I’m proud to work for an organization that creates space to have difficult conversations and listen to one another.
As our nation reels from and responds to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and the persisting systemic racism these violent acts represent, it’s a time for every individual to reflect on their own influences, biases, actions or inactions up to this point, and decide what they’re going to do.
It’s a time for organizations to do the same, and maybe to have internal conversations they’ve never had before.
It’s a time to do better. We all have to.
Last week was a steady stream of CEO statements outlining company commitments to racial justice and anti-racism, but rather than releasing a statement early in the week, Kittelson CEO Brandon Nevers decided to wait for our staff meeting on Friday, June 5 so we could address these topics in an open conversation. He dedicated the meeting, which was attended by more than 200 Kittelson staff, to hear from anyone who wanted to share what they’ve been feeling and experiencing since the death of George Floyd.
As an individual who is seeking to understand what it looks like to be a part of systemic change, I was grateful for the honesty and openness of my colleagues during that meeting – sharing stories of what they’ve experienced, witnessed, or been learning when it comes to racism and racial justice. Here are just a few snippets of the calls to action they left us with.
“At this point, there are only two sides; it’s either you’re fighting for justice or not. There is no in between, there is no room for silence. The riots and street protests will end at some point. I hope that when they do, we don’t go back to our regular routines. I hope that we look at policies more carefully and systems more critically.”
“I urge everyone, regardless of who you are and where you’ve come from, to stand with protestors. Sign petitions, donate to local organizations and the families of police brutality. Contact your elected officials asking them to protect protestors and bring perpetrators of police brutality to justice because we owe many of our freedoms to black people throughout history and it’s our duty to stand with them.”
“Now that we are listening, I would like to encourage people to not say, ”˜I can’t believe these things are happening.’ Because people experiencing them have been trying to tell us all along. We just haven’t been listening”¦ I want to and need to keep learning. And I want to learn especially about how the work we do – the work I do – contributes to inequity and discrimination.”
“This isn’t about you. This is about your actions or lack of actions. There are so many people this affects in a dire way. Be willing to learn and grow”¦ This isn’t something that we can just slap a band-aid over and say now the problem is fixed. We need to maintain our human infrastructure and we need to make a commitment to do that every single day. Frankly, we can never forget.”
Brandon then wrapped up the session by voicing out his own commitment to learning, and asked Kittelson staff to join him. Not to simply react over the coming weeks, but to commit to lifelong learning and a commitment to do what we can to not pass dangerous biases and behaviors to the next generation.
“I’m asking myself, what will Kittelson look like in 10 years? Where will we be performing our work, for which clients and communities? How will the approaches we take in our work compare to what we were doing yesterday? Now’s the time for us to think about the future we want to realize, and to take action as we continue along our journey of lifelong learning and making positive impacts on the world around us.
“My ask of each of you is simple: join me in learning about racial injustice and inequality.”
“I'm asking myself, what will Kittelson look like in 10 years? Where will we be performing our work, for which clients and communities? How will the approaches we take in our work compare to what we were doing yesterday? Now's the time for us to think about the future we want to realize, and to take action as we continue along our journey of lifelong learning and making positive impacts on the world around us."- Brandon Nevers, Kittelson CEO
Kittelson’s Next Steps in the Fight for Racial Justice
If you ask Brandon or any member of the Kittelson leadership team, they’ll tell you: we don’t have all the answers. But as the spotlight continues to brighten on the reality that racial injustice is pervasively and deeply embedded in the way our country operates, we know we must do more than we did before.
At the end of Friday’s staff meeting, Brandon outlined three immediate ways we as a firm will keep talking and learning about these topics.
- Launching a series of internal, open discussions to hear directly from Kittelson staff how they’re being impacted by recent events and how we can learn and grow together. Here are the first four discussion topics:
- Understanding Staff Experiences Today
- Creating Safe Spaces
- Who’s In Your Circle?
- Racial Equity in Our Projects
- Creating an internal resource library and book swapping program for staff who want to learn more and actively engage in racial justice and anti-racism work.
- Matching staff donations to racial justice organizations and reimbursing staff the purchases of books and workbooks to encourage personal reflections on these topics.
In addition to these immediate steps, Brandon explained that the firm will continue to invest in our Gender, Diversity & Inclusion Initiative, which was established in 2018. This group is working on a long-term action plan that includes setting measurable goals around diversity in hiring and leadership positions.
Through large-group discussions like our staff meeting and many individual conversations from the past week, I can personally feel the passion and tremendous energy behind a desire to contribute to change as an organization. It’s electric.
It has also been inspiring to see the strength of responses across the industry. This is a time for us to come together to stand against racial injustice, and we’d love to continue this dialogue and share resources with anyone interested.