Change: You can be the Beacon to Illuminate the Path to Racial Justice

Recent tragedies have shined a light on the racial injustices that still exist in our society. The horrific and tragic death of George Floyd has lit a fire that sparked a movement in our country. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, a unified force has emerged. People from different communities, and of all colors and backgrounds, have joined together in demand of the same goal: change.

Our country was founded on the promise of The American Dream, a set of ideals that promotes equal opportunity for all Americans to pursue their dreams; our country still has a long way to go to live up to that promise. The harsh reality is that racism and injustice are still rampant in the U.S. – even decades after the Civil Rights Movement. Change is long overdue. The time for change is now.

As a Southern woman, I am often tempted to block out some of the people I grew up with especially when their views widely differ from my own. I stop myself because I may be the only beacon of light that could illuminate a path for them to embrace change. I want to embrace that change and help others along the way.

Over the past month, I have reached out to friends from across the spectrum searching for ways to become a more meaningful ally. Everyone has good advice. I’ve finally settled on embracing “intention” as my guiding light.

We must be intentional in our efforts to root out racism and injustice from our communities and country. It starts by opening your doors and resetting your tables. Open the employment doors for those just starting and give them growth opportunities. Open the doors for leadership in your organization. Advocate for diverse boards — whether corporate or philanthropic. Exposing yourself to a multitude of cultures and thoughts will do wonders for your bottom line and your character.

Make room at your tables — Whether it’s the conference table at your office or the dinner table at your home. Providing an environment for everyone to have exposure to a variety of perspectives will make your company stronger and your life richer.

By creating a diverse environment around you, your family and your colleagues, you can begin to truly understand the challenges that people in our country still face. We must then be intentional as we pursue solutions together to address those challenges. There is no easy fix, but together, we can change the course of history. We will need the support of our friends, family, community leaders, the business community, education institutions and government officials. It will need to be a collaborative effort.

Each one of us must take stock of ourselves and honestly assess how and where we can do better.  Amidst the tragedy, we have seen a glimmer of hope for our future and the path forward to racial justice. Communities across the nation have joined together, as one unified voice, to take a stand against racism and injustice, and call for action and meaningful reform. In this month’s edition, we will hear unique perspectives from business and education leaders on how our country can move forward on the path to racial justice.

Gloria Story Dittus, Chairman, Story Partners

Committing to Change

Many are calling this moment a crisis. In fact, it is more like a reckoning. Truths that African American people in this country have known for centuries have been thrust into the national consciousness. In turn, public opinion is shifting at a stunning rate. Institutions, companies, and every citizen must come to terms with the role they have played. How they respond – not just today or tomorrow but also next week and next year – will determine whether we can make meaningful progress around equity and justice. Amid the horror of police violence, there is an opening for real change, and I am optimistic about the possibilities. But we must act, and we must get it right.

To meet this moment, companies must first recognize that a lot more needs to be done within their four walls, and they need to do it in a sustained way. They need to be committed to pursuing equity and justice in their work for the long term – not just until this moment has passed. This will require a shift in culture and priorities. We all must shed our biases, work to cease allowing racial and cultural classification to limit a person’s opportunities, and acknowledge and address the systems of privilege that benefit the others.

We must also recognize that COVID-19 and the recession has further imperiled the circumstances of people of color, rural and disadvantaged communities of every color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups. As the virus lays bare deep structural inequalities in American life, this work – of being intentional about and dedicating real resources to equity and justice – is more important than ever.

It is on every one of us to do the real, hard work that is required to make change. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that human progress comes “through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.” If organizations want to make real progress on these issues, they must pursue them relentlessly and be committed to them for the long haul.

Fred Humphries, Corporate Vice President, U.S. Government Affairs, Microsoft Corporation


The Time for Action is Now

The death of George Floyd and the anger we all have surrounding his death had the power to break our country, but it didn’t. In fact, the death of George Floyd has united the American people behind a desire to finally achieve the perpetual goal of this experiment we call America—to make a more perfect union.

