Working to Build Together: Words are not Enough

The hands are an extension of the heart

“The hands are an extension of the heart,” goes an Italian saying. In fact, they say that if you want to see how big your heart is, you close your fist. That's about the size of it. But open hands are much more practical for work. And we have much work to do.

As if fears from the pandemic weren't enough to increase the level of physical distance from others, this past weekend have been very trying in the U.S. with #BlackLivesMatter protests. Panic now includes a terrifying escalation of violence in major cities around the country.

Leaders I've talked with, communicated concern and a desire to say something. Making a statement is a first good step, but words are not enough. Taking a stand means using one's influence to lead to concrete, positive action.

Committing to the other

Division is everywhere, yet to solve the complex issues we face, the world needs unity. That is possible only when we commit to the other—to being there for people who are not like us.

Racism was part of my life experience growing up. In my neck of the woods it was between people from the North and South of Italy. There are many historical reasons why North and South developed differently.

The earliest evidence of Italians' extraordinary genetic diversity dates back to 19,000 years ago#. Based on this combination of genetics and environment, human bodies react differently to infections, for example. But there are also cultural and economic reasons.

It's not easy to put oneself into someone else's shoes. I'm going back to the tiny hilltop villages of Lucania now in Christ Stopped at Eboli. That's where the author was an “involuntary guest” of the Fascist regime in the mid 1930s. Turin-born Carlo Levi describes the people and politics of this long neglected part of the country with tremendous affection.

I feel for those farmers. Even as I have no idea how it feels to be marginalized. Ageism is a thing for sure. So is being female and assertive. But it's nothing in comparison with what many people face every single day of their lives.

When I came to the U.S., I had this idea that United stood for something about and beyond the regional divisions I had experienced in Italy. Like Levi found in Lucania, I found a different reality in Philadelphia. So that's my first thought: walk the talk.

Expressing empathy, making a contribution

Many people told me in the past several weeks that they felt a sense of kinship with their neighbors and communities. Many companies also stepped in and adapted to help support their employees. Leadership is not something you claim, it's something you demonstrate.

Josh Bernoff selected a couple of corporate statements that show empathy and communicate concrete steps. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote:


Right now, there is a pain deeply etched in the soul of our nation and in the hearts of millions. To stand together, we must stand up for one another, and recognize the fear, hurt, and outrage rightly provoked by the senseless killing of George Floyd and a much longer history of racism.

That painful past is still present today — not only in the form of violence, but in the everyday experience of deeply rooted discrimination. We see it in our criminal justice system, in the disproportionate toll of disease on Black and Brown communities, in the inequalities in neighborhood services and the educations our children receive. While our laws have changed, the reality is that their protections are still not universally applied.

We’ve seen progress since the America I grew up in, but it is similarly true that communities of color continue to endure discrimination and trauma.

I have heard from so many of you that you feel afraid — afraid in your communities, afraid in your daily lives, and, most cruelly of all, afraid in your own skin. We can have no society worth celebrating unless we can guarantee freedom from fear for every person who gives this country their love, labor and life. . . .

But together, we must do more. Today, Apple is making donations to a number of groups, including the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit committed to challenging racial injustice, ending mass incarceration, and protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable people in American society. For the month of June, and in honor of the Juneteenth holiday, we’ll also be matching two-for-one all employee donations via Benevity.

To create change, we have to reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored. Issues of human dignity will not abide standing on the sidelines. To our colleagues in the Black community — we see you. You matter, your lives matter, and you are valued here at Apple.

A good example of clear writing that names the facts and outlines the actions. It demonstrates:

  • Sincerity — the best way to communicate (marketing is a form of communication) is to be as close as possible to what people are feeling and what you can offer.
  • Respect — this is essential before you can commit to the other.
  • Authenticity — also something you demonstrate by being true to your values.

But you don't have to be the CEO of a company with an enviable market capitalization to act. Confronting bias is not easy, but it shines a light in the dark places.

Speaking up, doing the right thing

It's uncomfortable and you feel put on the spot. But talking about what is happening is important. Indra Nooyi, former Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo says:

This past week, we’ve seen millions of Americans vocalize their pain in protests across the nation responding to the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We all have a responsibility to recognize this pain and the systemic racism that has caused it, and also to act — by listening, reading, and supporting organizations that make justice their mission. This is especially important if you come from a place of privilege that protects you in some capacity.

As we all consider how to heal this wound, I ask that we not lose sight of the power of our voices. I’ve always believed that confronting bias publicly is essential. If you see a bad actor, say it out loud and set an example for those around you. And don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Instead, be eager to participate in conversations that may make you uncomfortable and commit to learn more. It may not be easy, but it is critical.

The road ahead will undoubtedly be challenging, and the scale of the work that needs to be accomplished is staggering. Let’s vow to be kind, to roll up our sleeves, and to be part of the force that bends this path toward justice. #BlackLivesMatter

I've done my share of speaking up. I still remember the one time I was there when a middle aged white guy said to my mother, who was then in her early sixties, “shut up, you old woman.”

I turned around, looked him up and down and staring him in the eyes I said calmly, “you apologize to her, right now.” My heart was beating hard as we were in a public place. It took courage, but it needed to be said.

At a minimum, this is what you can do — don't stay silent. It's hard to think of something to say. But it's important to make a statement, to acknowledge the pain others are experiencing, like Tim Cook, Indra Nooyi, and many others did.

If you need help crafting a message that is in line with your values, get in touch.

Support goes beyond words

Here are some examples of companies that made statements of support:

Nike shared the video with #UntilWeAllWin, For once, don't do it. Adidas, Nike’s cut-throat competitor in the retail space shared the video, with the message, Together is how we move forward.#

Corporate Voices Get Behind ‘Black Lives Matter’ Cause#

Nike, Reebok & More Big Brands Are Taking a Stand For Racial Injustice as National Unrest Heats Up#

In an unusual move, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Starz and other major Hollywood players used their corporate social media accounts to take a stand on Saturday and support the Black Lives Matter movement#

But it takes more than words to change things:

On social media, companies and influencers who call out police violence are being told to 'open your purse'#

Tim Cook also communicated that Apple was making donations to a number of organizations and matching employee contributions. Other companies are taking action, in line with their values:

Girls Who Code Reshma Saujani, CEO & Dr. Tarika Barrett, COO take action in solidarity with Black Americans and the ongoing fight for racial justice.#

We stand in solidarity with our employees and communities who are voicing their anguish, anger, and deep frustration with systems that oppress and devalue black lives, says Josh Silverman, CEO, Etsy and pledges to donate $1 Million toward Justice Reform and Black-Led Institutions#

But it's not just the big companies. I'm seeing small agencies pledge what they can, match employee contributions, and make a commitment to inclusion and diversity. That last part is where we can make working to build together sustainable.

Nike shared the video with #UntilWeAllWin. Adidas, Nike’s cut-throat competitor in the retail space shared the video, with the message, ‘Together is how we move forward'.

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