BLACKROCK FUTURE FORUM

Conversations on race, bias and inequity

Senator Cory Booker, Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts, and CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation Wes Moore joined BlackRock’s Lyenda Delp for a series of conversations about how racial inequity affects healthcare, business and society at large.

Highlights include:

  • How systemic racism manifests itself in everyday occurrences and affects advancement opportunities in the workplace
  • How corporations can play a bigger role in ensuring racial equity
  • How certain policy changes could directly alleviate poverty and racism in America
  • The importance of education in forging a more just society

Lyenda Delp: The complexity of race has been a societal challenge for hundreds of years. Since then and continuing to now, a complex history of laws and social structures have contributed to massive differences in the life experiences of poor people of color versus others. It’s been impossible to avoid the recent eyewitness accounts of a few who have taken their privileges to the extreme and led to a fresh round of suffering and pain. Such activities have caused corporations and individuals alike to take notice and, in some cases, to take significant action.

I'm so pleased to be speaking with Senator Cory Booker from the great State of New Jersey.

You have noted that the American dream isn’t real for anyone unless it’s within reach of everyone. What are the key social issues you believe we must face together so that we can achieve a more equitable society.

Cory Booker: I'm just grateful to be here. And maybe I can answer that first question with a quick story. Hurricane Sandy was coming, and I was Mayor of New Jersey’s largest city and as it was slamming coast, I went out in my command vehicle with some police officers just to survey the streets. I'm driving along. I get a phone call proceeded by the stupidest question I think I’ve heard in a long time, which was an operator saying, hi, this is the White House operator. Would you hold for the President of the United States? And I'm like, ah, yeah, of course.

The next thing you know, I was talking to Barack Obama and it was this amazing call where he was just human being checking in on me and my city. And it was just an amazing, you know, few-minute conversation of grace and kindness and decency. And as soon as I hung up with him, my phone rings again, and almost as if they had coordinated it, but they hadn't, and it’s the Governor of the State of New Jersey. It’s Chris Christie doing the same thing, being a human, checking in on me. And when I hung up with him, I was rising to a hill and I had seen on the top of that hill all the telephone poles had come down, live electrical wires. It was a disaster.

But then, I see through the rain and the wind a guy in a yellow slicker with a floodlight just waving at me. And I – just to stop. And I stopped my car. I rolled down my window and then I see it’s an elderly man. And I yelled through the rain. I go, sir, what are you doing out here? And he looks at me as if I'm the one that asked a stupid question. He goes there’s telephone wires down. There’s live electrical wires. I'm standing out here to make sure that no one gets hurt, that no one comes along and gets hurt.

And in that moment, I had just talked to the President of the United States, the Governor of the State. I'm the Mayor of the largest city. But the greatest person I saw in that moment was the man on the top of a hill in a storm standing up for other people. That, that’s the spirit of our country. That's why I'm here and so many of us are here right now, because people in a storm, in a crisis stood up for others, made a sacrifice for others. It’s that spirit of people who stormed beaches in Normandy, who did freedom rides all for us here. And the challenge we have in our country is these ideals are so worth fighting for, so worth dying for, putting your life on the line for others is we can’t stop that now when we live in a nation where there are hills to stand on and where there’s a storm.

are you willing to stand on that hill? How important is the role of allies in this fight, in supporting the concerns of all those people, the women you’ve just mentioned, minorities of all races, but especially black and brown people?

Lyenda Delp: Let’s talk about the American Opportunity Accounts Act or otherwise sort of simply known as Baby Bonds, which about a year ago you and Rep. Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts proposed. Why this proposal?

Cory Booker: Well, let me confess. First of all, this is not an original idea. People were talking about baby bonds decades before I got to the United States Senate. And from both sides of the political aisle you would find this kind of thought ... it’s this idea that we are a capitalist society and let’s give everybody at birth an equity stake in this capitalist system that we have. And in fact, studies show that if a child has a – knows that they have an account out there for them, their – they – their chances of going to college go up about three to four times as likely to go to college, just knowing that somebody has set up an account.

Our bill says let’s put some real equity here. Let's have every child as a birthright in America. You’re born. You get an interest-bearing account of $1,000 and every year you get more money placed in that account based upon your family’s income up to $2,000 for the poorest kids and that compounds over time that by the time that kid is 18-years-old, the lowest income kids in America will have about upwards of $50,000 in an account. And because of the racial disparities in wealth in our country, the average black kid is going to have somewhere near $30,000. And as Columbia University looked at it and said it actually, for those teenage kids it actually gets rid of the racial wealth gap in America.

And so, it’s this powerful way of giving people a stake and then that 18-year-old can use that either to keep it in that account to grow or invest it in buying a home or starting a business, going to college, or getting the training, advanced technical training they might need for a job. And see, these are the kind of things that we can do in adherence of our policies that have big, big impact.

So, I want to probe a little bit more beyond the Baby Bonds, because that idea is really about long-term wealth creation and bridging the gap over a period of time. there are marginalized families right now. And they’re facing incredible challenges due to systemic racism, the gaping financial holes even made wider by COVID-19, and so many complex structures persistently tamping down the opportunities. what other laws or other initiatives could have nearer-term enduring impact?

Cory Booker: the one thing I worry about is the problem of poverty in our country. And when I say poverty, I'm talking about a poverty of empathy and a poverty of compassion and a poverty of understanding, that we are comfortable with levels of injustice in our country that are stunning to me. I mean we torture children in prison.

We’re a nation that still shackles pregnant women when they’re in prison. I could go through the things that we do in our name, what we do to the mentally ill in our country, what we do to the addicted in our country.

There are so many things that we would not be comfortable with, environmental injustices that are outrageous in our country. I went on an environmental injustice tour of our country and sat in packed black churches and – of people that have had these environmental toxins shoved into their neighborhoods. I mean there’s – this is an issue of us understanding and having the empathy to pause and see what our fellow Americans are struggling with. And the policy ideas are there.

I’ll give you an example. I mean we can just double the earned income tax credit. In other words, if you work – I grew up in one of New Jersey’s wealthiest areas, but as an adult I chose to live in a low-income area. The neighborhood I'm sitting in right now, the median income is about $14,000 per household. Now, let me tell you, there are people in my neighborhood that work longer hours than my parents work, but they still go to the local bodega up the corner from me and use food stamps to feed their family.

We live in a nation that through our tax code very easily we could – and this is – I’ve heard everybody from Paul Ryan to people on the left talk about let’s make work pay. Let's double the child – the earned income tax credit. Let's massively increase the child tax credit. We could half African American poverty right away doing that. And by the way, that poverty line is not just a numerical line. Things happen to children who are above that poverty line versus below in terms of their life outcomes that are pretty dramatic.

Lyenda Delp: the American dream isn’t real for anyone unless it’s within reach of everyone. For me, it begs comparisons to the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I find both powerful, simple, but with a very high bar for a collective. Do you think we are at a seminal moment in our history where we can achieve the changes that will make that dream attainable for everyone?

Cory Booker: I thought about my dad and how it broke my heart that I let him down, one of my biggest mistakes of my life, because my dad was born in the Jim Crow South in 1936. He was born to a single mom below the poverty line. He used to say I, son, I couldn’t afford to poor. I was just po, P-O. I couldn’t afford the other two letters. And he was rescued by the people in the community that wouldn’t let him fail. His – a family took him in, not his blood. But, when his family couldn’t take care of him, they took him in, and he wasn’t going to college. Nobody in my family had ever gone to college. But teachers insisted he go, and the church took a collection to enroll him in an HBCU. And he graduated in the early 1960s, moved to the Virginia and Washington DC area, became the first black man ever hired as a salesman in the entire Virginia area. And my dad had the gift of gab and thrived, ended up being one of IBM’s top 5% of their global salespeople, then moved up to New Jersey. And you heard, again, how black folks and white folks intervened to get him and his family into suburban America.

That's a conspiracy of love. And I let my dad down because I moved to Newark, New Jersey. And up the street from where I live, there was high rise projects that I decided to move into. And I lived there for almost a decade. I watched kids grow up. And there's this one group of kids that hung out in the lobby, boys. And Hassan Washington, who was the head of this crew, he was my dad incarnate. He was just as brilliant, just as funny, just as gift of fab, born leader. And he, I tell you, and my dad, both born at the poverty line, both being raised by a single mom, so much in common.

And I remember one night I came home, and I smelled marijuana. I smelled pot in the lobby and they’re not Stanford kids. They can’t experiment with drugs. The criminal justice system will chew them up and spit them out. And so, I took them out the movies and dinner, hoping to get to know them better and started mentoring. And I made commitments to these kids that I was going to set them up with mentors. And then, I got busy with life and I was running for Mayor of the city and I got too busy to follow through on my commitments to the kids.

But I would still come home during the campaign and they would still cheer me. Well, I get elected and then there were death threats on my life. And so, they put police officers stationed in the projects and I didn’t see the kids, because none of this on this call when we were teenagers want to hang out where the police are hanging out.

But, I’ll never forget going home that night for a couple hours of sleep and I'm going through my BlackBerry and I see the reports for the day and there was a police report and there’s the murder, the report of the murder. And I see the person who was killed, the name of the victim, the murder victim on the pavement with a sheet covering them. The name was Hassan Washington.

And I’ll tell you, something broke in me that night. And I, you know, I – his funeral, it was the most shameful I had ever felt in my life. It was in the basement of this funeral home, all black people piled in on top of each other, chained together in grief, moaning and groaning at another boy in a box, an American tradition, another black boy dead in a box. And I couldn’t stay for his funeral. I ran to the city hall, new mayor, slammed the door, sat on that couch and wept for the first time. And all I could think to myself was I can never pay back the people who did for my dad, but when God put dad right in front of me, a kid with more genius than I have, natural born leader, I got too busy to be there for him. And yet, all of us were there crammed into a funeral home for his death, but where were we for his life.

And so, if you want to know what to do, it’s to never forget that the biggest thing you can do in any day will always be a small act of kindness, decency, and love, to know that you can never pay back all the people that did for you and your family and your ancestors, but we have an obligation to pay it forward. Never underestimate that we today can do something that can change the lives of generations unborn.

Lyenda Delp: Senator Booker, we have covered so much in this conversation. We are grateful that you took the time to join us in this dialogue.

Cory Booker: Thank you. All the best to you and to everyone listening. Thank you.

Lyenda Delp: Thank you for joining the Future Forum and this conversation on race, bias, and inequity in the workplace and our broader society.

So, last September you and two professors from Harvard Business School published an important book called Race, Work, and Leadership.

there are two burning questions I really must ask you. Is systemic racism truly commonplace? And then, I'm very curious to know why we think it persists.00:08:54

Laura Roberts: Oh, such important questions, Lyenda. Thank you so much for welcoming me today and thank you also for your support and engagement with the book and with the research. It’s so important that we have these broad datasets to help inform our answers to these important questions.

So, with your first important question about systemic racism, is it truly commonplace, is it endemic to the ways that our organizations function today? And, unfortunately, I have to answer based on the data that, yes, systemic racism is still widespread, and it’s deeply baked into many of the structures and practices in corporate America.

You know, it shows up at various levels of the process when we think about entry, we think about advancement, when we think about engagement, and when we think about leadership impact, all central important questions around talent management. We see the impact, longstanding and current impact of racism on those processes.

So, at the entry level, we see racial disparities in terms of who gets hired and the ways in which racial bias enters into that process just from the point of screening a resume or a CV and looking at a person’s name to code or decode whether or not that person might be white or whether they might be a person of color. And numerous field studies have shown that those kind of split-second decisions will weed somebody out of the hiring process just that quickly.

But, let’s assume you get into the door. Then, there are questions around systemic racism that relate to advancement and engagement. So, we’re looking to develop an invest in our high potential contributors and our future leaders, right. And so, we see that there are racial disparities in terms of the kinds of developmental experiences that people are afforded, the types of mentoring and sponsorship that they get along the way, and those translate into whether or not they’re tapped for this high potential opportunities that allow them to advance beyond entry levels in organizations.

And then, the last piece is around the leadership impact question. So, let’s say you advance, and you make it to the level of managing director or similar senior leadership roles within your organizations. We find that even at those levels people of color and black people in particular still face the day-to-day stressors of racial microaggressions, of people sort of questioning or doubting their authority, of being mistaken for lower level or lower wage workers in the organization or perhaps an administrative assistant or someone who’s on the custodial team, rather than someone who’s responsible for initiating and executing important decisions.

So, all throughout the journey of one’s career, racism still plays a role. It persists because systemic racism, it’s capturing the idea that racism operates as a system and by system we mean their reinforcing system of beliefs, decisions, practices that create self-fulfilling prophecies around who has power and advantage and opportunities within our organizations and who has to struggle harder to get access to those opportunities, if they get them at all.

Lyenda Delp: clearly now there’s a bright light being shone on corporations and leadership across America.

Laura Roberts: I think, Lyenda, the first step is to do what we’re doing today, which is to invite more open engagement and learning conversations around race. For so long, race has been unspeakable. So, that is an important and noble step and I have certainly seen a difference in the past, you know, months in the floodgate of opportunities that are opening for organizations to start to advance anti-racist work because people have started listening. And when leaders signal that they’re listening, then members of the organization and other critical stakeholders will begin to speak more freely about their experiences and people can learn together how to create or co-create the best path forward.

So, that path involves acknowledging the harm that systemic racism may have imposed outside in the community, yes, and we saw that catalyst with protests against the racial violence. But, what corporations are doing now is looking internally, so also having to create cultural audits to say, hmm, let me look at my engagement practices, let me look at my hiring practices, let me look at the rate of advancement and the level of credentialing for members of different racial and gender groups within the organization to see is there a different path that certain individuals have to follow in my organization versus others.

Get that internal data and then from there invest in the necessary infrastructure to promote sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Lyenda Delp: So, what do you think are further catalysts that corporations need to act and go beyond the talk to demonstrate that, their real commitment? What will be the drivers?

Laura Roberts: I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that a lot of the urgency of change right now is coming from those external catalysts and drivers of success. It’s been a public outcry, a public global outcry around racial injustice and that is much of the same horror that drove change around racial injustice during the 20th century civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movements.

We have to recognize that there’s a lot of collective voice that helps organizations and corporations understand what their priorities need to be at this moment in time. Now, internally what happens here in driving the change is to have those courageous voices who can partner with their colleagues in the organizations to help engage this new call to consciousness, help to translate experiences that quite honestly many of the leaders probably hadn't been aware of until this point in time. You know, for some who have been silent about race to date, it’s because, we wanted to evaluated simply on the basis of our performance and to not have race be an obstacle or barrier.

But there are others for whom race represents a collective shame or guilt or just a lack of empowerment, a frustration about what to do with this big challenge and how to fix it. And we recognize that terrible things have happened in the past and maybe they’re still happening right now. But, you know, I feel like I don’t know, I'm not equipped to be able to handle it. So, therefore, I'm afraid to talk about it and acknowledge it.

And then there’s a third group who have actively resisted a lot of the DEI initiatives. So, for those who say they feel that their organizations haven’t done enough, there are others who have been reflected in these that say white men are being overlooked and excluded by DEI initiatives. And so, the DEI initiatives then have fallen out of favor, you know, especially when people feel that they are focusing too much on race or racial and ethnic minorities. So leaders, in order to move through change are going to have to contend in some way with that conflict, the internal conflict within the organization about how much attention and how much – how many resources, to be quite frank, this kind of work should be getting.

Laura Roberts: Oh, gosh. I would say at once everything changed and at the same token nothing changed, right. The world of May 25th was the world of May 24th and in large part from a structural perspective the world of May 26th.

Since George Floyd was killed, other black people have been killed by police officers. People have been run down by cars in the middle of riots and protests. COVID is still having a disproportionate impact in a shocking and brutal way on black and brown communities. And we are still not of common mind or common voice about what it takes to protect the lives and livelihoods of our planet, much less those who are most vulnerable.

And so, those remain deep-seated concerns for me. I'm encouraged by the fact that many corporate leaders have expressed their unequivocal support. I'm also mindful and observing the fact that there is still a wide continuum where some corporate leaders are all-in and other corporate leaders sort of dipped their toe in the water and now they’re realizing it’s a little hotter than they expected that it would be and they’re starting to pull back a little bit and, what, it hasn’t been six weeks yet, barely six weeks.

So, you know, bottom line am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful.

Lyenda Delp: This has been a fascinating conversation and it’s quite clear why you, Dr. Roberts, are sought out for your wisdom, even more so now at this important crossroads in our shared history. We at BlackRock are grateful to have been benefiting meaningfully from your guidance and I personally have just gleaned incredible new insights today. We wish you the very best and we thank you, again, for joining us.

Wes, some know your story, but I want to ensure everyone has important context for all you bring to our conversation. You are the CEO of Robin Hood, one of the most important organizations in the effort to address poverty in our nation. You are a combat veteran, a bestselling author, a social entrepreneur.

What were some of the challenges and the key influences that enabled you to become the man you are today?

Wes Moore: Well, first, I just want to say thank you and what an honor that it is to be with you today. And so, truly, thank you for the opportunity to have this conversation. And, you know, I think that so much of who I am was – has been rooted and established from my earliest days. You know, I am the grandson of someone who was born, first one on my mom’s family actually born in the United States. But, it was actually the Ku Klux Klan, when he was just a toddler that actually ran my family, my grandfather and my great-grandfather, out of the country, because my great-grandfather was a minister who was very vocal and verbal threats eventually turned into physical threats, to the point that he decided that he had to pick up his family and leave the country. And most of my family made a pledge never come – to come back to the United States.

But, my grandfather did and my grandfather always said that this was the country that he was born into he felt that he had just as much ownership as anybody else. And so, he eventually did. He came back here.

My father died in front of me when I was young and my mother was having a really difficult time with that transition, then decided to move us, myself, my older sister, and my younger sister, to go live with my grandparents, who lived up in the South Bronx. And they had a house that was barely big enough for them, but they figured out a way to make it big enough for all of us.

And I think about in that moment where when the question is, you know, what about that childhood helped to make you the man that you are today. I think in many ways the fact that my family has always gone through this idea of being tested, the fact that the neighborhood that, frankly, I grew up in was one that was chronically neglected and we knew it, the fact that, you know, we continue to feel this need and this feeling of being able to feel a self of justification for belonging. And I think that feeling, that push, and frankly the fact that I had a lot of people, to include my family, but eventually leading to this amazing string of people who entered into my life and, frankly, showed me and believed in me in a way that I wasn’t even prepared to believe in myself at the time, that they really helped to guide me and direct me into not just the person that I am, but also into the things that I want to focus on and the impact that I'm hoping to make.

Would you say there were any differences in the type of racism and bias that you may have observed either at different times or at different places,?

I think one of the things that I realize is that when you think about all of our life, all of our life experiences, I mean some of the most predictable life outcomes are completely highlighted by race, right, and that includes life expectancy. It includes academic achievement. It includes income and wealth, physical and mental health, maternal mortality. That's just the data.

But it’s also highlighting how those different mechanisms continue to have generational impact. So even, for example, you know, even when you go into certain areas or you get certain educational awards, you know, the fact that I was the first in my family to walk on, you know, go on to places that my family didn’t even imagine even existed. you know, going to school in England and going to school overseas and all this kind of stuff and doing everything, again, that was being asked. But here’s also the reality is that a person, a black person with a college degree has the same wealth as a white person who is a high school dropout and that’s a true fact right now in this country that a black woman who has breast cancer has a 42% higher chance of dying than a white woman with breast cancer.

And so, you see how even when you factor in for the socioeconomic, because if that was it, if it was just about, well, you lived in an impoverished community and, therefore, this is what it is, that’s one thing. But, the thing that the data continues to show us is that even if you transcend from there that racism still continues to show itself, because it is one of these things that has permeated every system that we have within our society, from housing, transportation, education, everything, criminal justice, everything. Can you explain for us just the cost of child poverty? Can you just break that down just a little bit further? Absolutely. So, if we’re looking at the cost of child poverty and, again, and where all that comes from and where those, you know, where those numbers come from, the numbers actually come from an OECD study. And so, we’re talking about, you know, a study that’s looking at the impact in the levels of deep poverty and what deep poverty has actually meant and done, you know, to our measures of society. So, you consider the fact that three decades ago the poorest families in America received, you know, most of the transfers going to families, you know, with private aid comes belong 200% of the federal poverty threshold. But, you know, but if you look at kind of where that is right now in recent years, those families receive less than one-third of all of the transfers. We have fundamentally made the challenge of child poverty more and more difficult.

And so, when you’re looking at things like the OECD study, when you're looking at things like the National Academy of Sciences, who are talking about the $800 billion to the $1.1 trillion a year, you know, they’re looking at it and that’s every year, they’re looking at it in lost adult productivity, so increased costs related to crime, increased health expenditures. And as staggering as that number is, it also fails to capture that level of untapped genius and unrealized potential of the nearly 10 million children, 10 million children in this country who are trapped in poverty.

Lyenda Delp: How has the work of your organization changed in any way since the murder of George Floyd in particular?

Wes Moore: 2020 has been a year that none of us could’ve predicted and all of us wish we did not have to have these twin crises that arrived at our doorstep, right. It’s the – and it is. It’s twin crises of the introduction of a virus that has had absolutely catastrophic health and economic implications on society and also, you know, the very unneeded reminder of how policing is not equitable in every neighborhood.

But the interesting thing that I think it also has shown and how it also has influenced our work as well is that while COVID-19 impacts everybody, it did not impact everybody equally, you know. And while policing reform is necessary in every neighborhood, we watched how George Floyd’s name was added to a long litany of people to include names like Michael Brown and Philando Castile and Freddie Gray and Walter Scott and Sean Bell and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor and Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice and Ahmaud Arbery and Travon Martin and the list goes on.

But you watch how these twin crises really exposed a singular truth that race plays in our society. And if you look at even our work, it’s absolutely undeniable to understand the role that race plays in the poverty fight that we have going on right now.

And so, organizationally we have really, you know, pushed and doubled down on our commitment, not just to keep our north star of moving families out of poverty measurably and sustainably, but also double down on being able to attack these things that we’re seeing not just at the effects but also at the cause, being able to address this issue of racial inequity in a very real and a sustainable way. And we’ve made a few movements in that space that I, I'm very, very proud of.

You know, one is how we’re thinking about it from an organizational perspective about how we really move to attacking it internally and externally in every way that we see it and thinking about what is the leverage power of Robin Hood, but also in the creation of something called the Power Fund.

So, the Power Fund is a new initiative to fund and elevate nonprofit leaders of color who share in Robin Hood’s mission of increasing economic mobility from poverty and it allows us to address this issue of poverty through the lens of that interplay between racial injustice and economic injustice.

Robin Hood, in addition, is putting $10 million of our own capital into this, but also being work with other partners to be able to target something that we know is not just an issue now, but address it on a long-term basis as well by supporting the leaders of today and also the leaders of tomorrow.

Lyenda Delp: Thank you for all you’re doing at Robin Hood to help those less fortunate, to help make things better for others.

Well, I have had such an incredible opportunity to speak with three incredible individuals today. This conversation has enriched all of us. Dr. Roberts, Senator Booker, and Wes Moore each provided thoughtful perspectives on one of the most important topics in our nation at this time. Thanks to each of them for joining in the various conversations. It has been an outstanding opportunity.

This conversation is only part of the discussion. The full conversations with Senator Booker, Dr. Roberts, and Wes Moore will be shared soon.

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Lyenda Delp: The complexity of race has been a societal challenge for hundreds of years. Since then and continuing to now, a complex history of laws and social structures have contributed to massive differences in the life experiences of poor people of color versus others. It’s been impossible to avoid the recent eyewitness accounts of a few who have taken their privileges to the extreme and led to a fresh round of suffering and pain. Such activities have caused corporations and individuals alike to take notice and, in some cases, to take significant action.

I'm so pleased to be speaking with Senator Cory Booker from the great State of New Jersey.

You have noted that the American dream isn’t real for anyone unless it’s within reach of everyone. What are the key social issues you believe we must face together so that we can achieve a more equitable society.

Cory Booker: I'm just grateful to be here. And maybe I can answer that first question with a quick story. Hurricane Sandy was coming, and I was Mayor of New Jersey’s largest city and as it was slamming coast, I went out in my command vehicle with some police officers just to survey the streets. I'm driving along. I get a phone call proceeded by the stupidest question I think I’ve heard in a long time, which was an operator saying, hi, this is the White House operator. Would you hold for the President of the United States? And I'm like, ah, yeah, of course.

The next thing you know, I was talking to Barack Obama and it was this amazing call where he was just human being checking in on me and my city. And it was just an amazing, you know, few-minute conversation of grace and kindness and decency. And as soon as I hung up with him, my phone rings again, and almost as if they had coordinated it, but they hadn't, and it’s the Governor of the State of New Jersey. It’s Chris Christie doing the same thing, being a human, checking in on me. And when I hung up with him, I was rising to a hill and I had seen on the top of that hill all the telephone poles had come down, live electrical wires. It was a disaster.

But then, I see through the rain and the wind a guy in a yellow slicker with a floodlight just waving at me. And I – just to stop. And I stopped my car. I rolled down my window and then I see it’s an elderly man. And I yelled through the rain. I go, sir, what are you doing out here? And he looks at me as if I'm the one that asked a stupid question. He goes there’s telephone wires down. There’s live electrical wires. I'm standing out here to make sure that no one gets hurt, that no one comes along and gets hurt.

And in that moment, I had just talked to the President of the United States, the Governor of the State. I'm the Mayor of the largest city. But the greatest person I saw in that moment was the man on the top of a hill in a storm standing up for other people. That, that’s the spirit of our country. That's why I'm here and so many of us are here right now, because people in a storm, in a crisis stood up for others, made a sacrifice for others. It’s that spirit of people who stormed beaches in Normandy, who did freedom rides all for us here. And the challenge we have in our country is these ideals are so worth fighting for, so worth dying for, putting your life on the line for others is we can’t stop that now when we live in a nation where there are hills to stand on and where there’s a storm.

are you willing to stand on that hill? How important is the role of allies in this fight, in supporting the concerns of all those people, the women you’ve just mentioned, minorities of all races, but especially black and brown people?

Lyenda Delp: Let’s talk about the American Opportunity Accounts Act or otherwise sort of simply known as Baby Bonds, which about a year ago you and Rep. Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts proposed. Why this proposal?

