It’s on us to make a change

It’s on us to make a change

Chicago Booth, in conjunction with several business schools around the country, honored the Black Lives Matter movement this past week.  Students and faculty gathered and dressed in black as a sign of solidarity and a desire to engage in dialogue about race relations in today’s United States.  These are my thoughts on a topic far too complex to fit an 800-word essay.

I didn’t attend school on the day of the September 11th attacks.  I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled with a specialist at a hospital nearly two hours away.  The drive, combined with an inevitable wait time, meant I could forgo that expectedly routine day of 7th grade.

Fast forward 24 hours through a series of horrific events and an obviously cancelled appointment and I returned to school, ready to mourn in shock in with my fellow classmates.  A weird thing happened though.

I was no longer one of the masses; I was more identifiable now and I couldn’t figure out why.  Despite being of Indian descent, I normally never felt any different from those around me.  But that day, I started getting teased about my whereabouts from the day prior, and in a few cases it escalated into even being called a terrorist.  Again, I was 12.  And I just learned what it meant to be racially profiled.

Now, I’ve been very fortunate to have few, if any other experiences of similar nature.  But I started learning that there were many others who couldn’t consider themselves as lucky.  Prejudice was a real thing and existed far outside of a harmless classroom setting.  It’s a notion that existed for years, often changing form and shape but maintaining similar characteristics.

It has contributed to gaps in wages and voting rights, and with educational opportunity vs. incarceration rates.  Ultimately, it has helped create an environment that is fundamentally imbalanced in its attempt to create a meritocracy.

I watched with pride as our first black President was elected to the White House, and then noted the sad juxtaposition of him speaking regarding the deaths of Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner, among others.  It made my heart hurt, because on one hand maybe that could’ve been me in that position, but realistically I knew why it never would be.

We are as advanced today as a civilization as we’ve ever been from a perspective of our capabilities in technology, healthcare, and scientific discovery.  We know more and can do more than what was considered possible even a decade ago.  We’re a tangible number of years from putting a person on Mars or owning a self-driving car.  Yet, the fight against social injustice continues in much of the same form as it did when those ideas were just pipe dreams.

To me, #BlackLivesMatter is an acknowledgement of those social injustices, and a movement to work towards the goal of racial equality that has long eluded our society.  We are predisposed to make judgements about certain people based on the way they look, talk, or act, yet how much do those perceptions go towards actually creating a reality?

The picture above is special to me because it represents a community here at Chicago Booth that is willing to engage in a conversation to bring us to a better place.  There may not be a defined solution to attain, but to understand the vision and our hope for the future starts with this dialogue, and sharing these different perspectives.

We’re blessed to be educated, and to have a knowledge base that can be used for the greater good.  We have the ability and the wherewithal to reach intelligent conclusions and voices that can resonate.  We have the power to shape a future in which the news isn’t plagued with stories of innocent deaths without explanation.

As future business leaders, there will be a lot of responsibilities and privileges afforded to us.  We’ll have opportunities to run companies, and make lucrative investments.  We’ll be in positions of power that can help shape the economy, and create shareholder value.  But maybe most important of all is that we’ll be given a platform that can be truly used to initiate progress.

In Tupac Shakur’s 1998 song ‘Changes’, he notes that:

We gotta make a change…
It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.
Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live
and let’s change the way we treat each other.
You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do
what we gotta do, to survive.

Nearly 20 years later, the message still holds true.  Let’s find a way to start this conversation, and let’s build those words into ideas that matter.  I’m confident we can do it.  We are Chicago Booth.