Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza on the importance of doing the work

September 11, 2020, 11:25 PM UTC

America mourns 9/11 amid the coronavirus pandemic, white faces dominate the country’s most powerful positions, and remote work disadvantages the marginalized.

But first, here’s your 9/11 memorial-themed week in review in Haiku

Where were you when the
Towers fell? When the sky was
the kind of blue that

made you believe that
all is well and good if just
for a brief moment?

What did you think when
the smoke began to billow,
the Pentagon shook,

and the news anchors
blinked back tears? I remember
all the WHERE ARE YOU????

voice mails, the wringing 
hands, the need to say “I love 
you” just one last time.

On this sober anniversary, and at this strange and terrible time, please know: We are grateful for all you are and do.

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

Last night I had the chance to have a virtual dinner with Alicia Garza, Principal at the Black Futures Lab—a non-profit dedicated to understanding and engaging Black political power—and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network. Also at the “table” were a wonderful and eclectic group of women journalists and purpose-driven entrepreneurs. Over food we individually prepared inspired by two of Garza’s favorite recipes, we connected with each other and with her work. It was delightful.

Garza has been busy. She has a new book coming out in October, called The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart. And although she left the day-to-day operations of BLM in 2017, her organizing work has never stopped.

Here’s just one example.

The Black Futures Lab has conducted what she believes is the largest survey of Black people ever completed since Reconstruction. She says it’s a necessary response to a political system that panders to Black voters at game time, but never really finds out that what they want. “We meet over plates of soul food, usually from Sylvia’s in Harlem, with people who are seeking our votes by trying to appeal to us culturally. But there is no substantive engagement on the issues we really care about.”

The Black Census surveyed 30,000 Black people across the U.S. to find out what issues were top of mind and what solutions they might embrace. “The number one thing heard from people,” says Garza, “is that nobody ever asked them what they think and what they care most about.”

I'll let you click through to find out what those issues are.

I’ll be following up with Garza for a longer interview when her book is available, but I did ask her for some words of advice for anyone who is looking to create a bigger impact in their work or in the work, particularly if they are newcomers.

Don’t try to jump ahead. “Racism is not about people being mean to each other,” she says. “These are intentionally designed systems that permeate everything in our society.  It’s important for us to deeply understand how these things came to be.”

Then remember, nothing works if the voices of marginalized stakeholders aren’t centered. This is the time to amplify the “bold and radical imagination of people who are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she says. 

Hold a beautiful vision of what’s possible. “It’s easy to know what it is we don’t want. But ‘the negative’ keeps you involved for about 15 seconds.” After that, expect cynicism and apathy to follow.

Instead, “take the time to cultivate a clear vision of what it is that you want moving forward.” Think big, bold, collaborative.

Then get busy. “If there was ever a time to do something wacky and wild [that] makes you sweat, it’s 100% now,” she says. “If you’re wondering if you can make an impact—if you have an idea that will help people prepare for this moment—do it.”

On Point

Remembering September 11th, amid another national tragedy Today marks 19 years since the 9/11 attacks. A look at the ceremonies in New York City shows how warped the mourning is this year amid a global pandemic that has left 192,000 Americans and counting dead. In Manhattan, mourners wore masks and kept their distance. The usual stage for families to read names of the victims was absent; instead a pre-recorded list was broadcast over speakers. Vice President Mike Pence and presidential hopeful Joe Biden were both in attendance, exchanging a masked elbow bump in solidarity. For many, 9/11 was the defining moment of a generation. Now, we are in the midst of an agonizing new one.

Four-fifths of the country’s most powerful people are white A new analysis by the New York Times found that of the more than 900 officials who head the likes of government, media, finance, and law in the U.S., a staggering 80% are white despite an increasingly diverse population. As the Times puts it, these are the people who “pass our laws, control Hollywood’s studios, head the most prestigious universities, own pro sports teams and determine who goes to jail and who goes to war.” Maybe that isn’t too surprising when considering the makeup of the Trump Administration (three people of color out of 24). But other categories are just plain absurd. Not a single Asian or Black academic leads U.S. News and World Report’s top 25 universities—just one is Hispanic. The 15 combined leaders of the Big Five book publishers and the 10 most-read magazines are all white. And just three state governors are Asian, Hispanic, or Native American. There are currently no Black governors, and just two Black governors have been elected in American history.
New York Times

Remote work is all well and good if you’re wealthy and white While the transition to telework has been bearable for those in industries like education, information services, and finance, it’s a different story for those who work in the service sector. Recent analysis found that just 1 in 100 service employees have the ability to telecommute. At the same time, one fifth of Black and Hispanic men work in these occupations. The other aforementioned industries, as well as positions in professional, scientific, and technical services, management, and insurance, are overwhelmingly dominated by affluent white Americans. It’s no coincidence, then, that Black and Hispanic Americans die of COVID-19 at a much higher rate than their white counterparts
PBS NewsHour/The Conversation

On background

Saying goodbye to the Twin Towers There have always been as many New Yorks as there are people who have lived there, and this beautiful essay by Colson Whitehead encapsulates the unique pain of watching your personal New York transform. “You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building,” he writes. You never really say a proper goodbye to the parts of the city that made you, and especially to the ones that you never expected to. It works for 9/11 and it works for the post-COVID New York that I assure you is far from over. #NeverForget
New York Times

Would you help if you saw someone being bullied? This is the premise of a deeply affecting and effective social experiment and accompanying three-minute video created by the Miami office of David, the agency partner for Burger King. Called “Bullying Jr.,” it was originally created in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, but given the current state of always-on harassment, now makes an even more chilling point. The David team hired teen actors to harass another kid in a real Los Angeles-area BK restaurant. The premise was simple: Would customers be more likely to stand up for a bullied junior human or a bullied Whopper junior?
Burger King on Youtube

Study: Evolution is not here for your selfishness A study published in Nature Communications, is upending a long-held notion that selfishness was preferable from an evolutionary perspective. The research revisits game theory experiments—most people will remember that as the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ scenario put forth by mathematician John Nash, which favored selfishness—only to find that any rewards from putting oneself first were short-lived. "For many years, people have asked that if he [Nash] is right, then why do we see co-operation in the animal kingdom, in the microbial world, and in humans," said the lead author. Microbes, they get it.

raceAhead is edited by Aric Jenkins.

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Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

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