June 3, 2020

What Happened with George Floyd is Not Okay and I Can No Longer Look Away

I did not want to write this post.

I wanted to write to salespeople about how to Win More NEW SALES and to sales leaders about increasing sales management effectiveness. I have a whole list of new posts queued up -- from recent observations that cover everything from overly relational sales managers afraid to have fact/data-based results and pipeline accountability conversations to the increased divergence I’m seeing between top and bottom performing sellers as this pandemic/lockdown stretches on.

But I am writing this post because my eyes, my heart, my faith, my daughter, my black friends, and my passion for justice require me to speak up and speak out – now.

One week ago I woke up to an Instagram post from my daughter that was nothing more than a black square (a full week before many of us were posting plain black squares yesterday on #BlackOutTuesday). At first, I thought the image didn’t load but as I went on to read her post my heart sank. She wrote that she had been up since 4am with the video of George Floyd’s murder replaying over and over in her head. She included a confession about not speaking out stronger against racism and her temptation to scroll past headlines or look away. She also publicly challenged her white friends and offered strong words of encouragement to her black friends.

Wanting to find out more about this incident causing my daughter’s heartache, I found the video and could barely watch, horrified by what I was seeing and hearing. Of all the highly publicized controversial killing of blacks by cops over the past few years, this video and this situation was the most black and white, pun intended. This wasn’t gray or murky or nuanced. This wasn’t in the “heat of battle.” This wasn’t a cop with an itchy trigger finger feeling scared or threatened. This was the murder of a black man in broad daylight – an unarmed black man already subdued, handcuffed, and lying on the ground. This was one cop with his knee across the throat of a prisoner while three cops stood by and assisted. This wasn’t some back alley in the middle of the night; this was a busy street in one of the most upscale and progressive northern midwestern cities. Everyone watching this, including the bystanders videotaping and the police themselves, knew exactly what was taking place. A handcuffed black man was being executed in the street by a cop. And yet in spite of the fact the police were being confronted and videotaped while this went on for nine long minutes, the murder calmly proceeded.

And for me, this was the first time that the penny dropped. The dots finally connected. I’d hear stories from black men in my church about being pulled over by cops for being black. My wife would tell me about black moms who still have their adult sons call them after a night out so they sleep peacefully knowing that their baby made it home safely. I believed these things happened, but I didn’t grasp the full meaning, and it was easy to look the other way. But after seeing what these four cops in Minneapolis did, and then reading the medical examiner’s initial report declaring “the autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation” and that underlying health conditions also contributed to Floyd’s death, I CAN NO LONGER LOOK AWAY.

How blind and dumb, or apathetic, must I be to ignore (or pretend I don’t see) the institutional racism here? Seriously. The freaking Hennepin County Medical Examiner wants us to believe that the black man wasn’t choked to death after a white officer had his knee on his throat for nine minutes? And the prosecutors took days to charge and arrest the offending officer? And now it’s been a week and the three other officers, dare I say “accomplices,” who let this happen have still not been charged?

So here’s why I’m way out of my comfort zone writing this. On Saturday I spent 90 minutes on the phone with a black man – a brilliant, big-hearted young black man who also happens to be a client and is fast becoming a friend. I asked him to speak with me because one of the few lessons I did learn from the experience we had here in St. Louis six years ago (Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson and the ensuing unrest that followed) was that what African Americans made clear is that they wanted us to listen. Truly listen. They wanted white people to shut up, stop talking, stop preaching, stop pointing out statistics about black on black crime, stop making excuses, stop being apathetic, stop looking away, and just listen to their hurt, their pain, and their experience.

And this beautiful, eloquent man said something to me on Saturday that I cannot get out my head. I am replaying it over and over just like my daughter is replaying the video of Floyd’s murder in her head. He told me that if people like me look away after seeing what we saw take place in downtown Minneapolis, then we are no better than the three cops who were on the scene and did absolutely nothing to stop the killing of George Floyd. We both began to cry. And he went on to tell me that for many black men, when they saw Floyd being choked to death and begging for breath, they saw their own face on Floyd’s body. It was haunting to hear him describe his personal pain and his righteous anger.

 My friend’s message to me that silence equals complicity is something I’ve heard repeatedly the past several days.

What happened in Minneapolis is not okay and I’m committed to no longer looking away. And while I’m not exactly sure what that means and how that plays out in the long-term, as someone with a platform, there are a few concrete things I can do right now.

First, I want to listen and understand, and provide my readers and others in the sales community the opportunity to do the same. So, very shortly I’ll be back to you with an invitation to join me for a “Listening Session” (or possibly even a few different sessions) where I’m going to have black friends – all with sales experience – come and share their heart and their stories. We are pulling together details and logistics now and I’m excited about the opportunity to build bridges, forge new relationships, and catalyze a long overdue conversation.

I also want to use my coaching and content in practical ways. We’re formulating ideas about how to accomplish two objectives. One would be to equip and encourage African Americans in sales and sales management roles. I’m looking at creating a group that will meet online monthly where we’ll share challenges and I’ll facilitate dialogue, coach, consult, and do Q&A. It would not only be a blast, but I’m convinced many meaningful relationships would result, too.

And the second objective is something that’s been on my mind for a long time but aside from sharing the idea with a few black sales friends, I have been too lazy or too complacent to implement:  I want to invest in helping more people of color get into sales roles. Sales is one of the greatest professions that the offers opportunity for more fun, freedom, and financial rewards than many other jobs. I have talked with a few black colleagues about what it might look like to offer scholarships for my company’s sales training (live and video). How energizing and rewarding it would be to provide a head start for people who want to get into sales or who are early in their sales career and would benefit from the same coaching and content we deliver to corporate clients!

If you or someone you know would benefit from either of these ideas, please contact us so we can follow-up. In the meantime, we’ll be working on details for the upcoming “Listening Session” and crafting an offering as outlined above.

 Thank you for investing your precious time to read this. What we all witnessed is not okay, and speaking for myself, I can no longer look away.