I have long held the belief: More unites us as a country than divides us. After marching in Houston alongside George Floyd’s family and sixty thousand other people, that belief is even stronger. Now is the time for all leaders to embrace these united calls to address the systemic issues that led to George Floyd’s death. We must put real solutions on the table that will make our communities safer.

The way we solve and address these issues is not by defunding the police but by ensuring federal dollars go to law enforcement in the most effective way possible.

Most police officers are working on behalf of American families. They are trying to keep us safe and protect us—including protecting our ability to protest and exercise our right to free speech. Rather than defund the police—punishing officers and departments who are working to keep us safe—we must look at ways to empower these departments and hold bad officers accountable.

Congress should pass legislation that will:

  • Tie federal police funding to using best practices;
  • Empower police chiefs to permanently fire bad officers; and
  • Ensure Americans can hold law enforcement accountable in the courts for unlawful behavior.

Each year, the Department of Justice provides almost $2 billion in assistance to state and local law enforcement, which is conditioned on compliance with federal civil rights laws. However, mere compliance with the letter of the law is not enough to solve the problem of unarmed Black men and women dying in police custody. Federal dollars should be used to incentivize departments to follow best practices when it comes to training their officers.

While the majority of police officers are good, for the bad apples, police chiefs must be able to fire them permanently. Currently, due to arbitration, a large number of fired officers return to the force. A Washington Post study of major cities found that 451 police officers (out of 1,881) who were fired from the force were reinstated. That must change. A bad officer should be permanently barred from returning.

American citizens and their families should also be able to pursue legal charges against bad cops for actions that violate civil rights. A legal doctrine currently prevents this from happening, and Congress should alter that doctrine through legislation.

Now is the time for action. Our actions won’t bring back George Floyd or other lives that were tragically cut short, but they will provide our country with the tools to prevent another injustice. Whether your skin is black, or your uniform is blue, individuals should not feel targeted in this country.

Congressman Will Hurd

Rep. Will Hurd represents Texas’s 23rd congressional district in the U.S. Congress.

Ways to Enact Change and Make a Difference

Much has happened since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The ubiquitous video showing the last moments of his life has emotionally affected people around the world. As awful as it was, he wasn’t the first Black person murdered by someone sworn to protect and serve. While you have likely heard of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin, you probably never heard of Wayne Jones who, according to court documents was “armed only with a knife tucked into his sleeve, he was tased four times, hit in the brachial plexus, kicked, and placed in a choke hold. In his final moments, he lay on the ground between a stone wall and a wall of five police officers, who collectively fired 22 bullets” into his motionless body; it all started with jaywalking. There are countless others just like Wayne, whose names we don’t know. So, what has made the Floyd event so pivotal for so many? Given the long history of Black oppression and police brutality, why is it now that so many from non-Black communities are rallying against racial injustice?

Ironically, it may have been the global lockdown resulting from the coronavirus that allowed people to really see and feel what our community has lived for generations. Watching the video and hearing Floyd say 16 times “I can’t breathe”, having the officer taunt Floyd by telling him to “Get up and get in the car,” and him saying that he would do so – over and over again – with no chance for him to do so; keeping his lifeless body handcuffed as they rolled him on the stretcher; and hearing citizens telling the cops to check his pulse, let him up, and so on. To see and hear that was to realize that George Floyd died under the knee of an officer intent on killing him, not just restraining and subduing him.  NBA coach Gregg Popovich said it was “actually watching a lynching.”  What’s even more remarkable is that this incident was knowingly captured on video and the bad actors didn’t care.

This, I believe, is what soaked into the soul of those from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels.  Coach Popovich went on to say, “Black people have been shouldering this burden for 400 years” and need white people to join them in the fight. He is right.


As white people look for ways to engage and make a difference, I think it helps to understand the perspective of those you seek to support.  It is so easy to say we all have the same opportunity, but it isn’t the same when systems and institutions are designed with the odds against you. I’ll remind readers that our forefathers also said “All men are created equal with certain inalienable rights….” Words are powerful, but a war had to be fought for those words to begin to have meaning.

