Two weeks ago, I met a girlfriend for a glass of wine at a beautiful restaurant in San Diego during Happy Hour. After spending more than twelve months in a state of suspended animation—limiting my social interactions to fewer than a dozen people—I felt free.

Since March of 2020, my husband and I have limited our gatherings to a small cohort of family and friends. We ran our companies from our home offices and dedicated ourselves to making sure that our teams and clients were as safe, sound, and sane as possible through a year+ of uncertainty.

Two weeks after getting my second Covid-19 vaccination, I was ready to log out of Zoom and return to non-essential activities. Back at the restaurant, my girlfriend and I caught up on our personal and professional lives, shared pictures saved on our phones, and talked about resuming travel plans. We limited ourselves to one glass of wine each, gave each other a hug, and said our goodbyes. Just two white women in designer clothes climbing back into our beautiful cars rushed to us by uniformed valet drivers.

I chose a scenic route for the 30-minute drive home and pulled up a podcast to enjoy during the trip. It was an interview with Harvard Professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annette Gordon-Reed about her new book, On Juneteenth. I learned not only had Annette, four years my senior, grown up in Texas like me, but that her family had lived in Conroe, the same town that I did. Annette had even attended Anderson Elementary School, the same school where I was a student.

Much of what Annette shared brought back fond memories of my own childhood. Yet, much of what she shared was shocking. Montgomery County, of which Conroe is the county seat, was known for its cruel treatment of Black people. This was news to me. A 25-year old Black man had been burned at the stake in front of the Montgomery County courthouse in 1922. I had never heard about this before. Annette and her mother entered Sadler Clinic—the same one where my mother took me for checkups— from a separate door where they sat in a small waiting room for Blacks. Was I too absorbed in the Highlights for Children magazines to notice? When I went to the Crighton Theatre to watch The Aristocats, Annette may have been there too. If so, I learned that she would have been in the balcony with the other Black patrons.

The interview with Professor Gordon-Reed jarred me. I had spent much of the past several months learning about racial equity and injustice in America. After George Floyd’s murder, I published an Open Letter commitment to educate myself about the disproportionate socio-economic harm imposed on Black communities and other communities of color, to use my platform to push progress forward on inclusion and diversity, and to partner with organizations to move from protest to policy to redress racial injustice.

I made good on that commitment by reading books, watching films, writing posts and hosting wildly successful webinars on the subject. I’ve completed the pre-requisites, but all of that knowledge can fade away as soon as the world reopens. I can meet a girlfriend for a drink and be lulled back into a world that has been carefully designed to cater to my convenience —the path of willful ignorance. Or, I can sign up for the next level to close the divide. I’m committed to the latter. This week, I’m leveling up to partner with practitioners to take action, and design and deliver content to build workplaces that are inclusive for all.

Question: What are you doing to remain committed to your DEI goals as the world reopens?

Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

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