Most of our alumni, partner school representatives and sponsors know The Consortium is based in suburban St. Louis, a few scant miles from the scenes that played out last summer and fall surrounding the death of Michael Brown after a police shooting in Ferguson.
We may as well be witnessing a repeat of those scenes this week. Replace Ferguson with Baltimore. Substitute Michael Brown with Freddie Gray. The rest of the narrative is all too familiar: The death of a black man in police custody. The seeming insensitivity to his injuries. The community uproar. The declaration of a state of emergency. And, of course, the backlash — the inevitable result of criminal action in the name of protest.
Nobody condones the violence against people or property. It is criminal. And it is counterproductive. Once the plate glass windows shatter, the rocks soar and the flames consume businesses, people stop listening to the underlying message. Yet the reality is that what we witnessed in Ferguson, and now Baltimore, is the manifestation of decades of frustration. When communities respond this way, there are deeper issues driving the destruction. There is a deeper message trying to be heard.
We know what the message is. And we need to help make sure it is heard.
In Ferguson, the case was made, and later revealed, that the people who were rioting and looting were indeed being manipulated and exploited by a corrupt system. However, we should never forget this: Without the Michael Brown shooting, there would not have been an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. We must never forget that the Ferguson community had been crying for help against a corrupt law enforcement system for years before the death of Michael Brown. Their cries were ignored.
Consortium members were chosen, in part, because you are leaders. We typically mean that in the context of the business world. It’s more than that. Your leadership is required in your school, in your office, in your community. You have a story to tell, an experience to share — and it needs to be heard, now more than ever.
Many of your stories are similar to mine. I’m the son of a Russian Jew and an American Indian with Mexican roots. I’ve watched clerks tail me in the department store. Police have stopped me — detaining me, face down, at gunpoint — for driving my own car in white, suburban neighborhoods. Anthony J. Davis, our vice president for development, has a nearly identical story.
“I remember being forced to lay face down in a Los Angeles alley, a victim of being the wrong color in the wrong place, encountered by the wrong people — law enforcement,” he said to me today. “And to this day, I still do not understand why.”
These scenes are familiar to many of you, either through personal experience, or because you can name friends or family members who have shared them. But these stories are not familiar to everyone.
So the message is this: These things really happen. They happen to our brothers and sisters, other American citizens. And they happen disproportionately to underrepresented minorities. They happen because an institutional culture of silence and ambivalence has been allowed to permeate law enforcement, the retail establishment and other elements of our society.
Anthony Davis and I share the same challenge to the students and alumni affiliated with The Consortium: Reflect on the opportunity that was extended to you as a member of this organization. Determine what role you will play in the days and weeks to come. Will you mentor? Will you volunteer? Will you vote? Will you serve? Will you lend your voice, energy and collective expertise to promote sustainable change consistent with the mission, vision and values of this organization?
Now is not the time to go along to get along. You can no longer afford to be silent.
Note: The photograph above was taken Aug. 16, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo., by Flickr user Shawn Semmler. Used under Creative Commons license.