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SLC diversity consultant’s advice on reviving the spirit of the summer BLM protests

Alvin Nelson holds a sign that reads "Black Lives Matter" outside the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, Ill., during Kyle Rittenhouse's second extradition hearing Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. Rittenhouse, accused of killing two protesters days after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday fought his return to Wisconsin to face homicide charges that could put him in prison for life. (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — After the thrust of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement seemed to fizzle with the coming autumn, a diversity and inclusion consultant discusses ways to reignite the passion and indignation that sparked the protests against all forms of racism.

Amy Donaldson and Jasen Lee are joined by Neelam Chand, founder and CEO of Shift SLC — a diversity and inclusion consulting firm in Salt Lake City — to talk about the loss of momentum after the BLM protests last summer demonstrating against police brutality and racially motivated violence against Black people.

Racial shift at lowest possible cost

Chand said she talked with several organizations across the nation about how to bolster diversity and inclusion within the organization.

Chand wrote an article titled “Now that the protests are over, companies are going back to business as usual” for Utah Business. 

“What I’ve noticed is during the summer of 2020 a lot of organizations wanted to really talk about racial justice and what that would look like. They wanted anti-racism training. They wanted to hire a chief diversity officer or have a few folks really activate diversity and inclusion within their organization. They started employee resource groups that really focused on different cultural aspects of different identities,” Chand told Lee on KSL’s “Voices of Reason.”

“And so all of this happened, and then it sort of died down. I realized in my conversations with different CEOs and organization leaders, it’s no longer about racial justice; it’s more about how do we do diversity and inclusion work at the lowest cost possible and to say that we’ve done it.

“I don’t think all organizations are doing that. But the organizations that really just wanted to do anti-racism work for the summer, take anti-racism work and put it in their backseat and really start to focus on other parts of their business. I wrote this article as sort of a wake-up call, but also a call to action and not let anti-racism work fall back, ” she said.

Where did the idealism go?

“When you were talking to organizations What was it that you saw? Was it fatigue? Was it not understanding that this was — this is a lifetime practice. It’s like the old adage: Life is not cured it’s managed. And I would say that probably applies to anti-racism. That the work is constant. It’s a lifelong endeavor to undo this. . . I wonder what you saw or what you heard was the reason for falling away from some of these ideals?” Donaldson asked.

Chand said the organizations that have now fallen silent on anti-racism work were in crisis-management mode.  She said after the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) employees were demanding more of their leadership.

But instead of acknowledging that they may be part of the problem, leaders were driven more by how to fix the problem and quickly, so the organization can move on and get back to business, Chand said.

How is the spirit behind BLM protest maintained?

What do you do to remind employers that it’s important to maintain the momentum in order to make forward progress on diversity, inclusion and equality? Lee asked.

Chand said it begins by working with leaders to give them a better understanding of their role in fighting racism. For those leaders who take personal accountability in racism, their organizations are the ones that integrate anti-racism work into the DNA fabric of their businesses. 

“But we don’t get there until the leaders in these organizations get to a point where they have a personal understanding of what it means to be anti-racist,” she said. “And what it means for them on a very human, personal level. Until then it’s just action . . . based off a some sort of crisis.”

Do business leaders get the purpose of BLM?

Donaldson asked whether employers or leaders of companies and organizations ever came to a real understanding about what the BLM protests during the summer were all about or whether they were merely motivated to placate their employees and move on.

“There are some great organizations out there that are doing the work,” Chand said. “When I wrote this article I think there was this misconception that all organizations are at this place where they just don’t care. And that’s not the case. Actually, quite a bit of organizations are the very beginning of the journey of anti-racism work.”

“But the organizations that just wanted to do performative allyship — which means basically to show the world that they care about these issues, whether it be it through an ad or a social-media post or a statement. Those organizations that just did that and didn’t do the actions that were required of them to back up the statements. Those were the organizations that really just did their one thing and then moved on to business as usual,” Chand said.

“I think those organizations are the ones who are suffering the most. The employees within those organizations are suffering the most. . . . [The employees are saying] you purchased an ad that said ‘Black Lives Matter.’ What happened? Where is the follow up?”