Cory Booker: Well, let me confess. First of all, this is not an original idea. People were talking about baby bonds decades before I got to the United States Senate. And from both sides of the political aisle you would find this kind of thought ... it’s this idea that we are a capitalist society and let’s give everybody at birth an equity stake in this capitalist system that we have. And in fact, studies show that if a child has a – knows that they have an account out there for them, their – they – their chances of going to college go up about three to four times as likely to go to college, just knowing that somebody has set up an account.

Our bill says let’s put some real equity here. Let's have every child as a birthright in America. You’re born. You get an interest-bearing account of $1,000 and every year you get more money placed in that account based upon your family’s income up to $2,000 for the poorest kids and that compounds over time that by the time that kid is 18-years-old, the lowest income kids in America will have about upwards of $50,000 in an account. And because of the racial disparities in wealth in our country, the average black kid is going to have somewhere near $30,000. And as Columbia University looked at it and said it actually, for those teenage kids it actually gets rid of the racial wealth gap in America.

And so, it’s this powerful way of giving people a stake and then that 18-year-old can use that either to keep it in that account to grow or invest it in buying a home or starting a business, going to college, or getting the training, advanced technical training they might need for a job. And see, these are the kind of things that we can do in adherence of our policies that have big, big impact.

So, I want to probe a little bit more beyond the Baby Bonds, because that idea is really about long-term wealth creation and bridging the gap over a period of time. there are marginalized families right now. And they’re facing incredible challenges due to systemic racism, the gaping financial holes even made wider by COVID-19, and so many complex structures persistently tamping down the opportunities. what other laws or other initiatives could have nearer-term enduring impact?

Cory Booker: the one thing I worry about is the problem of poverty in our country. And when I say poverty, I'm talking about a poverty of empathy and a poverty of compassion and a poverty of understanding, that we are comfortable with levels of injustice in our country that are stunning to me. I mean we torture children in prison.

We’re a nation that still shackles pregnant women when they’re in prison. I could go through the things that we do in our name, what we do to the mentally ill in our country, what we do to the addicted in our country.

There are so many things that we would not be comfortable with, environmental injustices that are outrageous in our country. I went on an environmental injustice tour of our country and sat in packed black churches and – of people that have had these environmental toxins shoved into their neighborhoods. I mean there’s – this is an issue of us understanding and having the empathy to pause and see what our fellow Americans are struggling with. And the policy ideas are there.

I’ll give you an example. I mean we can just double the earned income tax credit. In other words, if you work – I grew up in one of New Jersey’s wealthiest areas, but as an adult I chose to live in a low-income area. The neighborhood I'm sitting in right now, the median income is about $14,000 per household. Now, let me tell you, there are people in my neighborhood that work longer hours than my parents work, but they still go to the local bodega up the corner from me and use food stamps to feed their family.

We live in a nation that through our tax code very easily we could – and this is – I’ve heard everybody from Paul Ryan to people on the left talk about let’s make work pay. Let's double the child – the earned income tax credit. Let's massively increase the child tax credit. We could half African American poverty right away doing that. And by the way, that poverty line is not just a numerical line. Things happen to children who are above that poverty line versus below in terms of their life outcomes that are pretty dramatic.

Lyenda Delp: the American dream isn’t real for anyone unless it’s within reach of everyone. For me, it begs comparisons to the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I find both powerful, simple, but with a very high bar for a collective. Do you think we are at a seminal moment in our history where we can achieve the changes that will make that dream attainable for everyone?

Cory Booker: I thought about my dad and how it broke my heart that I let him down, one of my biggest mistakes of my life, because my dad was born in the Jim Crow South in 1936. He was born to a single mom below the poverty line. He used to say I, son, I couldn’t afford to poor. I was just po, P-O. I couldn’t afford the other two letters. And he was rescued by the people in the community that wouldn’t let him fail. His – a family took him in, not his blood. But, when his family couldn’t take care of him, they took him in, and he wasn’t going to college. Nobody in my family had ever gone to college. But teachers insisted he go, and the church took a collection to enroll him in an HBCU. And he graduated in the early 1960s, moved to the Virginia and Washington DC area, became the first black man ever hired as a salesman in the entire Virginia area. And my dad had the gift of gab and thrived, ended up being one of IBM’s top 5% of their global salespeople, then moved up to New Jersey. And you heard, again, how black folks and white folks intervened to get him and his family into suburban America.

That's a conspiracy of love. And I let my dad down because I moved to Newark, New Jersey. And up the street from where I live, there was high rise projects that I decided to move into. And I lived there for almost a decade. I watched kids grow up. And there's this one group of kids that hung out in the lobby, boys. And Hassan Washington, who was the head of this crew, he was my dad incarnate. He was just as brilliant, just as funny, just as gift of fab, born leader. And he, I tell you, and my dad, both born at the poverty line, both being raised by a single mom, so much in common.

And I remember one night I came home, and I smelled marijuana. I smelled pot in the lobby and they’re not Stanford kids. They can’t experiment with drugs. The criminal justice system will chew them up and spit them out. And so, I took them out the movies and dinner, hoping to get to know them better and started mentoring. And I made commitments to these kids that I was going to set them up with mentors. And then, I got busy with life and I was running for Mayor of the city and I got too busy to follow through on my commitments to the kids.

But I would still come home during the campaign and they would still cheer me. Well, I get elected and then there were death threats on my life. And so, they put police officers stationed in the projects and I didn’t see the kids, because none of this on this call when we were teenagers want to hang out where the police are hanging out.

But, I’ll never forget going home that night for a couple hours of sleep and I'm going through my BlackBerry and I see the reports for the day and there was a police report and there’s the murder, the report of the murder. And I see the person who was killed, the name of the victim, the murder victim on the pavement with a sheet covering them. The name was Hassan Washington.

And I’ll tell you, something broke in me that night. And I, you know, I – his funeral, it was the most shameful I had ever felt in my life. It was in the basement of this funeral home, all black people piled in on top of each other, chained together in grief, moaning and groaning at another boy in a box, an American tradition, another black boy dead in a box. And I couldn’t stay for his funeral. I ran to the city hall, new mayor, slammed the door, sat on that couch and wept for the first time. And all I could think to myself was I can never pay back the people who did for my dad, but when God put dad right in front of me, a kid with more genius than I have, natural born leader, I got too busy to be there for him. And yet, all of us were there crammed into a funeral home for his death, but where were we for his life.

And so, if you want to know what to do, it’s to never forget that the biggest thing you can do in any day will always be a small act of kindness, decency, and love, to know that you can never pay back all the people that did for you and your family and your ancestors, but we have an obligation to pay it forward. Never underestimate that we today can do something that can change the lives of generations unborn.

Lyenda Delp: Senator Booker, we have covered so much in this conversation. We are grateful that you took the time to join us in this dialogue.

Cory Booker: Thank you. All the best to you and to everyone listening. Thank you.

Lyenda Delp: Thank you for joining the Future Forum and this conversation on race, bias, and inequity in the workplace and our broader society.

So, last September you and two professors from Harvard Business School published an important book called Race, Work, and Leadership.

there are two burning questions I really must ask you. Is systemic racism truly commonplace? And then, I'm very curious to know why we think it persists.00:08:54

Laura Roberts: Oh, such important questions, Lyenda. Thank you so much for welcoming me today and thank you also for your support and engagement with the book and with the research. It’s so important that we have these broad datasets to help inform our answers to these important questions.

So, with your first important question about systemic racism, is it truly commonplace, is it endemic to the ways that our organizations function today? And, unfortunately, I have to answer based on the data that, yes, systemic racism is still widespread, and it’s deeply baked into many of the structures and practices in corporate America.

You know, it shows up at various levels of the process when we think about entry, we think about advancement, when we think about engagement, and when we think about leadership impact, all central important questions around talent management. We see the impact, longstanding and current impact of racism on those processes.

So, at the entry level, we see racial disparities in terms of who gets hired and the ways in which racial bias enters into that process just from the point of screening a resume or a CV and looking at a person’s name to code or decode whether or not that person might be white or whether they might be a person of color. And numerous field studies have shown that those kind of split-second decisions will weed somebody out of the hiring process just that quickly.

But, let’s assume you get into the door. Then, there are questions around systemic racism that relate to advancement and engagement. So, we’re looking to develop an invest in our high potential contributors and our future leaders, right. And so, we see that there are racial disparities in terms of the kinds of developmental experiences that people are afforded, the types of mentoring and sponsorship that they get along the way, and those translate into whether or not they’re tapped for this high potential opportunities that allow them to advance beyond entry levels in organizations.

And then, the last piece is around the leadership impact question. So, let’s say you advance, and you make it to the level of managing director or similar senior leadership roles within your organizations. We find that even at those levels people of color and black people in particular still face the day-to-day stressors of racial microaggressions, of people sort of questioning or doubting their authority, of being mistaken for lower level or lower wage workers in the organization or perhaps an administrative assistant or someone who’s on the custodial team, rather than someone who’s responsible for initiating and executing important decisions.

So, all throughout the journey of one’s career, racism still plays a role. It persists because systemic racism, it’s capturing the idea that racism operates as a system and by system we mean their reinforcing system of beliefs, decisions, practices that create self-fulfilling prophecies around who has power and advantage and opportunities within our organizations and who has to struggle harder to get access to those opportunities, if they get them at all.

Lyenda Delp: clearly now there’s a bright light being shone on corporations and leadership across America.

Laura Roberts: I think, Lyenda, the first step is to do what we’re doing today, which is to invite more open engagement and learning conversations around race. For so long, race has been unspeakable. So, that is an important and noble step and I have certainly seen a difference in the past, you know, months in the floodgate of opportunities that are opening for organizations to start to advance anti-racist work because people have started listening. And when leaders signal that they’re listening, then members of the organization and other critical stakeholders will begin to speak more freely about their experiences and people can learn together how to create or co-create the best path forward.

So, that path involves acknowledging the harm that systemic racism may have imposed outside in the community, yes, and we saw that catalyst with protests against the racial violence. But, what corporations are doing now is looking internally, so also having to create cultural audits to say, hmm, let me look at my engagement practices, let me look at my hiring practices, let me look at the rate of advancement and the level of credentialing for members of different racial and gender groups within the organization to see is there a different path that certain individuals have to follow in my organization versus others.

Get that internal data and then from there invest in the necessary infrastructure to promote sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Lyenda Delp: So, what do you think are further catalysts that corporations need to act and go beyond the talk to demonstrate that, their real commitment? What will be the drivers?

Laura Roberts: I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that a lot of the urgency of change right now is coming from those external catalysts and drivers of success. It’s been a public outcry, a public global outcry around racial injustice and that is much of the same horror that drove change around racial injustice during the 20th century civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movements.

We have to recognize that there’s a lot of collective voice that helps organizations and corporations understand what their priorities need to be at this moment in time. Now, internally what happens here in driving the change is to have those courageous voices who can partner with their colleagues in the organizations to help engage this new call to consciousness, help to translate experiences that quite honestly many of the leaders probably hadn't been aware of until this point in time. You know, for some who have been silent about race to date, it’s because, we wanted to evaluated simply on the basis of our performance and to not have race be an obstacle or barrier.

But there are others for whom race represents a collective shame or guilt or just a lack of empowerment, a frustration about what to do with this big challenge and how to fix it. And we recognize that terrible things have happened in the past and maybe they’re still happening right now. But, you know, I feel like I don’t know, I'm not equipped to be able to handle it. So, therefore, I'm afraid to talk about it and acknowledge it.

And then there’s a third group who have actively resisted a lot of the DEI initiatives. So, for those who say they feel that their organizations haven’t done enough, there are others who have been reflected in these that say white men are being overlooked and excluded by DEI initiatives. And so, the DEI initiatives then have fallen out of favor, you know, especially when people feel that they are focusing too much on race or racial and ethnic minorities. So leaders, in order to move through change are going to have to contend in some way with that conflict, the internal conflict within the organization about how much attention and how much – how many resources, to be quite frank, this kind of work should be getting.

Laura Roberts: Oh, gosh. I would say at once everything changed and at the same token nothing changed, right. The world of May 25th was the world of May 24th and in large part from a structural perspective the world of May 26th.

Since George Floyd was killed, other black people have been killed by police officers. People have been run down by cars in the middle of riots and protests. COVID is still having a disproportionate impact in a shocking and brutal way on black and brown communities. And we are still not of common mind or common voice about what it takes to protect the lives and livelihoods of our planet, much less those who are most vulnerable.

And so, those remain deep-seated concerns for me. I'm encouraged by the fact that many corporate leaders have expressed their unequivocal support. I'm also mindful and observing the fact that there is still a wide continuum where some corporate leaders are all-in and other corporate leaders sort of dipped their toe in the water and now they’re realizing it’s a little hotter than they expected that it would be and they’re starting to pull back a little bit and, what, it hasn’t been six weeks yet, barely six weeks.

So, you know, bottom line am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful.

Lyenda Delp: This has been a fascinating conversation and it’s quite clear why you, Dr. Roberts, are sought out for your wisdom, even more so now at this important crossroads in our shared history. We at BlackRock are grateful to have been benefiting meaningfully from your guidance and I personally have just gleaned incredible new insights today. We wish you the very best and we thank you, again, for joining us.

