Evidence and Ideas for Change Remembering George Floyd
Sarah Rosen Wartell
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Come next week, it will be a year since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Much has happened in the interim, yet Floyd’s life and legacy are still shaping our national discourse and culture, influencing policy, and transforming workplaces, including the Urban Institute. And his memory will continue to drive change for a long time to come.

It should not have taken Floyd’s final breath at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and 38th Street for Americans to recognize, acknowledge, and become outraged by how deeply anti-Blackness and systemic inequities permeate our society. But that horrendous act, after so many others like it, ignited a movement like we have not seen in decades.

I am cautiously hopeful that from this momentum will come real change, as many more Americans have been shaken to hear and see what our Black friends, neighbors, and loved ones experience daily. And I do see signs of some progress.

Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter—a rare rebuke of police misconduct. What’s more, our president’s first act upon assuming office was to require the federal government to consider how its policies advance equity. And organizations across society are deepening their commitment to equity and inclusivity and having necessary, often uncomfortable, conversations about racism’s ongoing grip on their norms and practices.

Urban is having its own overdue reckoning with racism, both in society and in our organizational climate and culture. We have pledged to invest at least $7 million through 2022 of additional internal resources to addressing urgent diversity, equity, and inclusion concerns and drive long-term change within our organization. With those funds, we have committed to 26 specific activities with the following aims:

  • examining our institutional processes, norms, and behaviors to identify, acknowledge, and remedy practices antithetical to advancing equity and inclusion
  • expanding our capacity to address structural racism and discrimination in our work and deliver research that can help advance racial justice and equity across every domain in which Urban works
  • fostering an environment of trust and learning at Urban, encouraging an openness to change—even when uncomfortable—providing transparency, and promoting individual and collective accountability

These conversations are not easy. Being asked if I am living up to my values and being held accountable is uncomfortable. For me, it is easy to get defensive, but I am learning to quiet that reaction and to be open, to truly listen and start to understand others’ perspectives. A lot of positive change can come, as Bryan Stevenson has said, from “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” My work, and our work here at Urban, continues.

Remembering George Floyd next week will undoubtedly be traumatic for many, especially Black Americans. At Urban, we will offer support and grace to our colleagues reliving a searing moment from May 25, 2020. And my hope is that the memory will fuel all of us—scholars, changemakers, and movement makers across the country—with purpose.

Research Areas Race and equity