Today, I wanted to take a PTO day. As a black male in America, it is hard to focus on anything outside of the current state of our country. But I’m glad I didn’t take the day off because I recognize that I have an opportunity to spark change in America. All of us have a role to play. Working at a PR agency allows me to provide counsel for a variety of brands and get a pulse on how, more than ever, black males such as myself are needed in corporate America to help translate the sentiment of black Americans.

According to a recent Nielsen report, black consumers have a spending power of $1.3 trillion, predicting that number to increase to $1.5 trillion by 2023. Chances are, black consumers play a vital role in your bottom line. This week’s protests of the murder of George Floyd have demonstrated that we understand our importance to the economy and have started putting brands on notice that we will no longer support companies that do not support us in our time of need – which is now!

There have been too many times we’ve seen brands stumble with their responses to racial issues and come across as tone deaf. This happens when they do not have a black person in the room to offer perspective. Or, when that person in the room is not confident to really speak their mind because of fear of corporate backlash and/or being labeled as “the angry black person.”

We are needed more than ever, and environments that welcome black voices and free thought should be created right now. Here’s why: it’s not enough for brands to check a box and say they issued a statement because they see their competitors doing it or to race to be the first in their industry to “say something.” In these cases, the statements become hollow and miss the mark.

For brands to truly make an impact and become ambassadors of change, they need to start with ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. It is time to have uncomfortable conversations. Take a look around your office and ask yourself if you are truly a diverse organization, and not just gender diverse. A diverse organization offers different perspectives and allows you to look at business and employee objectives rationally because you have different viewpoints. In theory, this is what is supposed to make America great. Different races coming together for a greater goal. To be better and do better. Don’t run from these conversations because they put you in an uncomfortable space – embrace them. If you don’t have a diverse organization that allows you to gain different perspectives, it is time to change that. Your business and company morale will be better when you begin to offer new perspectives on issues that you may not have recognized or realized are as bad as they are. But this is okay. This is the start of the healing process.

So, what are these uncomfortable conversations? This is the time to LISTEN. It is okay to say that you do not have all of the answers, which is why you must embark on this journey of listening to black Americans. Listen to what is going on in the world and ask yourself if your company values are promoting the greater good of society. Listen to your black leaders and make them feel comfortable being open and honest. Here are a few steps to take if you don’t have black leadership to offer you counsel:

  • Organize leadership “listening sessions” with black leaders in your industry to get our perspective on what you can do differently.
  • Seek out your black consumers; the power of social media makes this easier than ever to get our thoughts, and the idea of assisting a brand will make us very proud and want to support that organization even more.
  • Read. This may sound simple, but knowledge is power and there is no greater tool than the power of educating yourself. Take time to read up on black activists such as Shaun King and Tamika Mallory to get valuable insight on our plight.

Now that you have acknowledged and listened to us, it’s time to TAKE ACTION. Cookie cutter responses will no longer remain status quo for corporate America. It’s time to walk the walk. If you have come this far, you have spoken up and raised your hand; see it through with an action plan. Here are some steps your brand can take to demonstrate you want to authentically impact change:

  • Partnership – Many brands immediately think to partner with the big social organizations that everyone is familiar with but, in reality, that is taking the easy way out. Utilize the relationships you’ve built from listening to identify local community organizations in your priority markets that have boots on the ground and are directly impacting change. These are the organizations that need your support and can authentically reach your consumer in a meaningful way.
  • Internal communication – Often, brands forget to communicate with their employees on what they are doing or to get their opinions on how they can be better. In the process, they lose an important ally – their employees. If your employees feel involved and understand the direction of the company, they will get behind your message and become trustworthy advocates for the brand.
  • Create Advocacy Organizations – It’s unrealistic to believe that change will happen overnight. This is why brands must let the consumer know they are in it for the long haul. Show that you are ready “to fight the good fight” and be on our side every step of the way. Change starts at the local level and many corporate entities fail to realize their power, so it’s vital to use your corporate leverage to impact change in your community. Imagine if every Fortune 500 company threatened to move their tax revenue to another city if they didn’t see change happening on racial equality? That puts pressure on local leaders and politicians, as well as exercises your power as citizens of your community.

There has never been a period in my life where I have not experienced racial injustice. I am not alone. Every black male I know has shared similar experiences. In fact, I’ve seen it happen to my 5-year-old son. I don’t want him to grow up in a society where this is normal. I, along with the rest of black Americans, remain hopeful that there is a day when “liberty and justice for all” becomes a reality. This is all we are asking for. Nothing more, nothing less. Corporate America, we need you to help us achieve that goal.