Wes, some know your story, but I want to ensure everyone has important context for all you bring to our conversation. You are the CEO of Robin Hood, one of the most important organizations in the effort to address poverty in our nation. You are a combat veteran, a bestselling author, a social entrepreneur.

What were some of the challenges and the key influences that enabled you to become the man you are today?

Wes Moore: Well, first, I just want to say thank you and what an honor that it is to be with you today. And so, truly, thank you for the opportunity to have this conversation. And, you know, I think that so much of who I am was – has been rooted and established from my earliest days. You know, I am the grandson of someone who was born, first one on my mom’s family actually born in the United States. But, it was actually the Ku Klux Klan, when he was just a toddler that actually ran my family, my grandfather and my great-grandfather, out of the country, because my great-grandfather was a minister who was very vocal and verbal threats eventually turned into physical threats, to the point that he decided that he had to pick up his family and leave the country. And most of my family made a pledge never come – to come back to the United States.

But, my grandfather did and my grandfather always said that this was the country that he was born into he felt that he had just as much ownership as anybody else. And so, he eventually did. He came back here.

My father died in front of me when I was young and my mother was having a really difficult time with that transition, then decided to move us, myself, my older sister, and my younger sister, to go live with my grandparents, who lived up in the South Bronx. And they had a house that was barely big enough for them, but they figured out a way to make it big enough for all of us.

And I think about in that moment where when the question is, you know, what about that childhood helped to make you the man that you are today. I think in many ways the fact that my family has always gone through this idea of being tested, the fact that the neighborhood that, frankly, I grew up in was one that was chronically neglected and we knew it, the fact that, you know, we continue to feel this need and this feeling of being able to feel a self of justification for belonging. And I think that feeling, that push, and frankly the fact that I had a lot of people, to include my family, but eventually leading to this amazing string of people who entered into my life and, frankly, showed me and believed in me in a way that I wasn’t even prepared to believe in myself at the time, that they really helped to guide me and direct me into not just the person that I am, but also into the things that I want to focus on and the impact that I'm hoping to make.

Would you say there were any differences in the type of racism and bias that you may have observed either at different times or at different places,?

I think one of the things that I realize is that when you think about all of our life, all of our life experiences, I mean some of the most predictable life outcomes are completely highlighted by race, right, and that includes life expectancy. It includes academic achievement. It includes income and wealth, physical and mental health, maternal mortality. That's just the data.

But it’s also highlighting how those different mechanisms continue to have generational impact. So even, for example, you know, even when you go into certain areas or you get certain educational awards, you know, the fact that I was the first in my family to walk on, you know, go on to places that my family didn’t even imagine even existed. you know, going to school in England and going to school overseas and all this kind of stuff and doing everything, again, that was being asked. But here’s also the reality is that a person, a black person with a college degree has the same wealth as a white person who is a high school dropout and that’s a true fact right now in this country that a black woman who has breast cancer has a 42% higher chance of dying than a white woman with breast cancer.

And so, you see how even when you factor in for the socioeconomic, because if that was it, if it was just about, well, you lived in an impoverished community and, therefore, this is what it is, that’s one thing. But, the thing that the data continues to show us is that even if you transcend from there that racism still continues to show itself, because it is one of these things that has permeated every system that we have within our society, from housing, transportation, education, everything, criminal justice, everything. Can you explain for us just the cost of child poverty? Can you just break that down just a little bit further? Absolutely. So, if we’re looking at the cost of child poverty and, again, and where all that comes from and where those, you know, where those numbers come from, the numbers actually come from an OECD study. And so, we’re talking about, you know, a study that’s looking at the impact in the levels of deep poverty and what deep poverty has actually meant and done, you know, to our measures of society. So, you consider the fact that three decades ago the poorest families in America received, you know, most of the transfers going to families, you know, with private aid comes belong 200% of the federal poverty threshold. But, you know, but if you look at kind of where that is right now in recent years, those families receive less than one-third of all of the transfers. We have fundamentally made the challenge of child poverty more and more difficult.

And so, when you’re looking at things like the OECD study, when you're looking at things like the National Academy of Sciences, who are talking about the $800 billion to the $1.1 trillion a year, you know, they’re looking at it and that’s every year, they’re looking at it in lost adult productivity, so increased costs related to crime, increased health expenditures. And as staggering as that number is, it also fails to capture that level of untapped genius and unrealized potential of the nearly 10 million children, 10 million children in this country who are trapped in poverty.

Lyenda Delp: How has the work of your organization changed in any way since the murder of George Floyd in particular?

Wes Moore: 2020 has been a year that none of us could’ve predicted and all of us wish we did not have to have these twin crises that arrived at our doorstep, right. It’s the – and it is. It’s twin crises of the introduction of a virus that has had absolutely catastrophic health and economic implications on society and also, you know, the very unneeded reminder of how policing is not equitable in every neighborhood.

But the interesting thing that I think it also has shown and how it also has influenced our work as well is that while COVID-19 impacts everybody, it did not impact everybody equally, you know. And while policing reform is necessary in every neighborhood, we watched how George Floyd’s name was added to a long litany of people to include names like Michael Brown and Philando Castile and Freddie Gray and Walter Scott and Sean Bell and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor and Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice and Ahmaud Arbery and Travon Martin and the list goes on.

But you watch how these twin crises really exposed a singular truth that race plays in our society. And if you look at even our work, it’s absolutely undeniable to understand the role that race plays in the poverty fight that we have going on right now.

And so, organizationally we have really, you know, pushed and doubled down on our commitment, not just to keep our north star of moving families out of poverty measurably and sustainably, but also double down on being able to attack these things that we’re seeing not just at the effects but also at the cause, being able to address this issue of racial inequity in a very real and a sustainable way. And we’ve made a few movements in that space that I, I'm very, very proud of.

You know, one is how we’re thinking about it from an organizational perspective about how we really move to attacking it internally and externally in every way that we see it and thinking about what is the leverage power of Robin Hood, but also in the creation of something called the Power Fund.

So, the Power Fund is a new initiative to fund and elevate nonprofit leaders of color who share in Robin Hood’s mission of increasing economic mobility from poverty and it allows us to address this issue of poverty through the lens of that interplay between racial injustice and economic injustice.

Robin Hood, in addition, is putting $10 million of our own capital into this, but also being work with other partners to be able to target something that we know is not just an issue now, but address it on a long-term basis as well by supporting the leaders of today and also the leaders of tomorrow.

Lyenda Delp: Thank you for all you’re doing at Robin Hood to help those less fortunate, to help make things better for others.

Well, I have had such an incredible opportunity to speak with three incredible individuals today. This conversation has enriched all of us. Dr. Roberts, Senator Booker, and Wes Moore each provided thoughtful perspectives on one of the most important topics in our nation at this time. Thanks to each of them for joining in the various conversations. It has been an outstanding opportunity.

This conversation is only part of the discussion. The full conversations with Senator Booker, Dr. Roberts, and Wes Moore will be shared soon.

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Now, our next conversation is about racial injustice, systematic inequality, and how we can affect change. You might not know if this session is for you. Trust me, this session is for everyone. Lyenda Delp, my friend and colleague, is going to lead the conversation, so I pass in Lyenda.

Thank you, Zach. I'm so pleased to be speaking with Senator Cory Booker from the great state of New Jersey. Today, we are particularly focused on some of the complex issues pertaining to social justice and inequity, which you have taken on since young adulthood, really, and of course, brought to Capitol Hill. Despite being associated with many bills, you were first elected to the US Senate only in 2013 as New Jersey's Junior Senator in a special election, and then re-elected in 2014 for a full six-year term. And so of course, you're up for re-election this year, and so we especially appreciate your taking time out from your very busy schedule.

You have noted that the American dream isn't real for anyone, unless it's within reach of everyone. So it's a really powerful statement. This is a large and complex nation, and I'm sure your presidential campaign probably took you to all parts of it. So from that broad aperture, what are the key social issues you believe we must face together so that we can create a more equitable society?

It's just an honor to be with you, and in conversation and dialogue about things that matter. And maybe I can answer that first question with a quick story. I was-- Hurricane Sandy was coming and I was Mayor of New Jersey's largest city, and as it was slamming the coast, I went out into my command vehicle with some police officers who were serving the streets. I'm driving along. I get a phone call preceded by the stupidest question I think I've heard in a long time, which was an operator saying, 'Hi, this is the White House operator. Would you hold for the President of the United States?'

And I'm like, uh, yeah, of course. And next thing you know, I was talking to Barack Obama, and it was this amazing call where he was just a human being checking in on me and my city. And it was just an amazing few minute conversation of grace and kindness and decency, and as soon as I hung up with him, my phone rings again, almost as if they had coordinated it-- but they hadn't. And it's the Governor of the State of New Jersey. It's Chris Christie doing the same thing, being a human, checking in on me. And we were checking in on each other, knowing what was about to truly impact New Jersey, and we had a great conversation.

And when I hung up with him, I was rising to a hill. And I had seen on the top of that hill all the telephone poles had come down, live electrical wires-- it was a disaster. But then I see through the rain and the wind a guy in a yellow slicker with a floodlight, just waving at me to stop. And I stopped my car, I rolled down my window, and then I see it's an elderly man. And I yell through the rain, I go, 'sir, what are you doing out here?' And he looks at me as if I'm the one that asked the stupid question.

He goes, 'There's telephone wires down. There's live electrical wires. I'm standing out here to make sure that no one gets hurt, that no one comes along and gets hurt.' And in that moment, I had just talked to the President of the United States, the governor of the state. I'm the Mayor of the largest city. But the greatest person I saw in that moment was the man on the top of a hill, in a storm, standing up for other people. That, that's the spirit of our country. That's why I'm here and so many of us are here right now, because people in a storm, in a crisis, stood up for others, made a sacrifice for others.

It's that spirit of people who stormed beaches in Normandy, who did freedom rides, all for us here. And the challenge we have in our country is these ideals are so worth fighting for, so worth dying for. Putting your life on the line for others is we can't stop that now when we live in a nation where there are hills to stand on when there's a storm. Look, Flint Michigan-- everybody knows about the problem they had with lead, but there's 3,000 jurisdictions in America where children have more than twice the blood lead levels than the children in Flint, Michigan. Are we willing to stand on that hill?

We live in a nation where black women die in childbirth at four times the rate of white women, but American women overall are the worst on the planet's industrial nations for maternal mortality, dying in childbirth. Are we willing to stand on that hill? We have a nation where I grew up in privileged areas of New Jersey, went to Stanford and Yale-- I saw a lot of people doing drugs, but they have a very different criminal justice system than what I see living now in inner city Newark, New Jersey, where I watch people-- there's no difference between blacks and whites for using marijuana, smoking marijuana, selling marijuana, but they get arrested at four times the rate, where their most precious of all of our freedoms, their liberty, is taken from them. And they get life sentences for doing something two of the last three presidents did.

And when I see life sentences, even when they come out, they a criminal conviction. They can't get a job. They can't get a loan from the bank. They can't get business licenses. I could go on, and so are you willing to stand on that hill? And so the biggest challenge I see, and the reason why that we-- quote, you say, is we still live in a nation that is saturated with injustices. And yet, are we motivated to do like our ancestors did, who really put themselves out there to confront the ugly brutality of those injustices, and stand strong against them?

And I don't think there's anything we can't do as a country. What I worry about is we've all grown too comfortable with high levels of injustice in our nation, which so many people are suffering unjust circumstances, yet we don't feel personally obliged to stand on the hill in the storm and put ourselves out there for the ideal that we actually put our hand over our heart and swear to, which is liberty and justice for all.

How important is the role of allies in this fight in supporting the concerns of all those people-- the women you've just mentioned-- minorities of all races, but especially black and brown people, and what will it take for more allies to join in support?

Well, I appreciate the sentiment behind the words but sometimes, I wish we didn't as much see ourselves as allies as deeper than that-- accomplices, or maybe-- I'm trying to think of a better word. It's seeing ourselves as what happens to you, happens to me. I remember that famous quote where James Baldwin wrote a letter to Angela Davis when she was incarcerated. He said to her, they come for you in the morning, and they're going to come for me at night. In other words, he understood what Martin Luther King said so eloquently when he said, in the letters from Birmingham Jail, 'We're all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a common garment of destiny.'

And he really said-- in a punishing way, he said in that letter that what was, to him, more of a problem, more of a threat, wasn't simply that white citizens council the KKK. He called it out as white moderates who do nothing, who are content or comfortable with what things are. I think that the ideals of love-- which patriotism is love of country, and you can't love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen, and love isn't saccharine. Love isn't a sentiment.

Love is a guy on a hill. Love is sacrifice. Love is service to others. And so love understands that we're all in this together, that we are one nation, and that if somebody is facing injustice in the nation, it trashes the nation for us all. It undermines us all. So I'm hoping that people don't see themselves as alliances. If we live in a nation where a black child is about 10 times more likely to die of asthma complications than a white child, if we live in a nation where you have black kids in juvenile court get longer sentences for the same crimes as white kids, that's not black versus white. That's injustice versus justice.

And you are either fighting against that kind of injustice or you're complicit in it. And so I think we all just need to have a feeling that this is not about them and me helping them. This is not about my acts of charity. This is about the salvation of my soul and the soul of my country, and I have an obligation to be far more engaged.

