Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise magazine, is speaking out due to civil unrest in the wake of the George Floyd killing, which is part of a trend of deaths of Black men at the hands of police. Graves can speak from first-hand experience as he was snatched off NY Metro-North by New York police officers more than two decades ago for simply being a Black man. Due to ongoing racial inequities, Graves believes that corporate America must take leadership in providing opportunities and stamping out institutional racism and discrimination.
Over the past few days, civil unrest has gripped our entire nation. This was due to the unwarranted and senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week by a police officer who placed his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd for nine minutes as he begged for his life, while three other officers charged to protect and serve, did little — none of them displaying a shred of decency or humanity. It represents the latest, and perhaps the most disturbing, incident of police brutality against an African American man. As such, I feel compelled to share my personal thoughts because I cannot in all good conscience remain silent while the continuation of unchecked violence results in the loss of black lives without regard or consequence.
I am a proud African American man who loves this country. I have close friends and family of all races, and I pride myself on being measured and fair. I have always tried to view the circumstances of life as “the glass 3/4 full instead of 1/4 empty,” but my patience has truly run thin…and now I am tired!
I am tired of watching innocent black men being targeted with violence at the hands of law enforcement.
Tired of ignorant bigots taking the law into their own hands and feeling justified to confront black citizens.
Tired of the media-driven, negative stereotypes that shape the dangerous narrative surrounding young black men.
Tired of white people calling the police on black people, and weaponizing the police because they are entitled, scared, or distrusting.
Tired of overlooking the purposeful or passive suppression of talented black professionals in Corporate America.
Tired of watching black-owned businesses struggle without access to capital.
Tired of Corporate America loving the fruits of black culture, but not nurturing the tree that bears it.
Tired of the word “Diversity” which has been nothing more than a diversion away from black.
Tired of systemic and institutionalized corporate racism which is masked by flowery mission statements and codes of conduct that are rarely enforced.
Tired of the rise of the digital and social media economy without commensurate reinvestment in the very market that has often led to its success.
Tired of being disrespected in restaurants as if I were invisible.
Tired of being followed in retail establishments as if I were a threat to rob them.
Tired of not being afforded the same assumption of competence and associated opportunities as my white high school, college, and business school classmates.
Tired of explaining why I like to spend time with black people… while white people are never asked to explain why they like spending time with people that look like them.
Tired of the overall physical and psychological toll that being a black man takes on me every day.
As the father of two talented, charming, educated, young black men with unlimited potential, it pains me deeply that I needed to have “the conversation” with them while they were innocent teenagers regarding their possible interaction with cops that my Dad had with me almost five decades earlier, and that no doubt his Dad had with him. Every evening before I go to bed I must say a prayer that my boys will not be targeted and killed by law enforcement who mistake them as a threat which is something none of my white friends or classmates ever have to endure much less think about.
Why are we still facing the same problems, and having the same conversations surrounding racism in 2020 that we’ve had over the past 50, 100, and 200 years? The reason is we have never truly had any desire to actually address and cure the “Pandemic of Racism.” I guarantee you we will soon find a vaccine for Covid-19 just like we have found cures for other health crises that have plagued this country throughout centuries. We are a nation with vast resources of money and intelligence, and this Pandemic of Racism can be cured, but black people alone cannot put an end to this virus. We need the commitment and assistance of consciously aware white people to bring an end to this virulent disease.
Let me be clear: I do not condone violence and looting as a methodology to fix racism. On the other hand, I fully understand the frustration and outrage at yet another incident where the lives of black people are considered worthless. My heart is warmed to see so many of the protestors across this country and around the world to be a full mix of young white, black, yellow, and brown people. I have great hope for the next generation because they are fed up with the nonsense and determined to do something.
Corporate America is uniquely positioned to be true leaders in this discussion and to drive lasting change – especially those companies that sincerely are committed to inclusion and equity. As it has done throughout history, American business can offer viable solutions while helping set the tone for our nation and world. It starts with being intentional, accountable, vocal, and fully engaged. I am truly optimistic about the initial response I have seen from fair-minded CEOs and other corporate leaders. I now challenge all of Corporate America to make an effective strategic plan to unlock the greatness that America can become, and to embrace everyone equally with fairness, love, and compassion.