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America’s Corporate ‘Awakening’ in Cultural Humility

Posted on
February 15, 2023

A child of the South, I grew into my passion for civil rights history through the magazines stacked on my mother’s coffee table — Ebony and Jet, each of them offering a window into celebrated Black life and culture, then and now. While they were my introduction to civil rights history, I found my place in the movement through the speeches and teachings of America’s civil rights leaders. From a young age, the pursuit of justice felt like a calling, a compelling tug on my conscience that grew stronger and more focused the older I became. I was certain politics was in store for me. While following that path, I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Rev. Jesse Jackson speak on a number of occasions. It was surreal to meet the man so often pictured on the covers of those household magazines. There is one speech, and particularly one story Rev. Jackson shared that’s stuck with me. The story is short, and is one of Jackson’s memories of desegregation. In this memory of his, it is 1954. He’s sitting on a porch with elders from his community in Greenville, listening to them mull over the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Brown v. Board decision. Jackson narrates the old-timers’ conversation:

— What’s integration supposed to mean for us?

— Think of it like this: Add salt and pepper to one bottle. Then, shake it up so that everything’s mixed together.

— Aha. When do things start to ‘shake up’ in America?

— No time soon.

No time soon. In Jackson’s telling of the memory, laughter ensued. And I laugh too when I remember it — sometimes, laughter is the best offering for an unfortunate truth. Brown v. Board was considered the ignition of our Civil Rights movement. But even after Brown II’s edict urged localities to act “with all deliberate speed” on the principles embraced in Brown I, the initial ambitions of Brown remain unfinished. More than sixty years later, the legacy fight against racial inequity persists with complications.

We saw these complications unfold in a new awakening this year. One month after George Floyd’s killing in May, and spurred on by pressure from employees and worldwide protests under the banner of Black Lives Matter, thousands of U.S. companies announced that Juneteenth would be a paid holiday. Their acts of solidarity were accompanied by press releases announcing internal benchmarks to accelerate diversity, identity, and inclusion strategies across all levels of their organizations. Overnight, it seemed that the rise of American corporate ‘wokeness’ reached ubiquity.

As founder and CEO of Hurdle, the leading provider of culturally intentional mental healthcare, the realization of my vision for equitable and inclusive mental healthcare is firmly tied to corporate America’s racial reckoning. Here, employers are often the gatekeepers of healthcare. As such, they play an integral role in any change to our healthcare system, especially the kind of change that we are vying for at Hurdle: the eradication of racial myopia in the mental healthcare system. So in June, when Nike, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and thousands of other large employers pledged to eradicate systemic racism — from the mailroom to the boardroom — the Hurdle team knew that it was now or no time soon to lean into our audacious vision. There can be no eradication of systemic racism without thoughtful and meaningful change to our healthcare system, including mental health.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests peaked on June 6, 2020 when half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the United States. That was a single day in more than a month of protests that still continue to today.

I believe that Hurdle’s culturally intentional mental health services are pivotal to any organization’s successful diversity, identity and inclusion (DII) strategy. In fact, it is more than just a personal belief, but a well-documented pillar in any organizational change management theory. William Bridges, a leader in the evolving field of change management, connected the dots when he suggested that change within an organization means that individuals must transition from one identity to a new identity when they are involved in a process of change. In other words, it is not just the pen-to-paper policy changes that determine the success or failure of a company’s DII strategy, it is the individual transitions of its leaders and employees.

"There can be no eradication of systemic racism without thoughtful and meaningful change to our healthcare system, including mental health."

-Kevin Dedner, MPH

At Hurdle, we believe that by equipping employees and leaders with our culturally responsive suite of mental health services and self-mastery tools, we can help organizations cement their corporate DII commitments into that new identity that Bridges speaks of. We understand that systemic oppression and structural racism are invisible barriers that Black people and People of Color face — from the workplace to the therapist’s office. Our digitally-enabled platform is designed to meet the unique needs of employees from diverse cultural backgrounds. And when all of your employees are showing up whole, operating with joy and living with power, the probability of success for your company’s DII goals increase exponentially. By providing your organization access to culturally responsive mental healthcare, you are more likely to see an:

  • Accelerated education for all teammates about how to create an inclusive culture, support anti-racist ideas and policies, and be an effective ally
  • Increased representation of People of Color and other historically disenfranchised groups at leadership levels
  • Enhanced accountability measures for leaders to hire, retain and advance People of Color and other historically disenfranchised groups

It was not the Brown v. Board I and II decisions that dictated the success — or lack thereof — of integration; it was in the Little Rock Nine, the Rosa Parks, the White allies, and countless other pioneers doing the internal work so that they could push on the frontlines of desegregation in order to build a more racially equitable future. Having listened and meditated on the words of Rev. Jackson over the years, I’ve come to realize that below the surface of his accomplishments as a successful Black leader in America’s Civil Rights movement, there is an inscrutable man who is concerned about our human tendency to move on before the task at hand is fully realized. I identify with Jackson in this way. I can’t help but do everything in my power at Hurdle to ensure that America’s corporate wokeness is fully realized in a lifting up of the people who need it most.

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