By Mike McGrew, EVP, Chief Communications & CSR Officer
No matter how strong or eloquently worded, let’s be clear; There’s no letter, no memo, no video, no singular conversation that will solve this issue on its own, and rid this country of the systematic bigotry, racism and inequality that has been rooted in our history for hundreds of years.
Through greater understanding, acknowledgement and empathy, change is possible… and this begins with sustained, sincere, compassionate, respectful and -- at times -- uncomfortable conversation and dialog.
As a Black man and member of our executive management committee, as an executive sponsor of our African American Business Resource Group, and in response to the outpouring of support and inquiries asking myself and our members, “How can I help?” I wrote the message below and shared it with our team at Constellation. I believe we all have a responsibility to share our thoughts and our values more broadly. From companies to individuals, we all must continue to fuel this conversation, to have our collective voices heard, to passionately advocate for change, and most importantly to turn our words into meaningful action.
Silence is not an option, and speaking up must only be the beginning.
All Constellation Brands Employees
Mike McGrew, EVP & Chief Communications & CSR Officer
AASCEND Executive Sponsors & Leadership Team
It’s Time to Lean In and Make Meaningful Change
To say it’s been an emotionally draining two weeks would be a drastic understatement. As we all continue to process the senseless killing of George Floyd and countless other Black men and women before him, I and my fellow AASCEND members sincerely appreciate the caring and support shown by leadership and our colleagues at Constellation. Your compassion and genuine desire to help have been truly heartening.
The pattern of systemic bigotry, racism and inequality in this country dates back hundreds of years to the era of slavery and subsequent decades of terror lynching (horrific acts of violence designed to instill fear and maintain racial subordination and “social order” in which perpetrators were rarely held accountable). This history (which is not well understood) created a legacy of racial inequality that continues to play out today, as African Americans largely remain marginalized, disproportionately poor with limited educational opportunities, overrepresented in prisons, and underrepresented in decision making roles in the criminal justice system.
The brazen killing of George Floyd in broad daylight by a police officer with a troubled history in the presence of other community members who pleaded for his life harkens back to this brutal history. There is no way to make sense of why someone would press their knee into the neck of an unarmed and restrained person restricting his airway for more than 8 minutes until his last breath. Tensions built up by a series of similar incidents across the U.S. finally reached a boiling point resulting in the protests we see today. Yet, despite the agony the African American community is feeling, we remain hopeful that this critical moment has a chance to result in substantive and lasting change at Constellation and in our communities.
Many of you have asked: How can I help? How can I be an agent for change? How can I support my African American colleagues? And some have expressed apprehension about engaging on this topic for fear of saying something wrong or sparking a negative reaction. We encourage you to “lean in” to that discomfort. As hard as it may be at first, avoiding honest conversations and understanding about this country’s history and its impact on the African American community undermines our ability to move forward and achieve racial justice and equality.
While our Constellation family is still very early in this process, we’re encouraged by actions witnessed this past week. We’ve seen members of our AASCEND team have courageous conversations with our senior leaders… and we’ve seen senior leaders and allies share vulnerabilities and steadfastly commit to being part of the solution.
Many may never know what it’s like to have had a grade school classmate say “you can’t come into my house or swim in my pool because you’re Black”… Many may never understand the feeling of sheer terror associated with being profiled and stopped by police on your way home from work… Many may never know what it’s like to have had your girlfriend’s / boyfriend’s parents disapprove of you because of the color of your skin… Many may have never had a teammate killed by police under suspicious circumstances… Many may never know what it’s like to be followed by security while shopping… And for the record, we hope you never do!
These examples are all too common to members of the Black community and we encourage you to take time to understand the day-to-day realities we face and how they can impact our experiences at Constellation. Education is key to progress and AASCEND is working with our senior leadership team to develop plans to stimulate dialogue and perspective sharing. We’re also compiling a collection of free educational resources you can access to increase your understanding of the African American experience in the U.S. To get this process started, we’ve included links to a few of these resources below:
- The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture “Talking About Race” Portal
- Lynching in America (Equal Justice Initiative)
- The Obama Foundation - Turn Anguish into Action
- TED Talk - Fighting Racism and Improving Policing
But while understanding is an important first step, it alone is not enough. It must be followed by sustained action and behavior change. AASCEND is also working to outline specific actions we can take both at Constellation and within our respective communities to make a positive difference. We look forward to sharing more information in the coming days and we ask you to join us in these efforts.
We realize some of this was likely hard to read… perhaps as hard as it was to write. As we progress down this road, there may be discomfort… there may be missteps along the way… it may get a little messy at times… and that’s OK! As long as our intent is sincere and heartfelt… as long as we treat each other with respect… as long as we listen with compassion… it will get easier over time and our Constellation family will emerge even stronger on the other side. And for that, we are extremely hopeful.
“The ultimate measure of a [person] is not where [they] stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand at times of challenge and controversy.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.