member Lisa Lewin, have agreed to shape and drive our response.

As we work toward a sustained response, I want to share three immediate steps that you can take individually and in your business:

  • Invest to protect and turn out the black vote. This is a critical moment to support voter turnout and ensure access to voting in communities of color.  NAACP, Students Learn Students Vote, Pushblack, and Woke Vote are among the organizations that already have robust efforts engaging black voters.  
  • Take a stand in your companies. Many companies are making statements about their commitment to diversity - but translating those statements to action is critical. Ben & Jerry’s call to “Dismantle White Supremacy” is a truly bold company statement that includes support for specific legislation. We need this specificity from more companies -- and not just from the brands we’ve come to expect social justice action from. Below are three action-oriented commitments we’d recommend for all companies:
    • Adopt anti-racist policies and double down on diversity and inclusion efforts. Compulsory inclusion statements are no longer enough. Companies can demonstrate their intent to end racism within their organizations through explicit anti-racist policies.
    • Use your influence in Washington to push for a political response that doesn't fuel divisions or use excessive force. Review your corporate political donations to ensure candidates and industry groups you support aren’t inadvertently enabling racist policies, for example in policing.
    • Donate to voter turnout efforts, and advocate policies at the state level that ensures employees and communities of color can vote safely during this public health crisis.
  • Deepen your understanding of the challenges and develop a sustained response to racism. Nothing will be accomplished through a temporary awakening. Leadership Now is committed to growing our collective understanding of the corrosive links between racism, democracy erosion, and economic growth. We'll grow and further support our black Leadership Now members, and partner with black executive organizations to advance common goals. 

In recent years as my daughters have come to more fully understand the history of injustice in the world, I try to give them comfort with Martin Luther King Jr.'s statement that the arc of history bends toward justice.  I believe that to be true, but we all know that doesn't happen by itself and the hard work of bending that arc is ahead of us.

Thanks for your ongoing commitment to our democracy.