Black History Month – how we can all be catalysts of change

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By George Blount, Manager of Strategy and Research, and Co-Chair of the Association of Multicultural Professionals

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”- Rosa Parks

On December 1, 1955, after a long day at work, Rosa Parks refused to obey the bus driver and give up her seat for a white person. She challenged racial inequality quietly by saying “no” – by acknowledging that the treatment was wrong, she silently and efficiently became a catalyst of change.

Almost ten years before Rosa refused to get up, Halifax resident Viola Desmond went to see a movie in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. As she went to seat herself in the front rows of the theater, the manager told her that her ticket did not allow her to sit there; as a black woman, she had to sit in the balcony. When she refused, she was arrested, fined and charged with tax evasion because she hadn’t paid the one-cent tax difference between a floor seat and balcony seat.

She knew it wasn’t right and decided to fight the charge. Her battle, despite being lost in court, raised awareness, and she too, became a catalyst of change. Because of the impact she had on civil rights, Desmond was recently chosen as the first Canadian woman to appear on the Canadian ten-dollar bill, to be issued in 2018.

During Black History Month and beyond, all of us who care about fairness and equality must take a cue from Parks and Desmond, and be those catalysts, working quietly yet effectively to ensure everyone’s voices are heard.

Diversity and Inclusion at Manulife/John Hancock
I’m proud to say that Manulife/John Hancock is one of those change-makers. The company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is making a difference in the makeup of the company, in the tremendous opportunities available to people of colour, and in the support system we all count on to feel comfortable bringing our true selves to work.

We have several employee resource groups (ERGs) including Association of Multicultural Professionals (AMP), Global Women’s Alliance (GWA), Professionals Reaching Out for Unity and Diversity (PROUD), Military Employee community (Mile), Pan-Asian Community for Employees (PACES) and Family Connections our employee group in the Philippines, which are supported by 8,000+ employees. We have a Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion and a Global Chief Diversity Officer, whose jobs are all about creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion. Plus, we have a Global Diversity & Inclusion Council led by the CEO of our global organization, which reflects the significance of this conversation within our U.S., Canadian and Asian business units.

So as we celebrate Black History Month, we can also celebrate the fact that our organization is making history in small but significant ways. It’s a direction that brings me tremendous hope – especially in today’s difficult climate. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

What can you do to be a catalyst of change?

The first step is to acknowledge that change is needed; inequality, racism, homophobia, and discrimination have no place in our society.  However, it does exist, and if it’s allowed in the workplace, we can’t align with demographic shifts, understand the needs of a growing population, develop products and services that cater to unique needs, or recruit and retain great people. So if you see discrimination happening, say something. Support your colleagues and friends. Join an employee resource group at work – or if there aren’t any, start one. Even small things can make a big difference.

Sources:

  1. Rustin, Bayard (July 1942). “Non-Violence vs. Jim Crow“. Fellowship. reprinted in Carson, Clayborne; Garrow, David J.; Kovach, Bill (2003). Reporting Civil Rights: American journalism, 1941–1963. Library of America. pp. 15– Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  2. Jump up ^ González, Juan; Goodman, Amy (March 29, 2013). “The Other Rosa Parks: Now 73, Claudette Colvin Was First to Refuse Giving Up Seat on Montgomery Bus”. Democracy Now!. Pacifica Radio. 25 minutes in. NPR. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  3. Jump up ^ Branch, Taylor (1988). “PARTING THE WATERS: America in the King Years”. Simon & Schuster. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  4. Annett, Evan (December 8, 2016).“Who’s the woman on Canada’s new $10 bill? A Viola Desmond primer”The Globe and Mail. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  5. Diversity & Inclusion Global ERG leaders forum deck