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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Insufficient funds

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As we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington and reflect on the recent affirmative action decision significantly limiting consideration of race in admission decisions, I reflect on how Martin Luther King Jr.’s message on economics in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech connects to today.

In his speech, King discussed how “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.” He notes how Black people “One hundred years later … lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” 

Black residents of Marion County, according to available data, have the lowest median income, highest unemployment rate and lowest homeownership rate. Too many Black people live lives of economic despair.

In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, corporations rushed to make statements and pledges to address racial inequality. According to a recent McKinsey study, companies pledged around $200 billion by May of 2021, with the total amount pledged reaching $340 billion as of February this year.

McKinsey analyzed the commitments of 1,369 companies and found most companies were vague on the nature of their commitments with some companies making more explicit commitments to small business development, affordable housing, education and financial inclusion.

While data shows that each of the areas mentioned above have glaring disparities for Black communities—I wonder if despite the commitments and the data, is the Black community going to experience the Great Reconsideration?

All over the city we are hearing about corporations and other large organizations wrestling with the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action in higher education.

This period is likely to reveal the companies and organizations that were committed to DEI in the first place, as they will retreat from public statements and commitments (if they made any) and go about their business.

Other companies and organizations are trying to understand the potential implications of the Supreme Court’s decision—which is fair.

What differentiates the Champions of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from others in this moment are the questions senior leadership is asking.

Is leadership asking how to move forward, or are they trying to simply mitigate risk? Are they overreacting and overcorrecting by eliminating race in their DEI programs, or are they shoring up their programs by thinking about how to be more intentional in their programming by using data?

It matters where business leaders stand in a moment of controversy.

The Black community has experienced its ups and downs. We still are a people that has consistently demanded that America live up to its lofty ideals. Instead of the bad check Dr. King said was given to Black Americans, we demand a country with leaders who will fulfill the promise of America’s dream for all its citizens. Even if they don’t, Black Indianapolis will find a way.

As has been said by others, we’re just wondering who is a partner for our progress?

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