Rochelle Ford: It’s time to replace the broken contract with America

America is burning and will likely get worse, until there is real change.

The contract with America is broken.

As a child of the 1970s, I was born into a nation fresh out of the Civil Rights movement and one focused on equal opportunity for all.

I thought I had bought into a contract with America. One that if I followed the rules, I could expect certain freedoms promised in the Constitution, and in the Bill of Rights, in America. All men were created equal. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I felt that following the newly created playbook — growing up middle class in a predominantly white neighborhood; attending and excelling in high school, college, graduate school and post-graduate school; building a career; giving back to the community; and raising children who are excelling  upheld that contract. But in reality, the contract is still broken.

Even with my achievements, I find it difficult to not live in fear. Daily, I wonder if my family will be harassed for walking, shopping, driving, studying or working while black.

I walk with faith in my God, and that alone gives me some peace and hope. Not a hope for America, but a hope that when I go on to glory that there will be a better life after death where race will no longer matter and racism will not exist. Much like the slave songs of going onto glory  ain’t no dying there.

Professionally, I fight for fairness in hiring, retention and promotion for non-white people who are qualified, but the system fights against me. I smile, am polite and try to work within the system, but the system pushes back and dismisses the idea of making real progress and provides more excuses. Instead, the system applauds mediocrity, makes the excuses for why we can’t make progress and dismisses the notion of holding itself accountable. 

The contract was never really ratified. The contract has been and continues to be a benefit to the real affirmative action recipients: the legacy of white privilege, of wealth privilege, of educational privilege.

The people, my people, black people – despite our education, our progress, our jobs, our high-brow habits like birdwatching, our designer dress, our attempts at compliance with the clauses and conditions within the contract – fall victim to America’s broken system.

So, am I surprised at the rage in the streets? No. 

Am I surprised by the looting? No. 

Am I fed up with the shooting and killing of black people? Yes.

Am I fed up with the excuses for mistreatment by the police, corporate managers and others in positions of power? Yes.

“Why We Can’t Wait,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Why continue to be polite? Where has it gotten us?

No justice, no peace.

America is burning and will likely get worse, until there is real change.

A new system, a more perfect union, a new contract is needed. A contract that I can voluntarily sign.

Join me, until then, as I continue to advocate, working outside and within our systems to effect change: 

  1. Be a leader at home and in your spheres of influence to end racism.

  2. Treat your employees fairly and equitably.

  3. Hire, promote and retain black and brown people.

  4. Do not disproportionately lay off your black and brown team members.

  5. Live your diversity and inclusion and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statements, and assess the impact of your actions, then improve. Don’t accept mediocrity.

  6. Support historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and black and brown students from predominantly white institutions through scholarships and job offers.

  7. Support minority-owned and operated businesses as suppliers and vendors including caterers, printers, office suppliers, photographers, videographers, car service and freelancers.

  8. Have real conversations with your employees about your climate and racism in your communities, and make proactive movements to evoke change.

  9. Be a good corporate citizen by listening to your communities of color, understanding their pain and experiences and using corporate funding and volunteer power to support them.

  10. Hold elected and appointed leaders accountable to improve conditions.

Rochelle Ford is dean of the School of Communications at Elon University.

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