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raceAhead: Bernard Tyson Speaks, Puerto Ricans Are Americans and the Black Working Class

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to lead a town hall discussion on diversity and inclusion at the CEO Initiative conference, an extraordinary one-day event hosted by Fortune and Time.

My colleague Grace Donnelly was kind enough to recap the session. She conveys what it was like to have a front row seat to the conversation, in which Alyse Nelson, CEO and president of Vital Voices Global Partnership, Asher Raphael, co-CEO of Power Home Remodeling (named the Best Place to Work for millennials by Fortune in 2015), and Blake Irving, the CEO of GoDaddy, all weighed in.

Tony Prophet, the Chief Equality Officer of Salesforce, kicked off the discussion by declaring, in no uncertain terms, the role corporations have to play in making sure everyone feels welcome at work. Here’s Grace:

“Our view is that there is no higher purpose than standing for equality in all of its dimensions,” he said, noting that like many tech companies, the cloud giant still has work to do to create an inclusive culture where all employees feel valued and “no on feels that they have to check some fraction of their identity at the door.”

Be sure to click through for a short video of Bernard Tyson, the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, who described the quest for building diverse teams as “an agenda of inclusiveness and understanding the power of nuances.” For him, it is, and always will be, personal.

“My journey has always been ‘the different person’ in the room, since I started my career,” Tyson said. “I am different. My life experience is different and guess what? Because of that I have something to offer.”

On Point

Many Americans don’t know that Puerto Ricans are American citizensAccording to a new poll, only 54% of Americans know that people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. The poll, conducted by Morning Consult, found that only 37% of people ages 18 to 29 know people born in Puerto Rico are citizens, compared with 64% of those 65 or older. It makes a difference: Americans are more likely to support cuts for aid they believe supports foreign countries in times of budget strife. On a related note, the New York State Governor’s office has a list of relief organizations working on behalf of Puerto Rico. New York Times

We need to talk about the black working class
The Nation digs into a new report from “Working America,” the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO that advocates for non-union workers, which explores the sentiments of black, working-class Ohio voters before and since the presidential election. While black voters largely disapprove of the president, they did not turn out at the polls in 2016. “Working America canvassers found that the people they interviewed were suffering economically and did not think the government would help them, or that having a Democratic president would make a difference.” While the analysis focuses on politics, it’s worth pondering the bigger issue behind this level of resignation: black wealth will fall to zero by 2053 if trends don’t reverse. 
The Nation

Meet the Egyptian television commentator who also makes sandwiches
If you’re still silently stewing over big innovation’s recent attempt to ruin bodegas for all of us, then here’s yet another reason to consider the unique value of the small shops. Hatem El-Gamasy owns the Lotus Deli in Ridgewood, Queens, a beloved neighborhood institution known for its craft beer selection and delicious sandwiches. But in his other life – literally, behind the potato chip aisle – he appears regularly as a pundit on Egyptian television, explaining American life and politics to a growing crowd of fans. “Most of the customers, they vent to the bodega owner,” he told The New York Times. “And actually, I listen.”
New York Times

School segregation is still a major issue in Arkansas
Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the internet was awash with images of the nine black teenagers who were escorted to class past angry, white mobs. While the moment was “a physical manifestation for all to see of what that massive resistance looked like,” Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund told the AP, the school experience for many public school kids remain separate and unequal. In the 2016-2017 school year, the average black student in Little Rock went to a school that was roughly 14 percent white, 14 percent Hispanic and 68 percent black – largely unchanged from twenty years ago.

The Woke Leader

On black silent protest
I’d been struggling to find just the right item to share on the kneeling, tweeting, arm-linking news that has overtaken football season. In that spirit, I thought I’d share this excellent piece on the history of black silent protest, featuring the Negro Silent Protest Parade of 1917. “At one end of the spectrum of silence, it is associated with the silenced (group or individual) experiencing intimidation, fear, embarrassment, a lack of knowledge, and/or powerlessness,” says Ameer Hasan Loggins. The Silent Protest was designed to highlight Jim Crow terrorism; in particular, an event in East St. Louis in which white mobs burned 6,000 black people out of their homes and killed 100 others. The parallels with today are clear. “In the case of those that are victims of fatal encounters with the police, they are permanently silenced,” he explains.

James Baldwin to teachers: tell the truth
In this poignant essay, author and teacher Clint Smith shares the frustration that many teachers (and parents) must feel when struggling to explain a dangerous world to their students. “Should they incorporate potentially contentious issues into their lessons? Should lessons be pushed aside to tackle the urgent matters of the day?” he asks. His own question was answered by another essay written by James Baldwin, who delivered it as an address to a group of educators in October 1963. “Let’s begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time,” he said, with the deaths of Medgar Evers, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and President John Kennedy still fresh on their minds. A must read.
New Yorker

The strange backstory on how to salute the U.S. flag
The Smithsonian Magazine has provided an essential guide to “flag salute” history and etiquette. There is a great deal to unpack here. Bottom line, much of the evolving flag-based protocol is based on performative patriotism, which is driven at times by trauma-inspired zeal, like a desire to unite the country after the Civil War, or to instill a sense of native pride during waves of immigration. Early instructions on how to salute the flag during the pledge – “raise your right hand, flip your palm down, point it toward the flag in a salute and recite the words” – looked enough like a Nazi salute that it was changed in 1942.
Smithsonian Magazine


[A]ny Negro who is born in this country and undergoes the American educational system runs the risk of becoming schizophrenic. On the one hand he is born in the shadow of the stars and stripes and he is assured it represents a nation which has never lost a war. He pledges allegiance to that flag which guarantees “liberty and justice for all.” He is part of a country in which anyone can become president, and so forth. But on the other hand he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization – that his past is nothing more than a record of humiliations gladly endured. He is assumed by the republic that he, his father, his mother, and his ancestors were happy, shiftless, watermelon-eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie and Miss Ann, that the value he has as a black man is proven by one thing only – his devotion to white people. 
—James Baldwin