And I'll give you an example of this. I am here-- I'm literally sitting having this conversation right now because of some white guy, four years before I was born, stopped being comfortable on his couch and stood up and quite literally, he was watching TV. It was 1965 in March and watch a movie called Judgment at Nuremberg, and the movie was interrupted because they broke away to show a bridge in Alabama called the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

And he watched John Lewis and a bunch of marchers get savagely beaten. And his first instinct was, God, I've got to go help them. And he realized that he couldn't close his business. He's barely making ends meet. He couldn't even afford a plane ticket.

But instead of just sitting there and saying that's a shame, or allowing his inability to do everything to undermine his determination to do something, he stood up-- like that guy on a hill-- and said, this is my country, I refuse to accept this. And he did a calculation in his head and came to the conclusion, like many Americans said, that he was just going to do the best he could with what he had where he was.

And he figured out he could spend an hour a week on this issue. He called around to see who needed to see who needed some legal help to deal with civil rights issues, and he found a group in northern New Jersey that was trying to stop housing segregation because black families were being turned away from wealthy white neighborhoods where there was great public schools. He said four years later, after designing a sting operation with these folks, a black couple who'd been turned away from homes-- they set up a sting operation where they would send this black couple out, and then they would be told the house was sold.

The white couple would find out it was still for sale. And they found that the house was still for sale, they put a bid on the house. On the day of the closing, white couple didn't show up. The black man and a lawyer-- they got attacked. A dog was sicced on them. The lawyer got punched in the face-- big rigmarole, but eventually, that black family moved in as the first black family ever , in a great suburban area of northern New Jersey.

And that couple that that man represented was my parents, and that's my family story. Because a white guy on a couch realized that this was about him, this was his country, and he had to put skin in the game. He had to stand on the hill in a storm. And that's what we all don't understand, how powerful we are to deal with injustices or look at things as if, oh, that's black people-- maybe I can be an ally. Or that's gay people, maybe I can be an ally. No, screw that.

If we are really one nation with interwoven destinies, with interwoven lives, interconnected, intersected, this is about an assault on you and your principles and your ideals. Take it personally and get involved and do something.

Let's talk about the American Opportunity Accounts Act, or otherwise sort of simply known as baby bonds, which, about a year ago, you and Rep. Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts proposed-- why this proposal, talk a little bit about it, and how do you think this one will make a difference?

Well, let me confess-- first of all, this is not an original idea. People were talking about baby bonds decades before I got to the United States Senate. And from both sides of the political aisle, you would find this kind of thought from think tanks. It's this idea that we are a capitalist society, and let's give everybody at birth an equity stake in this capitalist system that we have. And in fact, studies show that if a child knows that they have an account out there for them, their chance of going to college go up about three to four times as likely to go to college, just knowing that somebody has set up an account.

Well, but so our bill says, let's put some real equity here. Let's have every child, as a birthright in America, you're born you get an interest-bearing account of $1,000. And every year, you get more money placed in that account based upon your family's income-- up to $2,000 for the poorest kids-- and that compounds over time that by the time that kid is 18 years old, the lowest-income kids in America will have about upwards of $50,000 in an account.

And because of the racial disparities in wealth in our country, the average black kid is going to have somewhere near $30,000. And as Columbia University looked at it and said it actually, for those teenage kids, it actually gets rid of the racial wealth gap in America. And so it's this powerful way of giving people a stake, and then that 18-year-old could use that-- either to keep it in that account to grow or invest it in buying a home, or starting a business, going to college, or getting the training advanced technical training they might need for a job.

And so these are the kind of things that we can do, and in adherence with our policies that have a big, big impact. I was amazed at the kind of allies we got on that bill, including organizations like the American Home Builders' Association, I think, if I remember correctly. So it's a very powerful way to address a lot of issues that I think would give a lot more of a fair playing field to kids, no matter what their background.

So very interesting, the allies that you mentioned, too, the American Home Builders. And curious to know, so what role or, perhaps obligation do you think wealth owners on Wall Street, corporate America-- we're speaking to a lot of people from corporate America today-- what role do you think we should have in this important development, if it comes to pass?

Well, look. I think that the power and the resources that exist in a lot of our banks and Wall Street firms is immense. And we have to do lot more creative thinking about how to apply those resources to get things done. You know, I tell you, Tim Scott and I wrote a bill together called Opportunity Zones, about how to take so much of this sideline capital and begin to move it into lower-income areas in our country to stimulate growth.

When I was Mayor of the City of Newark, we were a city that had 60 years of just declining, tax base declining population, things like that. And you know, we found creative ways of actually pushing legislation similar to this... in these Opportunity Zones through the state legislature to bring about Newark's biggest economic development period in 60 years. In fact, we're 6% of the state's population, but one out of every three building permits for commercial and residential construction was going on in Newark by the time I went to be a Senator.

And you know, we got some Wall Street banks to move capital. You know, it was hard. In the beginning, I felt like I couldn't get anybody to pay attention to the opportunities that existed in Newark, but we eventually got very complicated capital stacks done because we work with a lot of the expertise that we

found on Wall Street. We got our first new hotel in 40 years, and then some other major projects to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment in our city, by working with people that understood that they had a social obligation.

Adam Smith-- people talked about the Invisible Hand and all that, but they fail to read all of Adam Smith, like his ideals about moral sentiments and the obligations of capitalism in our society. And so when it comes to things like baby bonds and other, like, just common sense ways to banish poverty, to empower the greatest natural resource our country has, which is the genius of our children. Remember, the global knowledge-based society, the country that best cultivates the genius-- because genius is equally distributed. As many geniuses are born in South Central as there are born in Beverly Hills per capita.

The country that best cultivates that genius is a country that's going to do the same, so we've just got to find ways of stopping the perversion of capitalism that I see going on, and massive corporate consolidation that's going on, the anti-market forces, the anti-competitive forces, and start to find ways to get capital more equally distributed, opportunity more equally distributed in our country, and start expanding opportunity.

And so I just would love to see the creative thinking and some of the smart people I've met in my-- I live in the tri-state area-- are very, very smart people, who if they put their minds to it, can help to do things like heal the racial wealth gap in America by expanding opportunity. And I try to write legislation that uses market forces that actually address deep seated injustices in our country.

I want to continue, but also to probe a little bit more beyond the baby bonds, because you know, look. If we get that to be passed into law this time, as you mentioned, it's not a new concept. And America is not the only nation to propose something similar, but that idea is really about long-term wealth creation and bridging the gap over a period of time. And so it's newborns and families of newborns that start to see the benefit, but there are marginalized families right now, right?

You obviously know-- that's speaking to the choir. And they're facing incredible challenges due to systemic racism, the gaping financial holes even made wider by COVID-19, and so many complex structures persistently tamping down the opportunities-- I mean, what you've just described about your parents. Like, you know, I think all of us were glued to that story, just kind of waiting to see how it played out, and how incredible that your parents were able to overcome that.

So my question is, what other laws or other initiatives could have nearer-term enduring impact? I mean, you've mentioned some, but I wanted to give the opportunity for you to put out there other things that this audience, you know, people in powers-- in roles of power in corporate America-- and think about how we can help to bridge the wealth divides, then demolish some of the structures that created them and contribute to social injustice so we can move forward to more harmonious racial equity in society broadly.

So again, I'm going to give you some specific policies, but I just want everybody to sit back and understand that there's most of this-- we have a lot of the answers we're seeking. It's not a matter of can we address a lot of the systemic injustices in our country, it's just, do we have the collective will to do that? Are we comfortable right now? Do we feel a sense of urgency?

Do we sit with and wrestle with, as Martin Luther King said, life's most urgent question-- what are you doing for others? That needs to be asked again and again and again. And so-- and by the way, we're not as divided as our politics often makes it seem in this country. I've gone out and sat with everything from Republican farmers to libertarians, and it's just amazing how much in accord we have. We do have-- we are a nation of common values. We are a nation of common ideals.

But the one thing I worry about is the problem of poverty in our country. And when I say poverty, I'm talking about a poverty of empathy and a poverty of compassion and a poverty of understanding, that we are comfortable with levels of injustice in our country that are stunning to me. I mean, we torture children in prison. We're a nation that still shackles pregnant women when they're in prison. I could go through the things that we do in our name-- what we do to the mentally ill in our country, what we do to be addicted in our country.

There are so many things that we would not be comfortable with-- environmental injustices that are outrages in our country. I already talked about lead in water, but I went on an environmental injustice tour of our country and sat in patched black churches of people that have had these environmental toxins shoved into their neighborhoods. I mean, this is an issue of us understanding and having the empathy to pause and see what our fellow Americans are struggling with.

And the policy ideas are there, and I'll give you an example. I mean, we could just double the earned income tax credit. In other words, if you work-- I grew up in one of New Jersey's wealthiest areas, but as an adult, I chose to live in a low-income area, the neighborhood I'm sitting in right now. The median income is about $14,000 per household. Now, let me tell you-- there are people in my neighborhood that work longer hours than my parents worked, but they still go to the local bodega up the corner from me and use food stamps to feed their family.

We live in a nation that, through our tax code, very easily, we could-- and this is-- I've heard everybody from Paul Ryan to people on the left talk about, let's make work pay. Let's double the earned income tax credit. Let's massively increase the child tax credit. We could half African-American poverty right away doing that, and by the way, that poverty line is not just a numerical line.

Things happen to children who are above the poverty line versus below in terms of their life outcomes that are pretty dramatic. These are things that we could do very functionally through our tax code, a tax code that already shifts a massive amount of our national wealth upwards. Take, for example, the earned income tax credit. I'm sorry take, for example, the mortgage interest deduction. That is a tax expenditure that shifts wealth upwards because it's overwhelmingly used by people like me that make over $100,000 a year.

And so these are common-sense things we can do that are in accord with our values, that actually, through the lip service of people on both sides of the aisle, they generally agree with. But we still are a nation that is comfortable living with the highest child poverty rates in the developed world that can easily be solved through changes in the tax code that make work pay again.

And so that's what I'm saying to me. This is not an issue of 'can we?' it's an issue of, do we have the collective will? Are we maladjusted to injustice and willing to do something about this?

What would you say are the top issues, in a very important year at a very important time, what are the top issues that perhaps this audience-- you would want us to focus on? Because you think that you know, by our really being discerning about them, we could really we could really engage on.

So look, I don't want to I don't want to dictate to everyone what your issue is any more than I want you to dictate to me. What I want you to do-- all of us to do, and I wrestle with-- is to ask that question, am I living in accordance with my values? Am I taking them to their greatest degree, or do I simply give lip service to things by swearing this oath that liberty and justice for all, but not critically examining our justice system?

Do I say that this is the land of the free, but not critically examine why we incarcerate one out of every three incarcerated women on planet earth here in America? Do I believe in capitalism, and if I do, what

am I doing to make sure that there is more of an equitable distribution of economic opportunity or educational opportunity? I mean, when you look at the segregation of American schools and then run the numbers, with kids going to predominantly black schools or kids going to predominantly white schools, how much money is spent on that black child versus how much money is spent on the white child? There's still a dramatic difference in the public educational investments for black children versus white children.

In this time of COVID where it's stripped bare so many inequities, at a time that we have watched with our own eyes the murdering of unarmed African-Americans, this has got to be a time that tills the soil of our souls and plants seeds that hopefully can grow a harvest of compassion, empathy, and love, because that's what our founders-- I tell you, these imperfect geniuses-- this mistake in our country that we overly emphasize this ideals of rugged individualism and self-reliance.

All of us wouldn't be where we are in our lives if those weren't governing values, but I'm telling you right now, there's deeper governing values in this country. Rugged individualism didn't get us to the moon. It didn't map the human genome. It didn't beat the Nazis.

Our willingness to work together, to come together, to fight in common cause to see that we had an importance, and so when the founders decided to end the Declaration of Independence with this great declaration of interdependence, they literally ended that document saying that we must mutually pledge-- pledge to each other-- our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

The question really we all should ask ourselves is, am I willing to put my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor on the line for other Americans who don't pray like me, don't look like me, but are suffering intolerable injustices that if they were happening to my family, I would be protesting in the streets right now?

Yeah. So much to think about, so many weighty comments. Senator Booker, you know, members of this audience will include constituents who work in our schools, in foundations, government employees-- institutions which collectively cover a broad, inclusive set of workers, so minorities as well as whites and everyone. At BlackRock, we've been laser-focused on helping to address the big financial challenges of retirement, and so I'm curious-- and so, you know, let's go there for a minute. What types of initiatives do you believe could help foster improved economic security for people like teachers and firefighters and other civil servants, and all those who play critical roles and should be able to retire without fear for how they'll survive?

Right. Well, first of all, let me just pull teachers out and deal with them, because I think the retirement problem we're seeing growing in this country is only going to get worse. I'm glad that you all are applying your particular genius to try to address that, and I'm grateful for that. I worry about the overall teaching profession because, you know, I still remember a dated study, now but when I was in grad school, looking at just doubling the teacher's salary-- how much more it would attract people into the profession.

And yet, we live in a nation now where we're paying our teachers-- I've seen some data showing in ways that they can't afford to necessarily live in the communities in which they teach. We're paying our teachers in ways that, with their student debt, they find it very difficult to live and often make other decisions to go into other professions. And so I'm just a big believer that if you're willing to teach in public education, you know, we should create a pathway for you.

