On the Tulsa massacre anniversary, corporate America can’t forget the fight against racism

May 31, 2021, 3:00 PM UTC
The Greenwood district razed after the Tulsa race massacre of 1921.
GHI/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group—Getty Images

On the heels of one tragic anniversary—the murder of George Floyd—comes another: the centennial of the Tulsa race massacre, when a white mob attacked the city’s prosperous, predominantly Black Greenwood neighborhood—also known as Black Wall Street. The mob looted and torched homes, churches, and businesses as well as the community’s school and hospital, leaving many dead and wounded (exact estimates vary) and resulting in a significant and enduring economic impact. 

One hundred years later, societal systemic racism continues to rear its head through acts of violence and deliberate policies. While corporate America has stepped up its commitments to racial justice, the role of the business community in helping break this cycle requires more than a donation or a statement. We have a responsibility to look closely at the details and the data—which also requires the challenging work of looking closely, and critically, at ourselves.

With the launch of CEO Action for Racial Equity in October 2020, more than 100 CEOs are doing exactly that. Led by PwC’s U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner Tim Ryan, these leaders—from companies such as HP, John Hancock, and MassMutual—have recognized that there is much more work to be done to advance racial equity beyond taking actions within company walls. Through our fellowship, a group of nearly 250 company employees have committed to this effort to effect lasting societal change. 

After a period of extensive, data-driven research—with organizations on our Black Community Council providing invaluable counsel along the way—CEO Action for Racial Equity recently announced eight critical issues to address through public policy change. 

To address disparities in digital connectivity, our country needs policies that close the digital divide, bringing the Internet and distance learning to millions of Black Americans who lack these essential services.

Recognizing the systems that punish the poor and exacerbate the wide racial wealth gap, we must also address pretrial detention and cash bail policies head-on, because an inability to pay fines, fees, or bail should never be the sole reason for incarceration. 

Corporate America should also play a role in helping close the financial inclusion gap by supporting community development financial institutions, which are urgently needed to provide banking services to more than 23 million Black Americans who remain unbanked or underbanked.

Our fellowship is also committed to improving health care and well-being, with a focus on much greater access to telehealth for Black communities that face a shortage of physicians and quality health care facilities. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and momentum from the CDC and community organizations, we must declare racism a public health crisis so that resources are dedicated to studying the impacts of structural racism. And we should also increase food equity and availability of healthy food in Black neighborhoods, as one in five Black Americans may have experienced food insecurity in 2020 due to the lack of access to healthy and affordable food.

To help protect the safety of Black Americans, we’re aligned with efforts to establish a national policing misconduct registry. To help secure increased higher education and job opportunities for Black Americans for generations to come, we’re supporting investments in early childhood education.

Within cities, suburbs, and rural communities, boardrooms and classrooms, health care networks and criminal justice systems, corporate America has a responsibility to respond proactively to the policy issues that have far too long limited economic opportunity and well-being for Black Americans.

The societal dynamics from a century ago still persist today, and they continue to reverberate across Black communities. If we are to rid our nation of systemic racism, we must do more than reflect on the past. We must also take action: turning rhetoric into reality and moments into movements, building a more equitable America for all.

Pia Flanagan is COO of CEO Action for Racial Equity and chief of staff to the CEO at MassMutual.

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