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The tragic events that occurred in 2020 brought racial injustice and the urgency of systemic reform to the forefront of our attention in a way that hasn't occurred in over 50 years. Many of us were home or at least very limited to what we could do. Thus, there was a stark increase in the attention paid to the media, especially the news. Much like the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbury and George Floyd at the hands of police caused our country to collectively pause and take a long overdue account of our progress (or lack thereof) as it pertains to racism. And like many times before, Black people reacted publicly, with protests erupting in at least 140 cities across the nation. It became clear and unavoidable (for those who continue to question its very existence) that, similar to a virus like the one devastating our country, racism and systemic racism is nowhere close to being eradicated — it has simply adapted with the times.

Unfortunately, racism resulting in death is nothing new to Black people, and the same is true of the public outrage that followed these tragedies. However, one novelty that arose in 2020 was the magnitude and depth of the response from corporate America. Companies ranging from local to entire enterprises released statements signifying their alliance with the BLM movement and took a public stand against racism. And though this unprecedented level of corporate support was appreciated by many, Black people still questioned the motives at the core of such public political statements. Afterall, Black buying power is over a trillion annually, so corporations had a lot to lose (financially and morally) if they ended up on the wrong side of history last summer.

We may never know with certainty if a company truly opposes bigotry and systemic racism (as some have already been exposed for being disingenuous in this realm). But we as Black people can capitalize on the efforts our employers are making to address issues and increase D&E at work as we move forward. Black employees and business leaders are equally as (if not arguably more) important as Black consumers. In order to adequately market to, engage with and ultimately do business with consumers of color, corporations need Black thought and voices in the room. We’ve all seen what happens when there’s a lack of that, right?

So how do we, Black professionals, move forward in 2021 after what seems like a real awakening to the very real disentanglement of politics, identity and business? How do we take our next steps in ways that don’t settle for company-wide emails and social media proclamations? Here are some suggestions on how to step into knowing and owning your value as a Black professional post-2020: