By Ellen McGirt
Updated: May 16, 2018 2:33 PM ET

RaceAhead is two years old! Happy anniversary to us all.

Looking back on our first column, an interview with long-time Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, I was struck by how different I thought the world was going to be.

Even then, there were convenings and commitment — I had just attended a two-day White House briefing that brought some 30 CEOs and senior executives together to talk candidly about diversity and inclusion from the supply chain to the C-Suite. AT&T, Caterpillar, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, GM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Staples, Starbucks, UPS, Walgreens, and Xerox, were all in the house.

Jarrett talked about the business case for diversity, but also the blind spots of society: From Trayvon Martin to more general topics of race, reconciliations and the complexities of a country that has never fully reckoned with its past:

And anyone who thought over night that we would heal wounds that are old and deep was being naïve. However, the fact that we have seen across the country reactions to injustice that have mobilized — particularly young people — to engage and be a part of the solution, it’s heartening.

I think there were some people in this country who thought that all was well because of the symbolism of our first black president. But that ignores the history of our country where progress has always taken time. And to change a culture doesn’t happen overnight. It happens gradually. And we have to take the long view coupled with that fierce urgency of now. And having organizations sprout up such as Black Lives Matter, Campaign Zero, and the youth organizations of the NAACP, and the Urban League, and The National Action Network is very encouraging.

That said, I originally thought I’d mostly be covering data and research, profiling inspiring chief human resource officers, and reminding people not to be racist jerks at Halloween. I did not anticipate white supremacists with Tiki torches and the rise of hate speech, or the need to explore the lasting imprint of Jim Crow, the global history of colonization, and whether or not Robert E. Lee was a good person.

But as hard as it is to see sometimes, I think Jarrett is right. There are reasons to be encouraged. Things take time.

And this is the time we’re living in.

And so the work of understanding the world continues. I’ve come to see that the vast majority of the noble business of diversity and inclusion is acknowledging the barriers that exist in hearts and minds long before someone shares their LinkedIn profile with a recruiter. It’s a tender task requiring rigor, empathy, imagination, and compassion, and it’s a lot to ask business to do. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, is that you’re up to the job.

Thank you for everything.


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