Be A Bridge by Stephen Elmore, Manager, DE&I
It’s early June, and I’m sitting in the backyard of my parents’ house in rural Maryland — in the woods, isolated, unemployed — not to mention during a global pandemic, and days after the murder of George Floyd. As one might imagine, emotions are at an all-time high, especially if you’re Black. I’m alone, accompanied only by my thoughts. That could’ve been me… my brother… my father… my cousin… my aunt… While I listen to the pundits on the news discuss the problems our country faces: racism, injustice, inequality… I think to myself, “it haaad to get to this point for Black folks to have the world’s ear.” It’s about time our stories and opinions be heard, I just wish it weren’t due to the current climate. I’m pleased these conversations are taking place, but frustrated, as so many of us try to figure this thing out. Why is this so hard?
The facts: I am Black, and I am Jewish. I was born and raised in the mecca; a melting pot of races, ethnicities, religions, and personas — New York City. My kid brother and I, by all intents and purposes, were born into “privilege” — with two self-made parents who came of age in the 1960s and 70s, and who broke barriers to overcome odds of their own. My father, a Black man, was (and I believe still is) the only ex-NBA player to graduate from Harvard Law School. My mother, a Jewish-Canadian, was for several years the lone woman on the Board of the Emerging Markets Traders Association. They both were the first in their respective families to graduate from college. I am proud of who I am and where I come from.
Though I’ve been extremely fortunate, best believe I have a chip on my shoulder. For reasons beyond my control, I’ve had to be twice as good to earn people’s respect. My parents have sat with my brother and me to have “the talk”, the one that makes sure we — as young Black men — understand how to conduct ourselves when; not if, we get stopped by the police. My brother and I often think twice about wearing our hats and hoodies in public wherever we go. Or while competing for the 92nd Street Y in the JCC Maccabi Games as a teen, adults on several occasions have openly questioned my Judaism (as if I needed the added motivation). I’ve had to explain to several college teammates why hanging their beloved Confederate flag was offensive…or many times, I’ve been the “token” in the group that needed to speak up to correct ignorant comments, because if I don’t, prejudice prevails. I do not have white privilege.
For me, growing up as a “mixed kid” was positive. I had, and still have, access to so much culture and perspectives. I often think about how I can use my background, life’s experiences, emotions, passions, dreams — and how I can contribute to make this right and manifest these things for the greater good. Why was I put on this Earth?! What is my purpose? Then it hit me. I am an example. In this moment, it couldn’t have been clearer. I can relate to many different people and have a unique lens into the world. I am a bridge for the backgrounds, races, and ethnicities I encounter, and truly feel it is both my, and each of our duties to embrace and engage in courageous conversations that will propel us toward progress and understanding.
So, fast-forward two months from that June morning while in proverbial limbo, and a few pivotal phone calls that same day; my speaking with you as the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager at DKC could not be more fitting. Grateful nonetheless, I am here for a reason — energized, determined, impassioned, prepared and suited to drive us toward achieving the goals and actions our agency has committed to as part of establishing a more sustainable, impactful and equitable environment at DKC and among those we influence.
Collaborating with passionate and experienced colleagues across the agency on our initiatives has been a humbling, insightful and important experience. To me, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is quite simple in theory, yet pushing for that standard daily can be an intense, emotional, and complex undertaking. We cannot deny DE&I’s significance to the cultural fabric and outlook of companies, organizations and communities as we work to shape our future. Not only is cultivating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce intuitively and morally “the right thing to do” for the culture, research reminds us that the commitment optimizes financial results. The business case for true DE&I in the workplace has become overwhelmingly clear to us in 2020. The nature by which we collectively devote ourselves to genuine, unbiased efforts of reflection, listening, education, antiracism alliance, and the empowerment of our BIPOC will ultimately be our best barometer of success.
Let’s continue to take action.