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CEO Message: One Year After the Murder of George Floyd

One year ago, a handcuffed George Floyd was choked to death by former Minneapolis, Minn., police officer Derek Chauvin.  The fact that a police officer would stare with indifference into a camera with his hands in his pocket and use his knee to execute a handcuffed person was the collective “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  In a year in which Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by vigilantes and Breonna Taylor was murdered by reckless police officers conducting a raid, most of the world decided that there was no gray area and that the United States needed to confront the vestiges of its racist past.  Some initiated conversations. Some issued statements of solidarity. Some reviewed and changed policies. Some changed their behavior. Some took to the streets. And yes, many doubled down on words and actions that supported white supremacy.

As individuals and organizations across the world remember Mr. Floyd’s unwilling sacrifice, I pose one question: Are we really different than we were a year ago? While there has been outward evidence of change, I would challenge you to look at the core—the heart—of your sphere of influence. Whether it is a branch of government, a corporation, a community-based organization, or educational institution, something should be different. You may have initiated new employment efforts committed to diversity, increased your commitment to purchases goods and services from black businesses, or offered implicit bias training to team members. Something about the way you or your organization operates should have changed. And the results from that change should be measurable—because if an action is not measured, it does not count.

The board and staff of the Chicago Urban League took a closer look at our mission and work.  It might have been easy for us to stand on our reputation as a 104-year-old civil rights organization, but we knew that more was needed.  During the review of our strategic plan, we determined that every action that we take must be committed to the elimination of the racial wealth gap and the elimination of structural racism.   What has that looked like during the last year?  Our youth have been engaged in courageous conversations about police community relations, mental health, and careers. Our adults have been addressing the subjects of hate speech, conflict between ethnic groups, racial disparities among our senior populations, and the role that faith can play in combating racism.

We also recognize the need for sustainable change.  On June 4, 2021, we will host our annual SUMMIT, a convening of Chicagoland’s civic and business communities around issues that affect the economic and social progress of Black families.  Like 2020, this virtual event will be a combined job fair, small business convening, and gathering of the alumnae of our IMPACT Leadership Development Program, one of the premier Black leadership development programs in the country.  We will also host a keynote conversation with newly minted Walgreen’s Chief Executive Officer Rosalind Brewer, who will talk about the role of corporations in addressing structural racism.

On June 19, 2021, we will relaunch our nextOne program, a business accelerator focused on helping Black business owners grow wealth.  We will also commemorate Juneteenth with a keynote conversation with noted historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Annette Gordon-Reed, author of On Juneteenth.

We invite you to join us for both events, but more importantly, we invite you to join us in the continued push for change—sustainable change. The changes many of us committed to a year ago MUST be sustainable. To do anything less is simply business as usual.