Number one, we should make sure we are forgiving aggressively the debt of public school professionals. I shouldn't just say teachers. I'm talking about school counselors, school nurses, and others. I think that we

should be looking at the tax code and saying, for people that are teaching in Title 1 schools or teaching all together in public schools, should we create another tax bracket? We do that with things like carried interest.

And to say that a teacher should pay a higher percentage of their salary than some of my friends from Stanford and Yale went onto [Wall Street] it's hard to fathom in terms of aligning that with our values and who's contributing to our economy, so to speak. So I put out a bill that had some very sort of common-sense ideas about how to attract people to the profession, how to lower their costs and fees, how to you give them tax write-offs. I mean, most teachers are reaching into their own pockets to help put bulletin boards in their classrooms, school supplies, or even sanitary napkins and buying food for their kids.

And we don't let them write that all off through our tax code, so there's a lot of things that we can do if we as a society, again, prioritize teachers. And when people-- and I see the people come down and lobby on tax bills. I wish all those people would put some of their-- like, 10% aside lobbying for people that are not themselves and just say, you know what? I'm going to spend 10% of my lobbying money to lobby for children or to lobby for public educators. Because when those tax bills get done, I watch people line up. They get lines changed to benefit their particular business, but a lot of the people that share our collective values in terms of the service that they give get left out of those equations.

Right, right. So we're coming close to the end, and I really want to take us back to your quote, which I mentioned at the beginning, because you have said so much and given so much to think about just in this conversation. For me, it begs comparisons to the Martin Luther King Jr. quote that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I find that both powerful, simple, with a very high bar for a collective. Do you think we are at a seminal moment in our history, where we can achieve the changes that will make that dream attainable for everyone?

So clearly, we're seeing a lot going on right now with some of the largest protests for justice in our country's history that I've ever witnessed. And I'm seeing eloquent advocates for a racial reckoning come forward, but I worry often conversations like this, or when we bear witness to things, that we lose a sense of personal responsibility. Because we all-- as my parents raised me understanding-- that we all drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty and opportunity that we didn't dig.

You know, my dad would tease me relentlessly, like, he read my academic background, it's like, 'boy, you got more degrees than the month of July, but you ain't hot.' Life isn't about the degrees you get, it's about the service you give. And I was doing a New York Times editorial board meeting, and it was at the end of the meeting for the presidential candidates.

And they asked me a question that sort of shocked me. They said it was going to be a speed round, but this ended up being the only question. They asked me, they asked me, whenever I had my heart broken. And I'm a big believer that if America hasn't broken your heart, if America hasn't broken your heart, then you don't love her enough, because it's heartbreaking things But they asked me the question and I immediately thought about my dad, and how it broke my heart that I let him down-- one of my biggest mistakes in my life, because my dad was born in Jim Crow South in 1936.

He was born to a single mom, below the poverty line. He used to say, son, I couldn't afford to be poor. I was just po-- PO. I couldn't afford the other two letters. And he was rescued by the people in a community that wouldn't let him fail. His family took him in-- not his blood, but when his family couldn't take care of him, they took him in.

And he wasn't going to college. Nobody in my family had ever gone to college, but the teachers insisted he go, and the church took a collection to enroll them in an HBCU. And he graduated in early 1960s moved to the Virginia, Washington DC area, became the first black man ever hired as a salesman in the entire Virginia area. And my dad had a gift of gab and thrived, ending up being one of IBM's top 5% of their global sales people, then moved up to New Jersey.

And you heard again how black folks and white folks intervened to get him and his family into suburban America. That's a conspiracy of love, and I let my dad down because I moved to Newark, New Jersey. And up the street from where I live, there was high rise projects that I decided to move into. And I lived there for almost a decade. I watched kids grow up.

And there's just one group of kids that hung out in the lobby, boys, and Hassan Washington was the head of his crew. He was my dad incarnate. He was just as brilliant, just as funny, just as gift-of-gab, born leader. And he-- I tell you-- and my dad, both born at the poverty line, both being raised by a single mom-- so much in common. And I remember one night, I came home and I smelled marijuana, smelled pot in the lobby.

And they're not Stanford kids. They can't experiment with drugs. The criminal justice system will chew them up and spit them out, and so I took them out to the movies and dinner, hoping to get to know them better and mentoring. And I made commitments to these kids that I was going to set them up with mentors, and then I got busy with life. And I was running for mayor of the city, and I got too busy to follow through on my commitments to the kids.

But I would still come home during the campaign and they would still cheer me. They promised me they'd vote for me, even though they were about a year or two too young. And in the back of my mind I said, well, let me just get through this busy part, and then I'll get back to trying to help these kids. Well, I get elected, and then there were death threats on my life, and so they put in police officers station in the projects.

And I didn't see the kids, because none of us on this call, when we were teenagers, wanted to hang out where the police were hanging out. And about a month into my time as mayor, I'm going to every shooting in the city. We're in a 50 year low in crime in Newark now, but back then, it was spiking. And I show up at this murder scene-- body covered up, another one being loaded on the ambulance-- I barely pay attention to the humanity dead on the street.

I just minister to the living, tell people we're going to get through this. The new mayor-- we're going to find a way together forward. But I'll never forget going home that night, for a couple hours of sleep, and I'm going through my BlackBerry and I see the reports for the day. And there was a police report and there was a murder, the report of the murder, and I see the person who was killed, the name of the victim-- the murder victim on the pavement with a sheet covering them.

The name was Hassan Washington. And I tell you, something broke in me that night. And I-- you know, his funeral-- it was the most shameful I had ever felt in my life. It was in the basement of this funeral home, all black people piled in on top of each other, chained together in grief, moaning and groaning at another boy in a box-- an American tradition. Another black boy dead in a box, and I couldn't say for his funeral.

I ran to the city hall-- new mayor, slammed the door, sat on that couch, and wept for the first time. And all I could think to myself was, I can never pay back the people who did for my dad, but when God put Dad right in front of me a kid with more genius than I have, natural born leader, I got too busy to be there for

him. And yet all of us were there, crammed into a funeral home for his death, but where were we for his life?

And so if you want to know what to do, it's a never forget that the biggest thing you can do in any day will always be a small act of kindness, decency and love. To know that you can never pay back all the people that did for you and your family and your ancestors, but we have an obligation to pay it forward. Never underestimate that we today can do something that can change the lives of generations of unborn and don't miss an opportunity, and don't get too comfortable or too busy, too caught up in your own success, the brass ring that you're reaching for, to forget that there are so many people out there hurting that you don't even know about.

But if you took the time, you would do something about it. Well, take the time, because our country is still in development. We still haven't achieved our ideals. We're still falling short, and we need people that are committed to these two things-- one is to make us a more perfect union, and to do it by reaching out to others and putting more indivisible into this one nation under God, joining in common cause and common purpose with your brothers and sisters that also call themselves Americans.

Senator Booker, we have covered so much in this conversation. We're so pleased that you took the time. We thank you so very much. We wish you all the very best, and look forward to speaking with you another time.

Thank you. All the best to you and everyone listening. Thank you.

Extended conversation with Cory Booker

Watch or share with your colleagues the entire one-on-one interview with Cory Booker, United States Senator of New Jersey.

Now, our next conversation is about racial injustice, systematic inequality, and how we can affect change. You might not know if this session is for you. Trust me, this session is for everyone. Lyenda Delp, my friend and colleague, is going to lead the conversation. So I pass it now to Lyenda.

Thank you, Zach. Wes, I am so delighted to meet you, and I thank you for joining me to discuss race, bias, and inequity in society and corporate America. It is an audacious task to try to tackle all these topics in a short conversation. So right up front, we acknowledge that. But we are so pleased to include your perspective.

You have had an incredible life. And, quite frankly, you're a walking inspiration. Some know your story, but I want to ensure everyone has important context for all you bring to our conversation.

You are the CEO of Robin Hood, one of the most important organizations in the effort to address poverty in our nation. You're a combat veteran, a bestselling author, a social entrepreneur. You had a loving family support you and guide you through a childhood in Baltimore and the Bronx. But your childhood wasn't always easy.

And, yet, you managed to graduate Phi Theta Kappa from Valley Forge Military College, Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins. You were awarded a Rhodes Scholar and Scholarship and studied at Oxford University. And you also served in the army, where you became a captain, and served us in Afghanistan. And to top it all, you also served as a White House Fellow and did investment banking on the way. It's an impressive life story.

And if that isn't enough, you're also a family man, and you have another book on the way. I mean, wow, Wes. How have you done it all? We are so intrigued by your story. So I want to begin with your early life. What were some of the challenges and the key influences that enabled you to become the man you are today?

Well, first, I just want to say thank you, and what an honor that it is to be with you today. And so, truly, thank you for the opportunity to have this conversation. I think that so much of who I am was what has been rooted and established from my earliest days. I am the grandson of someone who was born-- first one on my mom's side of family actually born in the United States.

But it was actually the Ku Klux Klan when he was just a toddler that actually ran my family, my grandfather and my great grandfather, out of the country, because my great grandfather was a minister who was very vocal. And verbal threats eventually turned into physical threats to the point that he decided that he had to pick up his family and leave the country. And most of my family made a pledge never to come back to the United States.

But my grandfather did. And my grandfather always said that this was the country that he was born into and that this was the country that he didn't just believe in but also it was the country that he felt that he had just as much ownership as anybody else. And so he eventually did-- he came back here. He moved his family to the Bronx in New York. And that was actually the place that I spent much of my childhood.

After I was being born down here in Maryland, my father died in front of me when I was young. And my mother was having a really difficult time with that transition, then decided to move us-- myself, my older sister, and my younger sister-- to go live with my grandparents, who lived up in the South Bronx. And they had a house that was barely big enough for them, but they figured out a way to make it big enough for all

of us. And I think about in that moment, when the question is, what about that childhood helped to make you the man that you are today? I think in many ways, the fact that my family has always gone through this idea of being tested.

The fact that the neighborhood that, frankly, I grew up in was one that was chronically neglected, and we knew it. The fact that we continue to feel this need and this feeling of being able to feel a self of justification for belonging. And I think that feeling, that push, and, frankly, the fact that I had a lot of people to include my family, but, eventually, leading to this amazing string of people who entered into my life and, frankly, showed me and believed in me in a way that I wasn't even prepared to believe in myself at a time. That they really helped to guide me and direct me into not just the person that I am but also into the things that I want to focus on and the impact I'm hoping to make.

So your grandfather saw racism in a really significant way. Can you tell us about your personal experience? How did you notice or what types of bias or races did you experience that you would share? And, how did you react to it?

I even think about it in terms of how my father died, because, one night, he was complaining about his throat and how his throat was bothering him. And he eventually decided that he needed to go to the hospital, because he literally couldn't even swallow the pills that-- he was trying to take Tylenol, hoping that would help him.

And by the time he went to the hospital and he got to the hospital, he was peppered with questions-- and my mother was as well-- about questions of whether or not he was prone to exaggeration. His clothes weren't the most put together. His facial hair was haggard. It was assumed that he didn't have insurance.

And he was asked to leave, and was told that if it gets worse, he should come back. And five hours after he was released from the hospital, he died. And this was a man who was simply going to the hospital who was looking for help and was looking for support. And, frankly, he was met with indifference. And you saw how bias, racism, inequity played into that.

When I think about some of the earliest memories of him-- in fact, the only two memories I have of him was once, an interaction I had with my sister, where he saved me, and the interaction that I then witnessed with him and a medical system who didn't take him nor his causes and his cries for help seriously.

So I saw that, and having that being one of my earliest memories and then coming up in areas, coming up in neighborhoods that you saw how you were treated differently. Because of the areas that you were in, saw how everything from the air that people are being asked to breathe, to the food options that you have in your neighborhoods, to the way that you are policed, you just knew that bias, and racism, and inequity was something that flowed into an existence. And I think in terms of how I reacted to it, that's actually one of the most challenging implications of racism that we have in our society. It's the psychological damage that it does.

It's the psychological damage of where you walk around feeling as if the rooms that you are in, that you don't belong there. That the spaces or the places that you are in, that, somehow, despite the fact that they are insufficient, it doesn't make you feel a certain type way either way. And it was something where, I think, some of the greatest challenges and obstacles that I had as I was coming up-- I mean, the first time that I felt handcuffs on my wrists was when I was 11 years old. And I think about how emotionally and psychologically, that type of damage, that calcified damage, that compounding damage, that trauma, that

it plays on so many of our kids. And that they then understand that that's the world that they have to try to navigate as they're trying to move forward.

Goodness, 11 years old, a boy. So here, you are a boy who's already grown up with, perhaps, so much hardness having seen what happened to your father. And here, at 11 years old, still so young, you experience this. Would you be comfortable about talking a little bit more about what happened in that situation when you were 11?

Yeah. So, I mean, it was one of these situations where I was actually with my friend and we were just doing something called tagging. And what tagging basically is-- it's taking spray paint cans and putting nicknames on the side of buildings, or trains, or whatever it was.

And one day, he came out, and he had this bag on. And he said, hey, you want to tag? I was like, all right, cool. So I sit there, and I shook up the can. I started spray painting my name on it.

And then, out of nowhere, you hear the, whoop, whoop, the police car come around the side. He starts running to one direction. I'm running in the other direction. I was the foolish one who ran in the direction of the cop car, so I got caught pretty quickly.

