As nationwide protests against the killing of black Americans by police continue, Inc. has asked black business leaders in or near hot zones to tell us what they are experiencing.
Tristan Walker is one of the relatively few black entrepreneurs with a Silicon Valley pedigree. In 2013, he launched Walker & Company Brands, a personal care business for people of color. Five years later, he sold the business to Procter & Gamble for an estimated $20 million to $40 million. He remains as CEO, and used the sale as an opportunity to move his company from Palo Alto, California, to Atlanta. Below, he provides a three-step plan for leaders in a crisis--and describes how he's raising his two sons through racial tensions and a pandemic. --As told to Cameron Albert-Deitch
A year and a half ago, my family went to go visit homes in Atlanta. When we got back to Palo Alto, my son told me, "Daddy, Atlanta is where all the black people are. And Palo Alto is where all the white people are."
He was 4 years old at the time. First of all, I'm proud of my son for having that recognition and self-awareness. But it tells a story, doesn't it? That's what really convinced me to move.
I haven't seen much of Atlanta recently. We're still in the middle of Covid-19, and I have two people in my home with pre-existing conditions, so I'm extra careful. What I know is that folks are angry--but folks are motivated. I'm thinking not only about the folks who are on the frontlines, or just black folks in general, but corporate leaders as well. And in order to lead, in order to have some sense of sanity through all of this, we've got to have a plan.
For me, it's really a plan in three steps. The first step is pure acknowledgment of the trauma. I, and the majority of my colleagues, am part of the community that has experienced 400-plus years of physical and emotional traumas inflicted on us by citizens of a country that has claimed to be built on the self-evident truth that all men are created equal.
The second step is to understand that we need to model the way. Our influence on this country and this world matters. Equity matters. Our company has been built on a set of lasting values: courage, inspiration, respect, judgment, love, and loyalty. Now is as important a time as ever to really stand firm in those values. To be held accountable to them. And, most important, to pick a side: political, economic, judicial.
The third step is action. We need to provide opportunities for support and togetherness. Resistance isn't a one-lane highway. There are many ways to interact and push progress forward. There are folks on the frontlines of the protests. There are folks who are organizing. There are folks who are financing them.
When I think about small business, remember: We're still in the midst of a pandemic. There are some crazy stats, like how north of 50 percent of black businesses might go out of business as a result of Covid-19. It's urgent right now. The message to a lot of these folks who are funding: Let's ensure that we're also funding the potential growth of black small business. We don't want to lose sight of that. This is livelihood stuff.
It's overwhelming, in a lot of ways. But it's less overwhelming if we recognize where we can authentically contribute. This past week, my company hosted an Instagram Live, about how to cope with some of the things that are going on right now. Self-care. Mental health. Things that are authentic to what people know us for. We plan on hosting a number of those in the coming weeks and months.
Each generation, as far as I know, has gone through at least one incredibly traumatic event. We're in one now. I hope that we maintain the courage, strength, conviction, and loyalty to persevere as our ancestors have done for 400 years. The thing I would fear most is that we lose sight of those values that have allowed us to persist for so long.
There's no stronger community on the planet, and I mean that. I love being a black man. It's hard to be one, but I love being one, and there's no way in hell I'd want to be anything else. We will inevitably get through this, because we are stronger than folks think we are. I hope that the generations after us continue to build that capacity.
My oldest son is 5 now--he'll be 6 in September. My youngest just turned 1 last month. I'm proud that my wife and I can work to raise two wonderful black boys who are self-aware. The one thing that's important to us, and this is something I think we can all do, is to provide a way for our children to process their emotions better. To be more thoughtful and emotionally savvy.
Just think about that for a second. There's no judgment if you feel emotionally down and cry about it. You can talk about things that are on your mind. That's something I was unable to have the benefit of, growing up. You had to be strong. You didn't cry.
But that's not something we're putting on our sons. They're going to have a wonderful future.
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