The CEO's Gift

It was Forrest Gump who told us, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." It turns out not only is that true for life, but also while reading "Fortune" magazine these days. Yep. Forrest Gump and "Fortune" magazine.

Let me explain. I'm a Racial Equity Consultant today, but my roots are in Corporate America. It was the dream of being a CEO of a Fortune 500 Corporation that led me to study business as an undergrad and then pursue an MBA. Though today much of my work is with non-profits and educational institutions helping them to identify strategies and communications for racial equity, I am still very much connected to the business world. That may be why I was reading "Fortune" magazine in the first place. But I typically operate in a space of limited, if any, intersection between my two professional lives. The worlds of Racial Equity Consulting and Corporate America, by-and-large, do not meet.

So you can understand when I tell you that nothing prepared me for the surprise I experienced when I saw a headline that screamed in big, bold letters: Read Kaiser Permanente CEO's Tough Words on Race: It's Time to Tell the Truth (Ellen Grit, July 18, 2016).

I read the title a couple of times and then confirmed I was indeed in the correct publication. I decided to read the article quickly, lest my excitement abruptly come to an end with me having to accept the horrible realization that I had been "punked."

This was really happening. It was the closest thing to a "Christmas in July" experience that I have ever had. Here, one of the most prominent Black CEOs was talking about race -- and not in secret (like most of us do), but in "Fortune" magazine! I was definitely taking the bow off of this gift. I shook the box and liked the sound of what was inside. 

I began to unwrap my gift. I wanted to hurriedly snatch the paper off! But I resisted the urge. This gift, this chocolate had to be savored. It was already so good. Bernard Tyson acknowledged "the talk" he has had with his sons about their interactions with police, put forward his concerns about the militarization of police departments and the use of deadly force in non-violent situations, while at the same time holding criminals accountable for their behavior! 

Yes! This is the gift I have been waiting for. It's just perfect and it fits. It fits me and it fits where we are as a nation. The very best part of this gift is that it is one that can be given by other leaders in Corporate America. Bernard Tyson is not the only person who can give this gift and I am not the only one who can receive it.

When leaders of industry exhibit the courage to talk about race we must applaud them. Corporate leaders have found a way to talk about and object to other forms of social injustice as exhibited by boycotts in North Carolina and Indiana, yet it is still relatively unheard of for a CEO to talk about race. But when CEOs like Bernard Tyson actually speak this truth, they create a space within the organization for employees at all levels to engage in honest dialog about the challenges we face. It is only through having conversations like these that change is possible. 

Thank you, Mr. Tyson, for your gift. I hope it is an example for all leaders, and not just Black leaders, at organizations large and small.  And thank you, "Fortune" magazine for being like a box of chocolates and providing us with something unexpected, yet amazing.