It was 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
In the summer of 2020, when George Floyd was killed, we all were affected. In the days following Floyd’s death, demonstrations across the U.S. took center stage in a way that forced our country into necessary and far-too-delayed conversations about racism and racial equity. These are productive conversations that should continue. But we also need more action.
In 2020, we saw many corporations rise to the calling along with their employees. That fall, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, a coalition of 1,300-plus CEOs, of which Regions’ president and CEO John Turner is a signatory, committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, by launching the CEO Action for Racial Equity Fellowship with a specific focus on advancing social justice through public policy. The fellowship is focused on dismantling systemic racism that has deeply impacted the 47 million Black Americans in this country – building on the foundation laid by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others committed to creating a more equitable and just society.
Over the last 15 months, I have had the privilege of representing Regions Bank as a fellow (the only one in the state of Alabama) and working alongside more than 250 individuals from over 100 companies. In our quest to better understand racial equity and where gaps exist, we started by pinpointing areas where data shows there are different outcomes based on race. From there, we identified barriers and challenges at a systemic level that can be addressed through public policies and corporate engagement. Based on those findings, we built partnerships with community organizations and community, education and thought leaders from around the country to focus on 12 priorities across four key areas where racial equity is a persistent challenge: public safety, education, economic empowerment and health care.
The best way to honor Dr. King, on this day and the days to come, is for both organizations and individuals to continue doing the work. The hard work. The necessary work. The work doesn’t have to be grand.
I’ve had the opportunity to be part of a team that is focused on advancing the collaboration between Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and corporations. As a proud HBCU graduate (go Tuskegee Golden Tigers), this initiative has been especially impactful for me. HBCUs play an important role in creating racial equity by focusing on the needs of their students (many of which are first generation college students) and providing the tools and guidance necessary for them to succeed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in fact, was also an HBCU graduate of Morehouse College in 1948.
Despite a long history of funding and resource challenges, HBCUs enroll 10% of all African American students, are responsible for 22% of all African American Bachelor degrees, contribute approximately $15 billion annually in gross domestic product and generate approximately 135,000 jobs for their local and regional economies. As an HBCU graduate and HR professional, I’ve seen firsthand the value HBCUs and the students they serve bring to organizations and to the community as a whole. The private sector, including Regions, is playing an important role in strengthening HBCUs, and enabling them to fulfill their missions.
Through collaboration, the business community has the opportunity to continue advancing racial equity as an ally and advocate for HBCUs. The CEO Action for Racial Equity fellowship is facilitating this process by encouraging CEO Action member companies to connect with HBCUs and identifying areas where the corporate community can support HBCUs in a holistic and sustainable way. Examples include investments, efforts to connect HBCU students with employers; through advocacy, and leveraging the strength and reach of the corporate community.
The work of CEO Action draws its strength from the energy, ingenuity and commitment of the individuals – fellows, supporters, staff and volunteers who are each playing a role. But you don’t need to be part of a coalition or have a fancy title to make a difference. As individuals we each can create equity through our words and actions.
The best way to honor Dr. King on this day and the days to come, is for both organizations and individuals to continue doing the work. The hard work. The necessary work. There were many in the background supporting Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement in their own ways. The most important thing was that they wanted to contribute to the work and that they did.
May we honor Dr. King’s life and legacy by truly putting people first so that our “garment of destiny” is one that we can wear with pride, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and beyond.
Taleisha Ming-White serves as the Learning and Development Organizational and Leadership Development Business Partner for Regions Bank. She has represented Regions as a CEO Action for Racial Equity fellow since 2020. Ming-White is a graduate of Tuskegee University.
What Is Equity?
Equity is a term that is increasingly being referenced in discussions, news stories and academic literature focused on human resources, culture and all areas of difference. Equity is often used interchangeably with equality; however, there are subtle but important differences.
Equality is defined as the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities. In contrast, equity is defined as a situation in which everyone is treated fairly and justly, including freedom from bias or favoritism.
Organizations committed to advancing equity do not assume that everyone has the same background or skill set. Instead, these organizations take proactive steps to identify and address barriers to success for individuals or groups.
To borrow from a commonly used metaphor, equality is when everyone in the room gets a pair of shoes, and equity is when everyone gets a pair of shoes that fit and meet their needs. Equity takes the needs of the individual into consideration.