The Conversation

While there are seemingly endless examples of the way race impacts the daily lives of Black families, one of the most salient and basic is “the conversation.” When Black people talk about having “the conversation” with their children, it generally means teaching their kids at very young ages things like:

  • When you buy something, make sure to always receive it in a bag and get the receipt. Not so you can return the item, but so that you can prove you bought it if accused of stealing;
  • How to respond when white people ask if they can touch your hair; I’ve always wondered how they would react if black people asked to touch their hair;
  • And, of course, what to do if stopped by the police; not to hopefully avoid a ticket but to avoid getting unnecessarily arrested or, worse, killed on camera.

Making a Difference

What is encouraging are the growing number of non-Black allies who also recognize the evils of hate and indifference to equality. Here are a few things you can do to make a difference:

  • Challenge racially insensitive jokes and comments from friends, family, and coworkers.
  • If in the position to do so, actively and intentionally recruit black talent.
  • Ensure the composition of your board and executive leadership team reflect what you really believe about diversity. Commit to making changes in the next 6-12 months.

The work to move forward will not be easy but change cannot happen without it. So, it is with hope and faith that through education, understanding, compassion, and humanity we can truly be a fair and just society committed to lifting up one another equally. Only then, truly, will all lives matter.

-Bradley Knox, Senior Vice President and Counsel, Aflac Federal Relations

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s individual views and do not represent the views of Aflac.

This We Believe

My inbox and voicemail are full of questions from business leaders asking how they can help root out prejudice and what actions they can take to create real change within their organizations and society. For those of us who live with the reality of racial injustice every day, we are grateful for these messages and we believe good will rise out of the horrific act of injustice that took Mr. George Floyd’s life.

We believe the first step to combat the racial injustices that are still rampant in our country is intentionally removing obstacles that prohibit greater opportunity for people of color.  For every leader who feels inspired with the purpose to drive out racism, I say embrace “intentionality” as your guiding force.  While having purpose is an important step forward to prevent us from simply coasting, it is only the first step. After setting a goal, we must be intentional about the actions taken to reach the goal.

At Miles College – one of our nation’s pre-eminent historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – we believe it’s our job to intentionally facilitate public discourse on complex and sensitive topics, like systemic racism, and teach others how to drive change through civic engagement. Miles College’s legacy in the civil rights movement offers valuable context on how to intentionally build community trust and foster a better understanding of the underlying reasons that have sparked the protests we see today.

But we can’t do it alone.  We believe collaboration with the business community offers great promise to drive real change in society. We need allies to be intentional about eradicating racism in their organizations.  For starters, business leaders can commit to increasing the number of diverse employees by offering more internships and job opportunities to minority students and graduates. Going a step further, business leaders could require every job search to include a slate of diverse candidates and provide equal opportunity for advancement into the C-suite for minority employees.

We believe being intentional means setting measurable goals upon which even the CEO will be evaluated.  Filling the ranks with employees who look, think or live differently will create a deep reservoir of understanding of others’ perspectives and realities. If leaders feel they can’t speak authentically to these issues, they must be willing to listen, educate themselves and actively seek to learn how they can help.

As Miles College President, I am building on the civil rights legacies of former Miles College President Dr. Lucius Pitts, former Birmingham Mayor, Miles College graduate and faculty member Dr. Richard Arrington Jr., and former Student Government Association President Rev. Frank Dukes, who served on the frontline advocating for racial justice. With the support of Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Chairman of the Miles College Board of Trustees, we have established the Miles College Center for Economic and Social Justice.  Further, I have charged a task force to study and recommend how we might help business, law enforcement and the justice system to advance their efforts around civic involvement and the fight against injustice.

Every organization’s response to address racism and injustice will be different based on their resources and capabilities. As we reflect on the racism that has destroyed the lives of George Floyd and countless others, I challenge you to be a committed and intentional ally to discover how your team can join in the fight for justice and collaborate to develop a winning path forward. Together, our passion, voices, and ideas can and will invoke the societal change we hope to see. Drawing from the famed words of former SGA president Rev. Frank Dukes — this we believe.

Bobbie Knight, Fifteenth President of Miles College