UA Guest Blog for Arlington Chamber of Commerce: Another View of Racial Equity: How Businesses Can Level the Playing Field for Black Yout

Urban Alliance CEO Eshauna Smith penned a guest blog for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce:

Another View of Racial Equity: How Businesses Can Level the Playing Field for Black Youth

By Eshauna Smith, Urban Alliance
Jun 10, 2020

Yesterday, George Floyd was laid to rest, more than two weeks after his death rocked the world. Yet the pain is still fresh.

As a black woman and the mother of two black children, as the CEO of an organization that works to increase economic and workforce opportunity for black and brown youth – I am heartbroken for the next generation. I am angry that they are forced to grow up in a world in which the color of their skin can be a death sentence.

COVID-19’s disproportionate and devastating impact on communities of color has laid bare pre-existing racial and socio-economic disparities across the country. Today, our black and brown students are fighting on two fronts: they are fighting against the systemic racism they experience every day, while fighting for their own and their families’ health and stability in the midst of a pandemic.

At Urban Alliance, we know all too well that the effects of this racism are not just felt through police brutality, but in conscious and unconscious daily acts that perpetuate oppression and prevent equal access to opportunity for black and brown Americans. That’s why we are committed to fighting for racial justice and equity by training the next-generation workforce, working with local businesses to ensure that black and brown youth are able to gain the skills, social capital, and opportunity necessary to level the playing field in the world of work.

Every time a student walks through the door of a job they thought was not for people who look like them, and is welcomed, and given the opportunity to succeed and use their talent, we are helping them to understand that despite what the world tells them, they are no less talented, no less deserving, no less intelligent.

Racism sends black youth a message of futility every day, that there is no point in trying, hoping, dreaming, because your skin makes its own statement. Racism speaks the language of hate so loudly that it takes an entire village to drown it out.

At Urban Alliance, one of the most important parts of our work is to be that village for our students, that chorus of affirmation, that community of support. Every day, our team and our partners fight to help build a world in which all young people – whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever they look like – are free to live out their dreams, live the lives they deserve, simply to LIVE.

Now is the time for this village to wrap its arms around black youth and take meaningful action to bridge the opportunity divide. Racial equity in the workplace begins with honesty – naming the systems and prejudices that have kept generations of black youth from connecting to the professional world – and then opening doors and hearts to local black talent and investing in their success. 

Here are some practical first steps for local businesses to begin this work:

  • Reach Out to Youth – Build relationships with local youth through organizations like Urban Alliance or consider sending a message of support to students in your community here.
  • Listen to Black Voices – Listen to the youth in your community, and commit to continuous learning.
  • Speak Out and Bring Others to the Table – Add your voice to the chorus for change and bring others along.
  • Invest in Racial Equity Solutions – Seek out organizations in your community like Urban Alliance who work toward creating a more equitable future and offer your support.

At times like this – though in my seven years at Urban Alliance I have never seen a time quite like this one – I turn to a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that “it’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job.”

​We know that the fight is long and hard, but one student at a time, this village is working to change the system. For George, for Breonna, for Ahmaud, and too many others to list here – but most of all for our students, their lives, and their dreams – we will not stop. We encourage local businesses to join us in the fight.