“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There were two groundbreaking decisions made this week. In one, the Justice Department determined that it will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General, noted “shameful” racial disparities in sentencing, budgetary strains of overpopulated prisons and draconian policies for incarceration, among the reasons for his decision.
In New York, a judge ruled that the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional. The tactic allows police to search anyone regardless of whether they believe a crime has been committed. The federal judge asserted that the policy unfairly targets Blacks and Hispanics, who endure 80% of the searches. New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, vowed to appeal the ruling because the judge is biased against police and ignores the “real-world realities of crime”.
Sometimes I wonder, “Why do I work in diversity and inclusion?” This must be one of the most difficult professions in the world—for a variety of reasons. Yet, as I read the news stories about these legal decisions, I remember that my children are black—my son is 4 and my daughter is 6. If I don’t do everything in my power to impact this world for the good, they may become victims of the legal system, educational imbalances, employment discrimination, biased housing patterns, health disparities, and economic inequities. And then, they will be blamed for failing to live up to the American Dream.
Like most parents, I believe that my son and daughter are very intelligent. But my daughter has a “personality” with her intelligence. I’ll give you an example. One day, I took my kids outside to play. They looked across the street and saw two children, around the same age, riding a motorized bike. My daughter (who was 5 at the time) said, “Oooh.” I told her, “Do not ask to ride their bike.” She said “OK”. I repeated it again. She said, “Alright mom!” I cleaned out the car while my kids played. After I finished, I saw my daughter talking to the kids across the street. Next thing I knew, she was riding her scooter really fast, doing circles around the kids. Within minutes, the kids got up and let my daughter ride the motorized bike. When she was finished, I called her over and said, “What just happened”? She replied, “Mommy, I didn’t ask to ride the bike. I told them that we should race and if I win, I ride the bike.” She won. I could not say anything; all I could think of is her running circles around those little kids. A teacher once told me, “We’re not supposed to say what children will be when they grow up, but your daughter is definitely going to be an Executive somewhere.”
Imagine losing out on that kind of talent in the workplace because you are looking at the color of a person’s skin. Yet, good intentions don’t always have the best outcomes. We can think about having that kind of diverse talent in our places of business, but seem to fall short in this area of inclusion. That is why there has to be some kind of business logic behind this machine called “diversity and inclusion” so that good intentions match or exceed the outcomes of diversifying college campuses, workplaces, nonprofits and governments.
On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the mandate for his children in an electrifying speech on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Every time I think about his vision, I can’t say that I apologize for being passionate about diversity and inclusion. As far as I am concerned, I have skin in the game too– so making a difference is not optional for me. I was destined to impact the world for my children and for the lives of millions of diverse individuals– as well as for those organizations that will run better as a result.
By Leah Smiley
Leah Smiley formed the Society for Diversity while pregnant with her son. Today, Mrs. Smiley is President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information, log onto www.societyfordiversity.org.