A Minneapolis mural to George Floyd (flickr/Lorie Shaull)

It’s Our Problem Now: George Floyd Touched Us, and Drives Us Forward

Published on October 14, 2020

Public relations professionals need to embrace purpose in this moment. If we accept the brutal facts of racism, we must help our audiences and clients address them.

On October 14, 2020, George Floyd would have turned 47. His death was tragic, unnecessary and preventable. However, his death stands as a symbol of the work that needs to be done in our country. Over four months after his death, arguably the most important election in American history is just around the corner. 

As a minority-owned and operated marketing and public relations firm, we at Purpose Brand are not bystanders to the injustice in the world today.  Racial injustice is demonstrated not only when officers of the law murder an unarmed person of color, but in the African-American daily experience.

As we mourn Floyd’s loss, we still need justice for the countless people who have suffered from police brutality. Vote. Political affiliation doesn’t matter. What matters is that we give voice to the nation its citizens want it to become — and this starts with taking action. Are you registered to vote? Voting registration deadlines vary by state and are approaching rapidly. Use Floyd as a reminder to make sure you know how to vote and have a plan to do so safely. Visit vote.gov for more information.

“Let’s stop thinking that our votes don’t matter and vote,” Floyd’s brother Terrance said in June. “Not just vote for the president but for the preliminaries, vote for everybody. Educate yourself. Don’t wait for somebody else to tell you who’s who. Educate yourself and know who you are voting for. And that’s how we’re going to hit them, because there’s a lot of us.” 

Too Much to Take

As a pandemic surges through prosperous and poor communities alike, basic healthcare inequality has been proven to be life-threatening for members of the African-American community. Due to institutional racism in residential housing, ethnic minorities are more likely to live in densely populated areas where a public health crisis can spread. At the same time, they are isolated from the resources they need to prepare for and respond to outbreaks like the COVID-19 contagion.

Educational inequality magnifies the injustice. In densely populated, impoverished communities,  academic achievement suffers from constraints on parents’ time, school and tutoring resources and teacher quality. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds historically fall short of student performance in affluent communities and are more likely at some point to be swept up into the juvenile justice system or adult incarceration—the school-to-prison pipeline.

The lack of diverse leadership in corporations and in the military reveal that as Americans we’ve made very little progress in equal occupational opportunities. African-Americans hold 3.2% of senior roles at large corporations and 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions. They account for 12% of the population but 43% of active-duty military roles; out of 41 most senior commanders —those with four-star rank in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard—only two are black. Injustice is demonstrated when the likelihood of getting a job is based on the name you were given and the color of your skin. 

Today, we are becoming numb to the weaponizing of systemic racism to intimidate African-American people. We can’t go birding in Central Park (#ChristianCooper), can’t go jogging (#AhmaudArbery), can’t relax in our own homes (#BothemSean #AtatianaJefferson and #BreonnaTaylor), can’t ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride), can’t have a cellphone (#StephonClark), can’t walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown), can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland), and we most certainly CAN’T BREATHE (#GeorgeFloyd and #EricGarner).

Our Response Matters

This blog has been tracking and cataloging the many brands taking stands against racism, their multimillion-dollar pledges to anti-discrimination, programs to support black businesses and support for diversity and inclusion in the public relations profession.

Rightfully so, people across the world are enraged by the continuous injustice toward countless unarmed African-American people, the lack of value for human life displayed by the very people appointed to protect and serve. We do not condone the violence and looting and ask that  Americans of all ethnicities, sexualities, genders and political views unite peacefully to combat racism. We can’t afford to be morally split on issues like fighting overt, covert and institutional racism, for it isn’t a problem for just one group of people. It is an American problem. 

In Crain’s Chicago Business, our CEO Diane Primo proposed a public-private partnership to address the pain and exhaustion of this moment. Our VP Taryn Williams contributed to an open letter on the agency response to racism. Both government and private actors must play a role, and all of us need to respond to this moment with whatever we can bring to the table. As public relations professionals, this is part of the discussion we are having with our clients. This moment has brought us together, and we can’t waste an occasion to create lasting change. We need to act with purpose.

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