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raceAhead: Black CEO Calls for Candid Talk on Race Issues

As the country reels from yet another tragic shooting, Bernard J. Tyson, the CEO of Kaiser Permanente and one of America’s most prominent black CEOs, has written a candid essay calling for unity. In the essay, shared exclusively with Fortune, Tyson says that empathy – and the willingness to understand the lived experience of people very different from our own – is the only way forward.

“This moment calls for unity, for listening, and for empathy as we seek to understand what communities of color are facing and the assumptions that the broader society is working from. Our ability to rise up and address embedded and complex issues in today’s society requires us to initiate and continue an open and progressive conversation. We must listen to understand other perspectives and test our own mental maps rather than to reinforce our own beliefs.”

The essay is the latest in a growing body of Tyson writings in which he attempts to share the unique tension of being both a black man in America – “I’ve had “that talk” with each of my sons about what to do if you’re stopped by a police officer,” he writes – and the leader of a $62 billion enterprise that deals directly with the health issues and inequities facing communities of color, and the country as a whole. “Some of the victims of gun violence end up in our emergency rooms. In addition to the victim, we care for the parents, siblings, friends and even the communities that are affected.”

Tyson pulls no punches. “Criminals must be held accountable, yet I question the use of deadly force in non-violent situations.” He continues: “A police force that is seen as a paramilitary organization with an adversarial relationship with communities of color is neither effective nor what’s needed to move our society forward.”

Kaiser employees 200,000 people, so diversity and inclusion is top of mind. “Our objective is to get the best out of everyone, to be the unique answer for what we are looking for as a business and as a global community,” he says.

But it’s also personal. When I interviewed Tyson for the Fortune story, “Leading While Black,” he made it clear that he lives the black experience when he leaves the C-Suite and walks down Main Street. A recent list: Pulled out of the security line for a public pat down as he attempts to enter his own luxury box at a football game. A crisp lecture on proper tipping from a waiter that accompanied the check at an upscale restaurant. Tailed by a nervous sales clerk. Asked to show identification when paying with a credit card in the grocery store.“The image of the black man in America is warped,” he says simply. And this is where courage comes in.

“We have to be able to tell the truth about these things.”

The full essay is here.

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I think of my nieces, ages three and four. They are gorgeous and headstrong, brilliant girls, who are a whole lot of brave. I want them to thrive in a world where they are valued for the powerful creatures they are. I think of them, and suddenly, the better choice becomes far easier to make.
—Roxane Gay