What Can You Do? Some Counsel: Show me your work

By Cormekki Whitley

My organization and so many others put out a statement to condemn the racist actions and affirm that we stand with the Black community and the voices of protests. Our statement used powerful words, and yes, words matter. But I’m often reminded of my early church teachings—”Faith without works is dead.” While I heard this scripture often at church, I didn’t fully grasp its importance to life and this country until I became an adult. 

These last few days and weeks have reminded me of the importance of actions and not just words. Many of my well-meaning colleagues at other non-profit organizations and past work colleagues reached out to see how I was doing and let me know they were thinking of me. My initial reaction was why? Why are you reaching out to me now when the killing of Black people did not start with George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor. The killing of Black people and racism are deeply rooted in this nation’s history, and we have been living with that for more than 400 years. So, thanks for your nice words and prayers, but it’s time for you to do the work! 

What are you doing to make systematic change in your organization and in these United States? Are you looking at your organization’s internal systems to determine biases in your hiring process? Are you looking for interns who are related to your board members, or are you working with organizations that connect Black and Brown students to internships? Are you looking for diverse vendors and consultants, or are you using the same friend-of-a-friend you’ve always used? Are you speaking about systematic racism to your church circles, your brunch and happy hour friends, your work colleagues? Are you using your positional power at work and in social groups to create organizational change? Are you speaking out on social media platforms? Are you ready to have the difficult conversations and truly acknowledge your biases and how your privilege has afforded you so much more than people of color in this country? Our Actions Speak Louder Than Our Words!

To my nonprofit colleagues, especially those in positions of power, you can do a lot of “work” in your organizations and on the boards where you serve. You can change your hiring systems that have kept your organization predominantly, if not consistently, white. You can make a commitment to identify and contract with diverse vendors—meeting planners, caterers, graphic designers, real estate professionals—to support your internal operations, conferences, and convenings. You can place your large reserves and endowments with Black-owned banks that contribute capital to underinvested communities and Black entrepreneurs. You can work to diversify your organization’s board of trustees. You can invite Black and Brown people to speak on your webinars and be panelists at your convenings on topics other than race. You can get up every day and decide you are going to work to dismantle racism. 

Instead of calling your Black friends and colleagues to let them know you are “thinking of them,” tell them about your “works”! Tell them how you have talked to your children about racism, tell them you have talked to your organization’s leadership about ideas to diversify your organization’s operations and their approach to their work. Tell them you have made a contribution to an organization doing the work. As a Black woman serving as chief operating officer of a progressive nonprofit, I am so tired of the words, show me the work!