I remember when they grabbed me, and they put me on the car, and they put the handcuffs on me, and threw me in the back of the car. And then they went to go grab him. They grabbed him. They did the same with him.

And it was one of these things where, immediately, the first thought in my mind was, oh, my gosh. They're going to call my mom. And it's about to get real bad for me, because I knew she was going to have to be the one to come get me, and all this kind of stuff.

At that time, that was the time when my mom was literally working three different jobs. And the thing to remember with my mom is that my mom was a college-educated black woman who was literally still working three jobs in order to try to make enough for her, and her kids, and also helping to support her parents, my grandparents. Three jobs. In fact, the first job that she got that gave her benefits, the first job that she got that gave her consistent hours, the first job that she got that allowed her to only work one job wasn't until I was 14 years old. And this was a college-educated woman.

And you see how the impact that didn't just have on all these things, these compounded things didn't just have on me but, frankly, it had on my mom. This woman who-- this was not the life that she had expected, this was not the life that she prepared for. And, frankly, this was not the life that she was promised, because she was told that if you go, and you finish school, and you do all the right things, that it'll be easier and it'll be better. And she was very quickly realizing that that's just not true for everybody. Watching that, seeing that, seeing her navigate that, I think, was some of the first and some of the earliest reminders of how inequity shows itself and how it plays itself, because what it's also doing-- it's forcing people to dream different, which is incredibly damaging.

Let's take it forward a bit, because we could spend a lot of time in those stories. But I want to ensure we cover a range of your experiences. And also, reflecting on some of your mom's experiences as an adult, a college-educated woman, would you say there were any differences in the type of racism and bias that you may have observed either at different times or at different places? Perhaps, in any of the different places you've worked, or studied, or the experiences that your mom had, are there any nuances there that you think are worth highlighting?

It's a great question, because, I think, one of the things that I realized is that when you think about all of our life experiences, I mean, some of the most predictable life outcomes are completely highlighted by

race, right? And that includes life expectancy, it includes academic achievement, it includes income and wealth, physical and mental health, maternal mortality. That's just the data. And you see how race and racism shows itself in so many different facets within our society. And it's not just how you cannot separate poverty and racism.

Like I was mentioning before, this idea that poverty and the impacts of racism shows itself in everything. It is from the air you breathe, to the water you drink, to the food that you eat, to the schools you attend, how that shows itself in so many different ways. But it's also highlighting how those different mechanisms continue to have generational impacts.

So, for example, even when you go into certain areas or you get certain educational awards. The fact that I was the first in my family to go on to places that my family didn't even imagine even existed. Going to school in England, and going school overseas, and all this kind of stuff, and doing everything again that was being asked.

But here is also the reality, is that a black person with a college degree has the same wealth as a white person who is a high school dropout. And that's a true fact right now in this country, that a black woman who has breast cancer has a 42% higher chance of dying than a white woman with breast cancer. And so you see how even when you factor in for the socioeconomic-- because if that was it, if it was just about, well, you lived in an impoverished community, and, therefore, this is what it is, that's one thing. But the thing that the data continues to show us is that even if you transcend from there, that racism still continues to show itself, because it is one of these things that has permeated every system that we have within our society from housing, transportation, education, everything, criminal justice, everything.

And so that was something where, I think, one about one of the heartbreaking things about it was my grandfather-- one of the reasons-- and he's one of the most patriotic men I have ever met in my life. This man loved the United States of America, loved it. His home country even though his earliest memories was this country rejecting him and his family, but he loved this country.

And he loved this idea, because he believed in this concept of an American dream. He believed in this concept that every generation has a chance to do something that generation before had never seen before. And the thing that-- I think what we started watching, and noticing, and seeing even as our family then moved into multiple generations within this country was that American dream. While we can have exceptions and while we have individuals that can break free, that the reality is we cannot let that level of exceptionalism cloud the fact that we still have systems that are completely influenced and shrouded in the history of racism and how those things continue to show themselves.

So education has been cited as a long-term solution to address some of these socioeconomic issues. Your family was very focused on education, ensured that you stayed on the straight and narrow basically, and went to excellent schools. And then, I mean, you achieved some of the highest standards.

Do you think that education is an important part of the solution to help to bridge some of that inequity and that it really does or it can have a lasting impact? Can it flows through the generations? And can poor kids with the right education eventually do well for themselves and their families?

It's a great question and a really important one, because also the data continues to reflect and the data continues to show that education more than anything else actually gives the highest probability and the highest chance for an individual to be able to move and have a real level of sustainable economic mobility. Even when we talk about things like jobs programs, all these things become incredibly important. But the reality is even when we're talking about infrastructure, for example, what happens when that

bridge is built, or what happens when that road is fixed, or what happens when that building is erected? What happens then? And we do know and data continues to reinforce that long-term, lasting, and sticky education is the best way to create levels of economic mobility for individuals.

But the reality is that it's not enough, because one of the things that we see is how thin and how fickle so many of these advancements actually had. So even when we get people who are lucky enough, and having escaped difficult experiences, having escaped difficult childhoods, we know that having a shot at a quality education is an important factor in terms of helping people to be able to build out. But we also know that the trauma from early childhood experiences and lack of assets to surround a person even during their adulthood.

A stable family, a well-paying job, knowing that they can also gain access to things, like being able to get a home, have people who are willing to invest in them as they're creating individual small businesses. Without these other things that service supports, it can make it almost impossible for a person to sustain their escape. Small obstacles, like losing hours on a job. Small obstacles, like a person or a job having cuts or setbacks. That's going to impact a person's financial well-being.

A child getting sick, small things like this that would never derail a person who that's never been their history or an affluent person can short circuit a person who just the educational attainment alone, or just that degree from a good high school, or maybe getting that college degree-- we know that that's not going to short circuit their spiraling down. And all the data continues to reinforce that, is that the work isn't finished when someone gets an education. But that our commitment to and their investment to be most vulnerable has got to extend beyond the first steps. Education is an important first step, our commitment must go beyond that.

Right. I want to flip the education argument on its head just for a second if we were just to imagine for a second if we could use the educators, and the tools, and the system to not only focus on the blacks and the people of color but also to maybe teach non-black citizens more-- could we say empathy? Maybe greater awareness of the differences that lead to the challenges for people of color. I mean, just hypothetically, can we teach people to love their fellow man if they don't look like us? Do you think that's something that we could use education to do?

I think that's something that's going to be crucial for education to be able to do. And it's really twofold. One is, I think, part of the role of education is not just giving people educational backgrounds and assets to be able to help them to move up but also it's helping them to understand who they are and their place in this world. And that's one of the reasons-- I think that one of the things that really helped me out during my journey was also when I started learning more about history. And, frankly, specifically when I started learning more about black history and the contributions that African-Americans have made to this country, because, oftentimes, these were not things that I learned in school.

I didn't learn about the names Harriet Tubman, I didn't learn about the names Paul Robeson, I didn't learn about the names Langston Hughes, I didn't learn about the names James Baldwin. I didn't learn about names of people who moved our society in such powerful ways from my traditional schooling. And what that did was it changed my psychology. It helped me to understand that there is never a room that I don't belong in, and there was never a room that I'm in simply because of someone's benevolence or kindness. But that I've earned to be in that room, and I can put my history and the history of African-Americans against the history of anyone else inside of this country. And it's important for all of us to understand that and... to understand that.

But, I think, what also becomes incredibly important in that is we have to understand that the only social movements that have happened that had been sustaining, and lasting, and impactful was when it was people who were part of the unaffected group who also stepped up for the affected group. If you look at the work of the civil rights movement, part of the power of the civil rights movement was it was not just African-Americans who were pleading for justice. If you look at the movements around marriage equality, it was also because there were people who this issue didn't impact them that said, there is no way we can let this stand. I got very involved with don't ask, don't tell and the lifting of it in the military. It didn't have any personal impact on me until it did, until you looked at it and said, there is no way that a just society can allow this policy to continue to exist.

And, I think, we're seeing it right now as well with what's happening with Black Lives Matter and the movement for racial equality and racial equity, is that for this movement to sustain and for this movement to have the legs that I know, and I hope, and I believe that it can, it's going to be for all of us, for all of humanity to understand that we all have to be part of an issue, and we all had to be moving the moral arc towards justice. And we can't just put all of the weight on an impacted community. The weight must be all of ours to bear.

Right, absolutely. Absolutely, so much there. As we think about some of the movements that are happening now, one of the things that, of course, is very pressing is the pandemic and the greater challenge it has created.

I'm especially concerned about kids in communities, some of which we have talked about, like in the poorer communities. While education is the first step, but they don't even get that first step. They don't get the right fundamental-- the foundation that sets them up to get into the top schools.

And I'll just add that specifically in this pandemic time, I am on the board of a nonprofit that focuses on adopted and foster kids. I see that. And many of these foster kids don't have the laptops, the Chromebooks, the tablets to be able to continue their schooling virtually. What will happen with them if they fall behind so early?

We have to understand how serious an issue it is and for how many kids, this is a serious issue for. If you look at New York City alone even prior to COVID-19, half of New York City, half of the people in New York City were in poverty for at least a year over the past four years. Not half of a demographic, not half of a borough, not half of a group, half of the city was in poverty for at least a year over the past four years. That was data that we pulled together with Columbia University with a platform that at Robin Hood we have called the Poverty Tracker, where we look at 4,000 families in a longitudinal data set, half of the city.

If you look at people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, 23% of them were people who were living in poverty before COVID-19 i.e. this is the working poor. People who are working, in some cases, multiple jobs and still living below the poverty line. If you look at Baltimore City, 27% of kids who, when school closed in March, have not logged on once. We're talking about educational gaps that are prepared to explode.

And one of the issues that we spend a lot of time on is focusing on things like the summer learning loss. And that's basically what happens between the months of June and the months of September when a student is off. And if they're not doing educational assets, it can take until November for them to catch up where they left off in June. Well, what happens if they haven't been in classes since March?

So we have a real challenge on our hands. And, frankly, I think, this actually creates a very powerful opportunity for us to rethink a lot, for us to rethink basic things that we have understood to be truth. But

now, this gives us a moment and a motivation to be able to drive why those truths should be challenged. And that includes everything from the way we think about school years, to the way we think about school days, to the way we think about summers, to the way we think about supporting and paying our educators.

This is an important moment, because if we think that we are just going to support our children, all of them, by just doing what we're doing before better, I can tell you right now, the way we were doing it before wasn't good enough. So now that we have these twin crises, these crises of not just COVID-19 and the health and the economic implications of COVID-19, which will be long and lasting, but also the crises of looking at the protest and how racial inequity then shows itself in every single facet of our society, if we don't reinvent the way we do things in particularly for the kids, like the ones that you are talking about, the ones who are in the foster care system, the ones who are growing up in poverty, the ones who are growing up in deep poverty, the ones who poverty is a constant reminder about them and how they exist every single day, then we will lose them.

And not only will we lose them, it'll not just become incredibly expensive. When you think about the costs of child poverty, every year in this country is around anywhere from $800 million to $1.1 trillion a year. But in addition to that, the cost of losing that genius of what they can provide, the cost of losing that opportunity cost of all of these children who have a chance to make a big difference in our world, we will lose it, and it will be unforgivable.

Wow, those stats are just staggering. I have to tell you. Can you explain for us just the cost of child poverty?

Absolutely. So if we're looking at that, if we're looking at the cost of child poverty-- Again, where all that comes from and where those numbers come from, the numbers actually had come from an OECD study. We're talking about a study that's looking at the impact, and the levels of deep poverty, and what deep poverty has actually meant and done to our measures of society. So you consider the fact that three decades ago, the poorest families in America received most of the transfers going to families with private incomes below 200% of the federal poverty threshold. But if you look at where that is right now in recent years, those families receive less than one third of all the transfers.

We have fundamentally made the challenge of child poverty more and more difficult. And so when you're looking at things like the OECD study, when you're looking at things like the National Academy of Sciences who are talking about the $800 billion to the $1.1 trillion a year-- and that's every year-- they're looking at it in lost adult productivity. So increased cost related to crime, increased health expenditures. And as staggering as that number is, it also fails to capture that level of untapped genius and unrealized potential of the nearly 10 million children, 10 million children in this country who are trapped in poverty.

I agree that poverty is a choice, but that choice is not made by the people who live under its oppressive effects. The choice is actually ours. It's the choice of the government that represents our priorities and allocates our investments. It's a choice reinforced by the companies we patronize and the organizations that we support. Poverty is a choice, but it's our choice. It's society's choice whether or not we'll condone that level of pain in our neighbors. How has the work of your organization changed in any way since the murder of George Floyd in particular but several others and issues that we have seen this year? And how would you reconcile maybe some of the statements we are hearing from major players in our society with the actions that you actually see towards organizations, such as yours?

Yeah. It's one of these things. When you look at 2020, I mean, 2020 has been a year that none of us could have predicted and all of us wish we did not have to have these twin crises that arrived at our doorstep, right? And it is. It's this twin crises of the introduction of a virus that has had absolutely catastrophic health and economic implications on society and also the very unneeded reminder of how policing is not equitable in every neighborhood.

