Living in History
"For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
In reciting her poem, The Hill We Climb, at the inauguration of the 46th US president, Amanda Gorman — our nation’s first youth poet laureate — reignited a fire in many of those listening. I know it did for me.
Language, and the actions behind it, have immense power to both tear us down and build us up.
The events of 2020, including the distressing murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky and many others; persistent education and economic gaps; and a public health pandemic that has disproportionally affected Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities illustrate stark realities that can make progress toward equality feel like one step forward and two steps back.
But when we look closer, we see awe-inspiring, historical firsts happening all around us. And we see both individuals and organizations making real commitments to combat racism.
As a member of State Street’s Global Inclusion and Diversity team that helped establish our 10 Actions Against Racism and Inequality with members of our executive leadership team, I am proud of the concrete steps our organization is taking to confront inequalities and build equity into our business and society. Progress will only happen with reflection and a true corporate-wide focus on meaningful change.
But I’m also looking outside my organization at several influential leaders for inspiration.
This Black History month and for the remainder of 2021, I’m taking the opportunity to look at how we can use the past to understand the present and make better choices for the future.
In 2008, my junior year of college, Barack Obama was the first Black person elected as president of the United States. I felt a lot of fear for him and his family, given the economic impacts of the recession and the white supremacy rhetoric and attacks that came to rise post his election. Despite my concern, his two-term presidency was inspiring, filled with love, compassion and a first family who implemented long-lasting policies, new traditions and so much more.
Twelve years later, Kamala Harris became the first female Black and Indian-American vice president of the United States. This milestone and her storied career are inspiring women of all different backgrounds. Stacey Abrams, an American politician, lawyer and voting rights activist who holds a history of her own firsts, rallied the citizens of Georgia this summer as she helped Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff become the state’s first Black and Jewish senators.
In 1992, Thurgood Marshall, the first Black person elected to the US Supreme Court, expressed his frustration about the lack of progress in racial equality when he said, “I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories.” This quote, said almost 30 years ago, still rings true today. According to a September 2020 poll conducted by Gallup, the percentage of respondents saying that opportunities for good education, affordable housing and jobs are equally good for both white and Black Americans are at their lowest points in at least three decades.
While a corporation may not be able to change the world overnight, it can transform its policies and programs, and influence other firms to do the same. And just like the leaders I look to for inspiration, the people within these organizations hold immeasurable power to fight for change.
This Black History month and for the remainder of 2021, I’m taking the opportunity to look at how we can use the past to understand the present and make better choices for the future. I can see how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.
As the Head of Global Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) North America, Sharhea is responsible for developing and implementing I&D programs that promote our strategic goals of being a destination for top talent with a diverse workforce and inclusive culture.