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A Letter From The President

The issues surrounding racial disparities are not new; they have been with us since before the founding of our nation.  Even as America was established under the ethos of “all men created equal” our founding documents belie those words.  Ever since, our nation has strived, struggled, progressed, and fallen short in the never-ending quest to create that “more perfect union.”

The Chamber was honored to have Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post as the launch speaker of our MPC20 Conversation series.  Robinson, a veteran of the Mackinac Policy Conference, remarked that “this time it’s different” in the fight for racial justice.  Different because the calls for racial justice have expanded beyond the voices of Blacks and persons of color;
the marches of 2020 have been remarkably multicultural and multicolored.

Corporate America has joined the movement for racial justice and economic equity – far outstripping government – in a very real way.  Public opinion is much different than before.  At the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination his public approval rating was roughly 25%.  In June 2020, public support for Black Lives Matter was 61% (source: Politico/Morning Consult).

While advocates for racial justice have never had more allies, the road ahead remains difficult.  While we have reached a point where a vast majority find racism abhorrent and believe themselves to be sympathetic to the challenges of others, generations of policy decisions have prevented Black Americans from accumulating wealth and being full economic participants.  Despite greater understanding, unconscious bias is real thing – even amongst the most well-meaning.  If you doubt that, think of comedian Chris Rock’s line, “There isn’t a white person in this room who would trade places with me – and I’m rich.”  Far truer than we’d like to think.

At a 2014 event attended by presidents Obama and Bush, President Bush remarked, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while we judge ourselves by our best intentions.”  Regardless if you are a fan or supporter of the messenger, we should all be able to unite behind the message.  I believe this is an important ethos as we engage in the necessary conversations in this highly charged political and social environment.  Productive conversation leads to learning which leads to action.

This edition of the Detroiter is part of our effort to drive that dialogue in the region and in our organization, and inside you will find content focused on achieving racial justice and economic equity.  The Chamber is in this process of conversation and learning leading to action.  We recognize that we have not always been leaders in issues of racial justice and our road to address our own shortcomings is substantial.  We don’t have sufficient diversity in our executive ranks and among our board members.  Despite our “Best Places to Work” awards, we don’t fully understand the perspective of our Black and persons of color team members.  We can do more “on the ground” to serve the Black-owned businesses that are the backbone of our region’s signature city.

We will not travel this road alone.  We have established a Board-level committee co-chaired by former chairs Dennis Archer, Jr. and Patti Poppe to not only shape our efforts – but to hold staff leadership accountable for results both internally and externally.  The Chamber is in the process of signing on to the national CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge, and I have signed the “I ACT ON” pledge that commits me personally to not just a set of actions, but to move beyond my comfort zone.

No doubt, we are early in this process, but we hope our experience can serve as an example to others who are now making the commitment to travel this long road.  The Chamber will struggle and strive in this endeavor, but this time not fall short.