Baumhart Scholars reflect on Black Lives Matter and the social justice movement
How to move beyond just diversity and inclusion and toward racial justice was the subject of the Q Talks Podcast episode “Race and the Workplace.”
The episode featured four Baumhart Scholar MBA students who have worked for decades for racial equity: Rebekah Kikama, Myla Skinner, Shalane Walker, and Annie Weinheimer. Baumhart Center Founding Director Seth Green moderated the discussion.
Insights on racial justice
The panelists each offered valuable insights on the state of racial injustice, how to get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, and how they are furthering racial justice in their own lives.
1. Companies need to join the fight
The Baumhart Scholars agreed that companies have an important role to play in racial equity.
Rebekah Kikama, executive director of One On One, encourages major companies and corporations in big cities to take a stand to enact more equitable municipal and state-wide policies.
“[Companies] have a voice, especially in our major cities,” she says. “They have power, they have leverage. And I would really love to see companies take that seriously to think about how they use power and leverage to advocate for racial justice.”
Shalane Walker, associate media director at Wavemaker Chicago, encourages companies to create a pipeline to hire and promote leadership and talent that reflects the makeup of their cities, ensuring that Black employees and other people of color have the same opportunities to rise. “It’s about having access. In America, in a capitalist society, unless you have people at the table…we have not achieved justice,” says Walker.
Myla Skinner, chief of staff at OneGoal, holds companies and individuals alike accountable, asking that those who say that Black lives matter should follow through with their actions.
“While we can say Black lives matter, [we need to be] asking who’s on your board, are you doing the work you need to do better by those you serve. It’s very easy to say the words but not do the actions that follow,” she says.
“I’ve been pushing this in a professional sphere, but I’ve also been asking people who are your friends? Who do you engage with? Every time you go to dinner, who are you breaking bread with?”
2. We need to think more broadly about justice
Skinner acknowledged the necessary focus the Black Lives Matter movement has had on police brutality but encourages listeners to think more broadly about justice.
“Are we ensuring people of color, Black and Brown people across this country, are able to live their fullest life, that they have access to equitable education, healthy food, healthcare, all the things we know contribute to the fullness of a human?” Skinner asks.
“So while I care deeply again about the Black Lives Matter movement, when we talk about Black lives matter, it’s not just that we deserve to not be killed by police or shot in the back. It is that we deserve to live our fullest and wholest life and have access to all of the opportunities and spaces and places and ways in which we can live that full life.”
One example of people of color having access to spaces is Walmart’s initiative to unlock their multicultural hair supplies, a policy “that has denied people of color dignity for so long,” says Skinner.
3. Everyone needs to engage in this discourse
Annie Weinheimer, engagement manager at Ryan Specialty Group, encourages other white people to have humility and courage. “White people need to listen humbly in this time,” she says. “We will never understand the Black experience. We think we can relate, [but] we will never understand, and we need to get that first and foremost.
After humility, “[w]e need to be courageous. That means taking action when it’s uncomfortable. We need to be uncomfortable,” says Weinheimer. “Now more than ever, we need to be brave, and that means making mistakes, and tripping, and falling, but being kind to ourselves because it takes guts to be vocal and loud about issues of racial injustice.”
As a Black woman, Walker is putting her effort toward encouraging racial justice in the workplace.
“I’m using this time to use the voice I’ve always had. Now that people are listening, I’m taking every meeting, I’m setting up meetings, I’m sending ideas,” she says. “I’m speaking up saying the things that people whisper about at the coffee and water coolers back when we worked in person.”
4. This work will take time
Skinner encourages people to “call people in with love, hold the bar high, and to give grace.” In other words, she asks those engaging in this discourse to help others correct mistakes in an emotionally secure manner.
Skinner encourages everyone to continue fighting for racial justice, as it will take a very long time to dismantle the racist structures on the U.S.
“The reality is this country was built on the backs of Black people who remain held down,” she says. “It isn’t going to get easy because it’s on the news, it’s not going to get easy because people see it more now. It is going to get that much harder because the people who have been fighting for inequity are going to fight harder to keep what they have. We’re going to fight hard together.”