Recent events in Ferguson, MO, have really touched the core of my heart. Let me start with a little background.
I spent my junior high and high school years in rural East Tennessee, in Dayton. I rode the bus to high school that picked up the kids from the projects, as we called it, before it picked up me and my brother. Most of the students picked up from the projects were black students. I was one of the few white students who would sit with black students if there were a spot open on the bus. Most of my classmates stood, rather than take a seat beside one of them. You can just imagine the names I was called. I look back on my younger self and feel grateful that I was known even then for love.
This was in the late 70’s/early 80’s and my high school had an active student chapter of the KKK. Once a year those students would don their garb, carry hoes and shovels and march around and around the indoor quad (followed by a hundred or more other students) while the black students and the band students – that was me – were huddled, terrified.
Some weekends, when my family would drive between Dayton and Chattanooga, the KKK would be stopping traffic in Sale Creek with out-held boots, taking donations from drivers who would roll down their windows and put cash into the boots. Our daddy told us, “Look straight ahead. Don’t roll your window down.” We did exactly that.
I have a heart for the emotional damage and psychological injury racism and socio-economic inequality can cause. I am very troubled by the crippling effects of racism in our country. And I feel devastated by the condition of the inner city schools — the schools that are filled with extremely economically challenged students.
As I watched the events in Ferguson, MO, recently, I saw the anguish and pain on the faces and heard the heart ache in the words of the members of this community (NOT the agitators and those who were using this time to highjack the protests for their own purposes), I found myself wanting to do something to let them know that I personally care — that BNI personally cares. I want them to know that I heard them saying, “we need help in order that the present situation can change.”
I thought about finding a school in Ferguson to which the BNI Foundation might award a Givers Gain Grant.
Suddenly I felt a huge shift!
At Mike Brown’s funeral service, something was said that reverberated powerfully within me and made me want to do something even bigger.
It went more or less like this: “Our country has the resources to equip our police forces with military-grade equipment, and yet we cannot equip our public schools.” oooof. A gut blow. It made me think that if we do not equip our public schools, we are going to feel a need to equip our police force. We will do one or the other.
Too many great teachers in the inner cities of America who are really able to connect with kids are ham-strung in the classroom due to a lack of funding, lack of available resources and lack of updated, repaired facilities. This is screwed up!
Too many teachers who are failing in their own work cannot be replaced with better teachers due to tenure. This is screwed up!
Too many young kids, who love to learn, who love to excel, who love to grow, are becoming bored, tuned out and being picked off by gangs and a cycle of hopelessness and anger is perpetuated. This is screwed up!
Our BNI Executive Director in Mid-America, Teresa Morris-Simon, has a daughter whose fiancé spent two years with Teach for America. Tiffany told her mother, “Mom, if you could see the conditions of these schools and the state of affairs there, you would be scared for our country’s future.”
The B Team
Sir Richard Branson’s B Team concept has been germinating in my mind and heart ever since I filmed Ivan with Richard last year as they talked about this subject, and now these events in Ferguson have moved me and Ivan to really want to inspire businesses to value inner city education and schools enough to get involved in being a strong partner in effecting positive change.
Plan A is where companies have been driven by the profit motive alone — our current model that needs to be transformed. Plan B seeks to put people and planet alongside profit, according to our conversations with Richard. The B Team vision of the future is “a world in which the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.” Further, the mission of the B Team is “to catalyze a better way of doing business for the wellbeing of people and the planet.” (Read more about the B Team.)
It is TIME for Richard’s B Team concept to manifest itself in America for our schools. B Team! Business has the ability, the means and the smarts to come in and do what our government is not doing well. I want to start a movement: Business VOICES (business values our inner city education & schools).
Business Voices is not going to be an ad for the BNI Foundation. You already know that we are providing support to teachers for children and education through the BNI Foundation. Business Voices is an appeal for a groundswell of support that crosses corporate lines, state borders and flows into the communities that need our help so desperately. There are many groups who are supporting inner city schools that need more help. There are many ways we can do better and do more. Let’s find out how and where we can start this paradigm shift.
I’ve never started a movement before. I need your help!
I will begin working with influential voices in this nation to inspire and initiate Business Voices. I have already talked with Richard about how we can plug in with the B Team. It is my commitment to Ferguson, to South-Central LA, to Harlem and many other inner city schools and teachers who need what I have to give — who need what YOU have to give. This fire burning within me to REALLY make a difference in a tangible way actually keeps me up at night. I lie there awake, visioning and dreaming about how we can stand together and open up a flow of resources like this country has never seen before.
I invite you to join me. I invite you to dream, vision and strategize with me to get this grass-roots effort off the ground.
Let’s start something that will have a REAL impact for positive change. The youth of our country need to have a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. Education gives them that chance. And we have the ability to help them. Please, please come along with me to be a part of the solution.
Watch the recorded webinar here.