Viewpoints – SDC CEO George Hinton: Now is the time to confront systemic racism

George Hinton
George Hinton

Dear Friends:

As I write this letter, protesters are marching in the streets for the 19th day in a row. Young protesters – of all races- show no signs of slowing down. As long as our loud, collective voice can be heard, police brutality and systemic racism can’t fade quietly into the background.

Not this time. Or at least that’s my hope.

But, I must admit, I’m cynical. When you’ve lived as long as I have, you know we’ve been here before. We’ve seen great movements derailed. We’ve learned that promises made aren’t always promises kept. But like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said, “there is power in numbers and there is power in unity.”

I’m writing to say that we must continue to keep our eyes on the prize.

Do more. Say more. Keep the pressure on.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror.

It was just about a year ago that I stood with many of you at the Social Development Commission’s annual Summit on Poverty. The theme was self-reflection. We asked ourselves how our action or lack of action contribute to the outcomes we hope to change today.

We have the answers. The time to talk about it is over. We are experiencing the worst economic, political and social instability we’ve seen in generations. If we don’t act now, when do we?

It’s time to do the right thing with a real sense of urgency. Especially those of us who are in positions to create real, sustainable change. I’m speaking to those of us who occupy the highest seats in corporate, civic and academic America.

It’s easy to support the passionate protesters in the streets.

It’s easy to write letters that denounce police brutality and economic inequality.

It takes courage to call this what it really is – racism.

We are at a tipping point. And if we let this moment slip away, shame on us.

What’s next? Well, I’ll start with myself and challenge others to follow.

In support of young people who have shown a tremendous amount of courage, I pledge to be respectful but unafraid to tell the truth. It’s easier said than done. In corporate America, there were times I avoided speaking the truth about what I observed and what I experienced in order to make everybody feel comfortable.

Speaking out against policies and systems that keep racism in place may come with a hefty price. You may be labeled, ostracized or even fired. Still we must challenge the status quo.

We must address police brutality and we can’t stop there. We must address inequalities impacting hiring practices, education, health care disparities and community investment. All of these things help build a robust African American middle class.

For example, African Americans are grossly underrepresented at local corporations and on corporate boards. Too many African American owned businesses don’t get significant contracts that allow them to create jobs and wealth in the African American community. The lack of public and private investment in African American communities is unacceptable.

We must not be pacified. We can’t settle for marginal change.

Protests are expected to continue and I’m glad. As I watch these protesters, I have a range of emotion. Pride. Hope. Excitement about what could be if all of us push ourselves and do more than we’ve ever done before.

What progress will we see when we look back one year from today?

George Hinton is the chief executive officer of the Milwaukee-based Social Development Commission, a provider of human service programs for low-income individuals and families in Milwaukee County.

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