Chicago, IL

Chicago businesses make major changes post George Floyd

Danielle Braff

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Chicagoans are still fighting for diversity 1 year post George Floyd's death.Credit Kon Karampelas.

In the year following George Floyd’s death, businesses across Chicago pledged to help with diversity training.

By Danielle Braff

(Chicago) Chicago marked the 1-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death with fireworks, memorials and plenty of tributes to the 46-year-old Black man killed by police.

Meanwhile, businesses throughout the Windy City pledged money, time and resources to combat the systematic racism in Chicago and throughout the country. But more than 365 days after the deadly attack - are businesses doing enough?

As a Black woman and a mother to three Black sons, Yolanda Lee Conyers, the former president and chief diversity officer with the Lenovo Foundation says her career has always been “uncomfortable.” She had been Dell’s first Black femal engineer before joining Lenovo in Chicago - and she believes that the responsibility of a company is to listen and to act. 

“The call to action from our colleagues is a clear need for continued education and opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, holistic support for Black and brown communities, and direct support for organizations fighting for change,” Conyers says.

So Lenovo committed $1 million in support to increase employee bias training and awareness, funding organizations working to end systemic racism and more. 

Jewel-Osco, Chicago’s largest supermarket chain, also pledged $1 million. Their pledge was part of the Together Now: Chicago’s Fund to Rebuild Our Neighborhoods campaign, which raises money for small businesses and not-for-profits throughout Chicago that experienced damage due to the riots and to the racism. 

“Jewel-Osco has deep roots in Chicago’s South and Southwest sides,” says Mike Withers, the president of Jewel-Osco. “We proudly stand with our neighbors as we work together to rebuild these communities.”

Jewel-Osco was one of many businesses that was damaged during the Chicago riots following George Floyd’s death. This was a genuine reaction to what was happening on the world stage - but also to what was happening on a smaller level with regard to racial inequalities at businesses across Chicago.

Gloria Castillo, with The Chicago Community Trust in Chicago, says the unrest brought a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a foundation for a sustainable, resilient, inclusive economy. What is needed, she says, is to bring together the resources of businesses, government, non-profits and the community voice to invest in the community. And while over the past year, many companies in the Chicago region have acted upon their commitments to address the economic and racial systems of exlusion, she says, they need to work together to stack their resources. 

Castillo says an initiative led by We Rise Together and the Corporate Coalition of Chicago is seeking to galvanize private sector actions that will have a real impact - and she’s asking that companies take at least one action. Companies can increase their annual spend with local Black and Latinx firms by at 25 percent; they can increase second-chance hires in the workforce by at least 25 percent; or they can invest in the itinital $25 million capital raise for the EPIC Fund, which provides equity capital for catalytic real estate projects in under-invested communities, Castillo suggests. 

Rush Chicago Hospitals is doing their part, albeit in their own way. 

“Leadership recognized that we needed to take action to address this to make sure all at Rush felt seen, heard and respected,” Rush says in an emailed statement. 

Rush formed a racial justice action committee to address all hiring, training and education at the hospital. They want to foster a culture of accountability, inclusion and respect - and they can’t do this without making sure they’re taking a look at how they’re addressing the racial inequities within and across their own institution.

With that in mind, transparency is the key, along with a willingness to be self-reflective. 

“Given our collective experience of George Floy’d murder, we needed to talk about evolving to an anti-racist organization, and redouble our commitment to dismantling structural racism and all its inequitable outcomes,” the statement says.

With each company doing its part, Chicago should look very different on George Floyd’s 2 year anniversary. 

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I'm a lifestyle writer with a focus on trends, fashion, parenting and business. My stories have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and more. I live just outside Chicago with my husband, daughter, two cats and a dog. I love to travel to exotic locations and to read memoirs.

Chicago, IL
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