June 1, 2020
In the past week, we have seen protests and unrest spread across the country. The protests started because last Monday a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, including nearly three minutes after he became unresponsive. The video is agonizing, painful and heart-breaking; Floyd, a black 46-year-old man, can be seen stating multiple times that he cannot breathe, but this elicits no reaction from Chauvin or the three other police officers who were involved. Floyd died from his injuries in police custody.
George Floyd is the third tragic and senseless death that has made national headlines in the past month. I wrote to you about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and some of you may have already heard of Breonna Taylor. Breonna, a black 26-year-old EMT, was shot eight times and killed in her home by police in Louisville, Kentucky, when they burst into her apartment in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. You may recall these names: Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Stephon Clark, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald, Amadou Diallo, and tragically many more.
Thousands across the U.S. are gathering to protest the systemic problems that exist in our country and are laid bare by the incidents highlighted above. The protests include concerned citizens who are disappointed, distressed, and indignant upon seeing this ongoing pattern of racism and injustice across many elements of our society. Among the protesters are also people of color demanding change because they, like me, feel fearful when they interact with the very people who are meant to protect us. Sadly, amid the protesters are also individuals whose anger and outrage have erupted due to a situation that has gotten worse, not better since the events in Ferguson, Missouri, six years ago.
As a business and community leader, I am ashamed of the injustice and racism that has plagued our country for more than 400 years. And still, I am hopeful. I am inspired by the grace, dignity and perseverance that black and brown people continually demonstrate in the face of adversity that so many of us will never fully and personally experience.
At times like these, I am reminded of the value of compassion – because it combines the ideas of empathy and action. I ask, what should we do? How can we help?
- In the spirit of empathy, recognize that many of our colleagues, loved ones, and community members are feeling any number of emotions, including anxiety, concern, fear, distress, outrage and more.
- In terms of action, check in with those who you are close to and ask how they are doing. Please understand that the person may still be processing all these events and may not be ready to talk when you reach out.
- Speak up and act whenever you witness hatred, injustice or racism. If we want to see change, we cannot be silent.
- Invest time to learn more about these events as well as the history, systems and institutions that contribute to these issues and tragedies.
- Make sure your voice is heard. You can do that by amplifying the messages of equality and justice via social media, reaching out to your elected representatives, or joining one of the protests if you feel you can do so safely.
- Make sure you and your loved ones vote every chance you get. Our votes put individuals in roles with power to change policies and laws. Our votes determine who leads our police forces, cities, states, institutions like the Department of Justice, and the nation.
- If you can, donate to an organization that is confronting these issues and fighting for equal rights and opportunities. My wife and I found several great organizations yesterday and made personal donations to support their efforts.
Today, Oportun is committing $100,000 in support of nonprofit organizations working to advance racial justice, equality and reducing police violence.
I am very proud of the work we do every day to help create opportunity and address elements of financial inclusion and economic justice. These horrific events, however, remind us all that there is much more to be done in our society to ensure that all members of our community are safe, respected and valued.
Please join me in doing all you can to fight for equality and justice.
P.S. I mentioned grace and dignity earlier in this email. I saw the poem “I, Too” by Langston Hughes posted by someone who felt it was appropriate for these times. I was very moved by the poem and want to share it with you.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.