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It’s Not Only About George Floyd

Glen Tullman

06.05.20

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Over the past two weeks, we’ve witnessed a number of extraordinary events and at the same time, the highs and lows of our shared human experience. On May 30, we watched as America reentered space with the launch of Crew Dragon from the same launchpad that sent Apollo 11 to the moon. Just five days before the launch, we witnessed the tragic death of George Floyd, who suffocated after a policeman held his knee to Floyd’s neck while his partners looked on. The video of Floyd’s death sparked outrage, leading to protests across the nation. Now, the entire country and the world are watching - not the space launch, the video of George Floyd’s death, or even the demonstrations. They are watching to see what actions we take next.

What we saw this week was unspeakable. A man taking his last breath and calling for his deceased Mother. But what should be equally troubling is that the racism, the unfair and inequitable treatment of members of the black community, and the sheer lack of humanity is not new. We’ve seen it before, and we’ve either not done anything or we’ve not done enough. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

This case is not a question of right and wrong – we knew it was wrong when we watched the video. What is so hard to understand is why, while the officer pinned George Floyd to the ground, three of his colleagues stood alongside and did nothing. They had the opportunity to act but failed to do so. The problem is not simply bad people. There are always bad apples, in any situation, on any side. The problem is that we, as a society, cannot sit back in silence any longer. Silence is the same as condoning. Taking a swift and definitive stance against injustice is paramount, and we have now seen the consequences when we fail to do so. Can we hold ourselves to a new standard?

This week, we saw hopeful signs. In Tennessee, the National Guard had enough. At the request of peaceful protesters, they put down their riot shields. In New York, a police captain prayed with protesters.

And, in two separate actions, two high ranking military officers, who are taught to follow the Commander in Chief, said they could no longer sit by in silence.

In an article in The Atlantic magazine, Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “. . . we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent . . . We must ensure that African Americans—indeed, all Americans—are given the same rights under the Constitution, the same justice under the law, and the same consideration we give to members of our own family. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy and must never become so.”

In another article, James Mattis, the former Secretary of Defense, also joined in, “I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis wrote. “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind.”

Now it’s our turn.

It’s not only about George Floyd and his tragic death. It’s much more than that. It’s about you, it’s about us, and what we choose to do in response to what we continue to witness. This cannot be seen as just another killing – there have been too many – and we must commit to systemic changes. It starts by bringing a sense of hope and humanity to our communities in order to bridge the racial divide. To close the gaps in education, in health and care, and yes, in our legal system. We might not have all the answers today, and we will not solve this overnight, but it starts with us, it starts with action, and it needs to start now. I like to say that innovation begins by doing something. The same applies here. We must do something.

Chicago Tribune Columnist Dahleen Glanton recently wrote an enlightening piece on the importance of this moment for white Americans. Glanton sadly reminds us that we have all been here before.

“Racism is no different from any other chronic problem. It recurs as long as it goes unchecked. Black people, for the most part, are powerless to stop racism. If we could, we would have done it a long time ago.” – Dahleen Glanton

The deaths of Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others have sparked nationwide protests and outrage. Many white Americans spoke out about the injustices, donated time and money, and joined protests. But after the rallies dissipated and public discourse faded, the majority of us returned to our regularly scheduled lives, work, and daily responsibilities. We did not take the next steps. It is not about what we say or what we do today, it is about our ongoing commitment to justice. As H. Rap Brown said, “Justice in this country means 'just-us white folks'.” We have to change that.

Today’s circumstances remind me of a biblical story. In the story, a couple stood before God, their hearts aching from the pain they were witnessing in the world. And they asked, "Dear God, look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in the world. Why don't you send help?"

God responded, "I did send help. I sent both of you."

It is not about one person or one heinous act. It is about the realization that we all have a voice, and we all have the opportunity to inspire change. We all have that responsibility.

As a business leader, I often discuss the importance of building great companies. Great companies take care of their customers (we call them Members), Clients, their Employees, their Communities, and their Investors, in that order. At Livongo, we already contribute to support homeless communities, women’s shelters, and food pantries in the markets where we have facilities. This month, we added the National Black Nurses Association, the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, and other organizations focused on advancing health and care within the black community and addressing disparities that exist for minority communities. And we are holding ourselves accountable with a commitment to share our Diversity and Inclusion actions and contributions monthly with our entire organization. We believe businesses must play a much stronger role, a leadership role, in driving change in our communities and across our culture.

We recognize that we don't have all the answers. We don't know the perfect thing to say, and we certainly can't fix this problem alone. But we do know where to start. In the same way we are committed to our mission of empowering people with chronic conditions to live better and healthier lives, we are focused on bringing that same sense of humanity to our communities, and to our nation. We are stronger, and we can do better, together.

I ask each of you to commit to actions, not just words. Teach your children about this episode in our history. Create a healthy and open dialogue on racial injustices. Donate money, no matter the amount, to advocacy organizations or volunteer with local grass roots organizations that fight for justice and equal rights. And most importantly, do your part by exercising your right to vote. We must stand together in this opportunity.

I began this essay with a mention of how much progress we can make when we set our minds to it. The space launch was a perfect example. What many people don’t know is that 51 years ago, when Apollo 11 was lifting off, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closes aides, was holding a demonstration within view of the historic launch. His point was that rather than focusing on sending people to the moon, we should be focused on getting it right here on Earth. 51 years later and we can ask the same question. But today, I would suggest that with our technology and with the entrepreneurial resolve that is so beautifully American, we can do both. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. Let’s make today the first day on the road to making his dream a reality. But it won’t happen without our commitment to a better future for all of us. Let’s get to work.

Glen Tullman

5 June 2020

Further reading

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