Black History Month 2021 Speaker Series
This month we held three sessions dedicated to discussing issues people of color face daily. These sessions covered challenges ranging from professional and socioeconomic to systemic and political.
Sheena Collier, CEO of Boston While Black 2/5
Sheena shared her journey from Albany to Spelman College to Harvard Graduate School of Education. During this journey she highlighted social difficulties while going to school in the Boston area. Sheena pointed out that her mindset began to change once she learned how to activate her network “I 100% credit my career success to the relationships that I have, and how I've learned how to activate my network in a way to help me to move forward”. While working at the Boston Chamber of Commerce, she discovered that many of the corporations in the greater Boston area struggle to successfully recruit people of color. Thus she started Boston While Black not only to work with companies become a more desirable organization for people of color but also to build a community/network within Boston to address the difficulties (social and professional) of black professionals .
Panel Discussion “Two Linked Pandemics: COVID & Racism” 2/19
Can you define race, racism and systemic racism for us?
Dr. Leah Wright-Rigeur:
“When we think about racism, I like to use Larry Bobo, the sociologist definition of racism. I think it's a really good definition of racism and the other things as well. Racism is a set of institutional conditions of group inequality and an ideology of racial domination, in which the latter is characterized by a set of beliefs holding that the subordinate racial group is biologically or culturally inferior to the dominant racial group".
“So I think in many ways. I gave the definition of race on this basic level, socially constructed categorization people... and I'd stress not a biological categorization of people. And this system of categorization has changed over time”.
Both also touched on some of the systems that are in place where systems can have an impact by having a form of racist bias without actually having the facilitators of these systems being bias.
Please provide an overview of the disparities evident in the Covid 19 pandemic with respect to rates of infection, deaths, economic impact, etc.
"Specifically, we see a pandemic that has devastated, a population that was already experiencing devastating inequities especially economically. And in terms of health, if I took a map of the city of Boston and I highlighted all the areas in the city, with the lowest household incomes. And then I took a map of the city of Boston and looked at educational attainment. And then took that same map to look at, chronic health diseases such as obesity, hypertension, risk of stroke asthma rates. And then I took this final map and overlaid that with the racial and ethnic data of the city, there would be no difference".
Dr. Leah Wright-Rigeur:
“The point I want to really emphasize is that the pandemic lifted the veil... What we are seeing has already been there, it was already there, and in fact most of the people, including those of us who are more privileged living in these communities knew that it was there. We knew that there was a rent crisis, we knew that there was a food crisis, we knew that there was a job and wage inequality crisis, we knew that mortality crisis. We knew that there were health crisis, there a crisises across every single aspect there's even a crisis in education, where for example black women are now on par with white women in terms of educational outcomes, but we know for example black women are taking on higher levels of debt. So we knew that all these crises existed, the pandemic revealed it to the rest of the world, the pandemic also revealed just how fragile the state of democracy is at the very least, in the United States, certainly in the across the globe. and these other countries which are experiencing their own kind of crises of democracy. Within the United States, which has always counted itself as exceptional very quickly in a matter of weeks, not days, the pandemic exposed, just how fragile American democracy is and how this idea of the haves and the have nots and the draconian gap between the haves and have nots already existed, and was in fact exacerbated by the crisis".
In some ways, historical inequities that existed long before the covid-19 pandemic have contributed to the disparities we are seeing now. How have previous instances of systemic discrimination in areas such as housing, employment, education, politics contributed to the disparities we are seeing in the pandemic?
Dr. Leah Wright-Rigeur:
"So if we look at some of these things what I always tell people is that you have to start with reconstruction. Because reconstruction is a moment in the aftermath of slavery, where America, particularly radical Republican, understand that in order to overcome the burden burden of slavery and the inequities, $82 billion worth of inequities that are owed to African Americans and people of African descent and people that are descended from slaves. This massive sum of money, if we were to understand that, if we were to fix that, we have to incorporate African Americans into the body politic of America, we have to do it through radical ideas and policymaking. But we also know that reconstruction failed. So that's the first sign and mark of inequality. This fact that people are moving into the body politic of America, without the same advantages, without the same start that the rest of the country is experiencing. Then we also know that there is a combination of factors that happened in the public and the private sector that exacerbate those already existing inequalities..."
“Building upon some of the things Leah just said, the point of redlining... we want to believe that people understand how that policy impacted wealth, intergenerational wealth in our country. But we don't. A lot of people don't. A lot of people have yet to learn about that. And so just a quick story. Imagine walking into a bank to get a home loan, knowing that you had savings, that you had a good paying job, that you had good credit, you're excited to get this next chapter of your life, beginning in the bank tells you that if we do grant you a loan. You can only buy a home in a predetermined neighborhood that we tell you. And we're not going to tell you we're going to give you a subprime loan at that. But this neighborhood is an economically distressed neighborhood. There's no jobs. There's no small businesses, and the property values are falling. Or you did not buy a home and try your best..."
Black in Big Tech with Travis Sumter (Lead Employment Law Counsel, Facebook) 2/22
To wrap up our Black History Month Speaker Series Travis talked about his role and some of the positive aspects of working in big tech Facebook, Silicon Valley as a black man. Travis (top right) acknowledged “there's this huge new movement, all across tech and I'm sure you all probably see it in Boston where companies are really taking diversity and inclusion seriously, and understanding how important it is to make sure there is diverse representation”... He then adds that at Facebook, his perspective, and personality is welcomed and encouraged by colleagues and business partners. Finally, the conversation transitioned to what companies are doing and what companies can do to increase diversity and inclusion. Travis pointed out for smaller companies like EverQuote ....”You can almost take and duplicate any and everything that's going on. It's just bringing it to scale to where you are, to fit your budget”...”Find ways to partner with bigger companies. This to me mentorship is not just person to person but it could be company to company”.