Racism in America: I Own This, Do you?

By John Hewitt
President and Chief Executive Officer

We are living in unprecedented times. A simple virus has turned the entire world on its head. It has destroyed lives both medically and economically and created generational changes in how we will do business, travel, and interact. Where and how we eat, shop, and work may never be the same. Entire industries may cease to exist. And it has attacked the most fragile and disadvantaged among us with great force.

Through all of this, we have seen some of the best society has to offer: caregivers and first responders, frontline health care workers, law enforcement, firefighters, and regular people helping people.

At Matrix, I am exceptionally proud of how our entire company reacted to managing the business and leading when leadership was so desperately needed. However, with all these dramatic business and social changes, the toll on the human condition, and economic destruction, the one thing this pandemic could not change was racism in America.

While seeing some of the best society has to offer, we’re also once again seeing the worst.

COVID-19 could not fix the hate, the violence, the irrational bias that exists in the undercurrents of our society.

This is not just about the exceptionally painful killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, or Breonna Taylor. Nor is it a judgment on all law enforcement, who have an incredibly difficult responsibility. These tragic events do, however, lift the stink above the covers and put racism front and center, but only for a moment until the media decides to report on some other ‘more newsworthy’ topic, and we move on.

No, racism is more subtlety woven into the very fabric in which we live. If you think racism isn’t real, then take the time to have the difficult conversation with a person of color; listen to their stories, try to understand the roadblocks they face, and the fear in which many raise their families.

It is time for all of us to acknowledge that racism exists across our country. It’s time to learn from the past and build a better future for everyone.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to hear Bryan Stevenson speak at the CEO Action Summit on Inclusion and Diversity. Bryan is a civil rights lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and he made the point that slavery did not end in 1865; it just evolved. We removed the physical shackles, but society created invisible restraints, barriers, and rules that have made the last 155 years incredibly difficult.

If you do not believe what I am saying, then open your hearts and minds and have the difficult conversation, because it is real. And, if you’ve experienced racism – directly or indirectly – and want to engage in a meaningful dialogue on what we can do to create more awareness and understanding, please email or contact me. I want to hear from you. I want us to have and continue this dialogue.

This past weekend, my daughter turned 30 years old, and she chose to march in a peaceful protest here in Tulsa to bring attention to this issue. This is yet another generation that is living through a racial divide in our country. I am proud of her for standing up, with people of all races that she didn’t even know, to say enough is enough.

It is time for all of us to acknowledge that racism exists across our country. It’s time to learn from the past and build a better future for everyone.

Even at Matrix, we have moments where an employee crosses the line, instills hate, creates an environment of inequality and fear, and demonstrates a raw ignorance of racial or other biases. But I am proud to say that this behavior – or any other kind that creates a hostile work environment – will not be tolerated.

As I have shared with others many times in the past, I am not perfect, and there are moments in my life where I’ve done things or said things for which I am embarrassed and not proud. But I have grown, matured, and opened my mind.

I get it. I appreciate that if we are to make a change – that if we are going to fix racism in America – I must be part of the solution, I must own this. That’s why I joined the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, made up of more than 900 other CEOs and Presidents across the country committed to acting on improving diversity and inclusion.

Look, at Matrix, we are a people business. And we want the best and the brightest to come with us – to believe in and live our values. When I say we are a people business, I mean all people, irrespective of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Our future success is dependent on a diverse and inclusive workforce. Believe it or not, so is yours.

“We have the opportunity right now to accept that racism exists and make a commitment that hate, violence, and racial bias will not define us – that it is not okay. We have the power to stop it.”

These are incredibly challenging and transformational times in our Company, community, and country.

I have said many times in the past, all of us are leaders even if we are only leading ourselves. We have the opportunity right now to accept that racism exists, and make a commitment that hate, violence, and racial bias will not define us – that it is not okay. We have the power to stop it. We are better than this. This – the racism, hate, and violence – should not be what it means to live in America.

We can make a difference in our communities. It starts with each of us. It starts with me.

I own this. Do you?