The summit focused on how corporations can combat systemic racism in America. 

Over 450 attendees logged into the Forward From Floyd virtual summit hosted by Blavity and Edelman on Thursday, June 11th. Blavity Founder and CEO Morgan DeBaun moderated the panel-style event with the goal of creating a dialogue around how corporations and institutions can support the fight against systemic racism. 

In attendance were employees, directors, executives, managers, and all those willing to be instruments of change in the business and non-governmental industries while on the brink of making history. 

Guests of the panel were:

• Shelley Stewart III, a partner of McKinsey & Company

• Stan Little, Chief Experience Officer for United Way

• Lisa Ross, COO of Edelman U.S., and 

• Dr. Uche Blackstock, the founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity

The guests shared their advice on how businesses, NGOs, nonprofits, media, and medical institutions can spark change internally and fight systemic racism in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shelley Stewart III spoke about the wealth gap disparity prior to COVID-19 in the U.S. and how the disease has disproportionately affected Black Americans:

• The median Black family has one-tenth of the wealth of the median white family, according to data from 2016. 

• Black employment has significantly suffered since COVID-19, and the wealth gap is expected to widen due to the health pandemic.

• According to McKinsey research, in addition to disproportionate health outcomes, 39 percent of Black jobs are at risk of being temporarily or permanently disrupted.

To evoke change, Stewart believes we need to use this moment as a catalyst to close the wealth gap between Black Americans and other races in the country. For corporations, that starts with equal opportunities in hiring and advancement.

“What I’ve been saying is, every institution has to look internally and say, ‘what are we doing in our company to promote and support Black Americans’,” said Stewart. “Recruit them. Bring them in. Make them feel included, apprentice, and promote them. Pay them on par and there’s a whole set of internal things.”

Stan Little provided his take on the reasons for the disparities and inequities in the Black community today, labeling it as the “The Hunger Games” mentality, which is the “I win, you lose” mindset. It affects the health, wealth, education, and achievement gap.

Little suggests that if a white colleague approaches you with the intention of joining the fight, be open to it even though it is a burden to invoke a deeper conversation. He believes that the change that we want to happen to dismantle systemic issues is going to be through the oppressors solving the problem and taking action. 

“[Many believe] to close that gap, white America has to come down at the same time as Black America is coming up,” said Little. “In reality, as Black America rises, the pie gets bigger for everybody.”

Lisa Ross spoke about the advice Edelman has been providing its clients, starting with  using their power and influence, to advocate and educate, and to get their own “house in order.”

“Know that if you don’t, there will be consequences,” said Ross, referencing the volume of consumers who say they will buy or boycott based on whether a company does the right thing.. 

Ross also mentioned how corporations shouldn’t expect a “thank you.” Her reason for this is that corporations should have been willing to be transparent about equality all along. 

Although 400 years of systemic institutional racism can’t be solved in one month, Ross is still hopeful about the outcome because this time feels genuine. 

Dr. Uche Blackstock touched on disparities in the healthcare system for Black Americans. She provided some short-term suggestions the Black community can utilize to combat inequities. She believes that more resources could be allocated to communities such as testing and contact tracing as COVID-19 stays on the rise. She also mentioned that outreach, education, and the nuances of messaging are essential too. 

Most importantly, we have to support community-based organizations that are already doing housing and employment advocacy.  

“We need to ensure that we have housing for low income and middle-income families,” said Dr. Blackstock. “We also have to expand insurance coverage. You know Black communities have the highest rates of uninsurance. That’s another area that needs to be addressed as well.”

DeBaun and the leaders from the panel all agree that this is the perfect time for Black executives and employees to be vocal about the support we need to close the educational, health, and wealth gaps in the Black community. Now is the time to have tough conversations about systemic racism with your company’s leadership team. It’s an opportunity to be “shameless” and be bold in what types of specific action we’d like to see from corporations, according to DeBaun. 

“We don’t need to be shy right now,” said DeBaun. “We have been trained to be shy. To shrink. To be polite. To code switch. To maneuver. I’m talking to you right now if you need permission to be loud. To write the email to your CEO. To ask for that donation. To tweet it out. I want you to do that,” she added. 

DeBaun and panel guests also mentioned that although we’re going through tough times our positivity and resilience will continue to propel us forward. 

“I think we should celebrate because we are resilient people,” said Stewart. ”We have faced a lot. People who have come before us have faced a lot. Even more in many ways of what we’re facing now, and we still continue to find ways to make progress.”

To learn more about how Edelman is standing in solidarity with Black employees and the movement, visit their website here.

Check out some resources mentioned at the summit for further research from Edelman and McKinsey & Company. The respective pieces point out how COVID is an unfolding health and economic disaster for the Black community and from Edelman, a special report on brands and racial justice in America.

UPDATE: On June 18, Edelman announced three pro bono partnerships in response to the protests that are continuing around the world. The partnerships will total $1 million in donated services and it is Edelman’s hope that they seek to “accelerate the ongoing commitment to racial justice and to diversity and inclusion within its own walls” according to an official press release.

The partnerships are with the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), CEO Action, operated by PwC and the Boris Henson Foundation. Each respective partnership has its own goals and will seek to elevate narratives of race relations in the media, advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace and amplify the mental health impact of trauma-related to systemic racism and other social injustices.

Watch the replay of the full virtual summit here.