But the interesting thing that, I think, it also has shown and how it also has influenced our work as well is that while COVID-19 impacts everybody, it did not impact everybody equally. And while policing reform is necessary in every neighborhood, we watched how George Floyd's name was added to a long litany of people to include names like Michael Brown, and Philando Castile, and Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott, and Sean Bell, and Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor, and Laquan McDonald, and Tamir Rice, and Ahmaud Arbery, and Trayvon Martin. And the list goes on.

But you watch how these twin crises really exposed a singular truth. And that singular truth is the role that race plays in our society. And if you look at even our work, it's absolutely undeniable to understand the role that race plays in the poverty fight that we have going on right now and that you cannot look at it from a race-blind perspective, because, frankly, the problem that we are trying to solve is not race blind.

So organizationally, we have really pushed in and doubled down on our commitment not just to keep our North Star of moving families out of poverty measurably and sustainably but also double down on being able to attack these things that we're seeing not just at the effects but also at the cause, being able to address this issue of racial inequity in a very real and sustainable way. And we've made a few movements in that space that I'm very, very proud of. One is how we're thinking about it from an organizational perspective about how we really move to attacking it internally and externally in every way that we see it and thinking about what is the leverage power of Robin Hood, but also in the creation of something called the Power Fund.

And the Power Fund is really used to address the fact that if you look at our catchment area, for example, about 80% of people who are living in poverty in New York City alone are people of color, despite the fact that of the organizations that are led by people of color inside of this space represents around 10% of all philanthropic dollars. If you look at it from the private sector side, it's actually very similar. If you look at VC, only about 2% of all VC dollars go to organizations that are led by people of color.

But specifically in the social sector side, if we know that the population that we are serving, oftentimes, are people of color, and we have third-party validators and third-party research that continues to reinforce how important it is that we have leaders of color who are then not just at the table but also helping make the decisions about making sure that we are truly coming up with ways of impacting the impacted communities and supporting impacted communities, then that level of disparity that exists both in terms of who gets funded and how much they get funded has to be addressed. So the Power Fund is a new initiative to fund and elevate nonprofit leaders of color who share in Robin Hood's mission of increasing economic mobility from poverty. And it allows us to address this issue of poverty through the lens of that interplay between racial injustice and economic injustice.

So when you consider that fact, when you consider that funding leaders of color is critical, because these leaders often do bring strategies that intimately understand the racialized experience and issues facing communities of color, we want to make sure that we can not only provide funding and support but then also provide self-directed leadership. Capacity building funding, that a society is going through this larger reshape of the social service sector, that we-- and also we're proud to partner with other institutions, other

individuals, other foundations to be able to say, we can put a targeted impact and create real sustainable economic mobility for our families and for our communities by being able to broaden the lens about who should fall in within our portfolio and why that's so crucially important if we're ever going to address this issue for the long term and move people out of poverty measurably and sustainably. So that's just one of the mechanisms of the Power Fund, which we are incredibly excited about ways to be able to address this issue, where Robin Hood in addition is putting 10 million of our own capital into this. But also being work with other partners to be able to target something that we know is not just an issue now, but address it on a long-term basis as well by supporting the leaders of today and also the leaders of tomorrow.

But, are there other important areas of focus, beyond education, that you think are important to highlight as we look to address some of these inequities?

It's a great question too, because, oftentimes, when people say, what becomes that key, what's the thing that we can focus on that we can get this right, is it early childhood, is it K12 or going into higher education, is it housing, is it transportation? Oftentimes, the answer is, yes, right? It's all of the above, because you see how all these things have been impacted not just by this level of socioeconomic disparity but also by the element of racial disparity then blends into the socioeconomic disparities.

And the reality is even when I think about the work of Robin Hood through an initiative we have called Mobility LABs, where we're doing investments in other cities around the country, whether you're talking about urban, rural, or suburban poverty. Poverty is that thing that makes it so humanly difficult for people to be able to move out, because poverty, oftentimes, is so sticky. It is so generational and, oftentimes, it is so predictable when you're seeing who will not just start in poverty but then, frankly, who's is going to die in poverty?

And so, I think, the thing that we are pushing people to look at is, find that thing that moves you, and be able to support a movement in that area. But the thing that we also do know is that we can not have conversations around these issues and actually ending them if we're also not talking about economics. And economics when it means how are we doing things like both investing in financial literacy and that type of thing, but also, how are we investing in things like smaller banks, and community banks, and black owned banks, and making sure that we're finding ways to have capital that continue to turn over inside of communities and continue to turn over inside of areas?

Being able to provide levels of economic liquidity inside of communities that, oftentimes, that economic liquidity has left behind becomes incredibly important. Being able to work and work with lawmakers to be able to address how difficult it is for people in certain communities in certain areas to be able to get loans, to be able to get a home, to be able to get financing for that business. Being able to think about other aspects.

So, for example, just since COVID-19, we've had about 5.5 million people who are now uninsured, who have no health insurance. And it's, oftentimes, because when you think about the reality of, we have lost 11 years' of job growth in 11 weeks, so we have watched this massive hemorrhaging of jobs. Oftentimes, because of the health care system, and it's often based on employers, and employer based insurance, we have now watched this explosion of people who are uninsured.

And so these are all things that, I think, we have to think about it both from a philanthropic perspective about, how are we supporting organizations that are doing the work? How are we supporting elements and individuals who are on the ground who are leaders of impacted communities who are running organizations? How are we thinking about providing capital in the communities and letting individuals

determine and shape their own destinies? But also, how are we thinking about leveraging our influence to be able to take those barriers and understand those barriers that keep this from happening and be very deliberate and very intentional about removing those barriers from anything that we had to deal with anymore?

Yeah, wow. So, how would you-- I want to give some really actionable items that not only the people who represent important roles in organizations who will be watching us but also just ordinary individuals, how can we-- well-meaning individuals-- try to have an impact when the needs are so great and it can be a little bit intimidating to start?

It can be incredibly intimidating, but the thing that I would urge you would understand is, understand your power. Understand that people, lawmakers, communities will move simply because you ask them to. Understand that the thing that we have to do is to be able to find those issues, find that thing that makes your heart beat faster. And whether that things happens to be poverty, or racial injustice, or the environment, or veterans, or children, or seniors, whatever that thing is, understand how both your philanthropy but also your voice can actually move on an issue, because, historically, it's the only thing that ever has.

The other thing that I would ask them to do is, when you are working on these issues, finding and collaborating with the people who are most impacted by it is going to be imperative, because, oftentimes-- And I think about it even in our work, where I understand that really some of the greatest power of Robin Hood and some of the greatest power that we have is actually our ability to give power away. It's our ability to make sure that those in impacted communities are actually the ones who are in control of their own destinies. That people who are closest to the challenge are, oftentimes, going to be the ones who are closest to the solutions.

And so part of what we have to do as leaders, as individuals, as well-meaning people, is understand that, sometimes, that well-meaningness means actually sharing power, sharing voice, providing people with their own pathway to levels of mobility and sustainable support, because if we don't, if we just simply enter into communities thinking that we know the answers, if we just simply enter in communities feeling like we know what's best, your altruism will be viewed as something else. And that becomes incredibly frustrating and also becomes something that is going to actually compound a problem. And you'll be left scratching your head and wondering why, without realizing that part of your approach was part of the problem.

Yeah. There's a lot of truth in that, a lot of truth in that. So, what inspires you? Turning it back to looking at you, what motivates you to do the work that you do?

Such a beautiful question. I think about it where-- I think about the pathway and, actually, how my grandfather viewed this nation, where he had every reason in the world to follow the path of many of my other family members and just choose not to come back here. He, as much as anyone else, had a reason to be angry. He, as much as anyone else, had a reason to be disillusioned and frustrated. He, as anyone else, had a reason to think that the values and the core documents of this nation were just a lie. And he didn't.

I mean, he spent his entire life fighting for something better. I remember when I was in Afghanistan, when I got word that he passed away. And they were actually able to let me come back. Usually, the only time they let you come back for a funeral was if it was a direct family member. And how they define that was a child, or a spouse, or a parent.

But because I made the argument that he was like my father when I grew up, and they let me come back. And I remember being at his funeral. This is a person who spent much of his childhood in Jamaica, much of his education in Jamaica, always had a dream of going back there one day. But when he passed away, and when he was buried, how at his casket when they had the wake, was an American flag.

And I just still remember being so blown away by that. That this is a person who loved this country with everything in him literally to the point that even as he's now being laid into the ground, that's one of the things that's there and cherished. And I feel like the thing that motivates me, the thing that keeps me going is the fact that we can be better. The fact that loving your country doesn't mean lying about it.

But that loving your country means that every single day, we have a responsibility to make it better, to push harder, to understand that everyone has a place, and everyone has a voice, and everyone should be cherished and welcomed. And that when you think about the riches and the joys of this nation, when you think about the things that I've had a chance to see and experience that my mother and my grandparents-- they never even knew existed, that we do have a responsibility to try to make that real for others.

And we have an ability to do so. And so if it doesn't happen, that is not because it just couldn't. It happened because we chose it not to. And that's something that I just refuse to accept as an option when we think about the type of society that we're trying to build here.

Yeah, wow. So I have to ask. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to maybe be a role model?

I would say, I don't think I have an obligation to be or responsibility to be a role model. I have a responsibility to live out my God-honored obligation. I think that when I think about the role that we have to play, that we all have but so many days, and we all have but so many minutes to do something special with it. We have but so many days and but so many opportunities to be able to understand the blessings that we have received and actually make sure that those blessings can be shared.

I feel like that for many of us who came up from the margins, that our responsibility is not just to come up from the margins but our responsibility is to then reach back with both hands and pull those things open so you're making the hole just a little bit bigger for everyone else. And I feel like that's my obligation, is that I understand that people are watching, that my family is watching, that my father and my grandfather-- they're watching, and I want to make sure that I'm making them proud in that.

I'm sure they're smiling, Wes. They're watching, and they're smiling. So my last question for you. What are your long-term aspirations? I'm going to presumptuous and say, do your aspirations include maybe returning to the White House at some point?

I think my aspirations is that the issues that I'm working on right now, that we do have to work on them anymore. My aspirations is that my 9-year-old daughter and my 6-year-old son-- I'll have to tell them stories about working on poverty issues. And they'll sit down, and they'll bring my grandkids up to me one day, and they'll say, so tell me about that poverty thing again. Tell me about how hard it was.

I believe we can win, I believe we can beat this, I believe we can actually have a loving and a big-hearted society. And the reason that I know it is that not only do I know the type of things that it would take right now that would make our society fundamentally better if we could address issues, like the fact that we have known lead paint is a toxin in our society for a century, but we still continue to have children who are attending schools and living in homes that are based in lead piping and lead paint, and we could erase that in five years if we chose to. If we can make basic adjustments on a child-tax credit, that could literally eliminate child poverty overnight, deep child poverty overnight if we chose to.

So it's both about understanding, actually, we've got a blueprint, we understand the things that we can actually do to be able to address it, but it's also understanding where we came from, where I can imagine that hundreds of years ago, that there were people who were sitting around and saying, it'll never happen, but could you imagine a day when slavery isn't real? I can imagine that years ago, there were people sitting around and saying, it'll never happen, but can you imagine when Reconstruction, or black codes, or Jim Crow isn't the law of the land? I can imagine that there were days when people were sitting around and saying, it'll never happen, but could you imagine when same-sex marriage doesn't have to be debated?

And it happens. And we move past it, because people kept on pushing. And so I refuse to stop pushing. I refuse to think that our society just has to deal with this, because I know what we actually need to get done to be able to fix it. And so I will just keep on pushing to make sure that we can fix it and we can do it.

You're pushing and you're dreaming, like you talked about before, where you're daring to dream big. And that is such a benefit to so many of us. It's been a wonderful conversation. I've really enjoyed speaking with you.

Me too.

Thank you for making the time for us at BlackRock. Thank you for all you are doing at Robin Hood to help those less fortunate, to help make things better for others. And whether or not you're deliberately choosing to be, you are a role model for so many who are fighting to become a success, despite challenges. And you have done it so well and with so much humility and grace.

We wish you the very best. And I'm looking forward to your book later this year. Thanks, Wes.

Thank you. Bless you. Thank you.

Extended conversation with Wes Moore

Watch or share with your colleagues the entire one-on-one interview with Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood.

Now, our next conversation is about racial injustice, systematic inequality, and how we can affect change. You might not know if this session is for you. Trust me, this session is for everyone. Lyenda Delp, my friend and colleague, is going to lead the conversation. So I pass it now to Lyenda.

Thank you, Zach. Hello, everyone. I am Lyenda Delp, a managing director here at BlackRock. And thank you for joining the future forum and this conversation on race, bias, and inequity in the workplace and our broader society. For this important and complex topic, we have some special guests who will help shed informed perspectives on the topic.

Pleased to welcome Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts, Professor of Practice at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. Thank you for joining us. As a professor in organizational behavior, your research and your consulting work, your focus on the science of maximizing human potential in diverse and inclusive organizations, and indeed communities, you have been recognized for your thought leadership. You are the 2020 inaugural recipient of the Academy of Management Organizational Behavior Award for Societal Impact, and congratulations on that. You've published over 50 research articles and teaching cases and edited three books, and your influential publications on diversity, authenticity, leadership development have been featured in Harvard Business Review and so many other global media outlets.

So this has been your life's work as a professor for more than 20 years. Many of us are much new to this as a science. We are well aware that, frankly, this topic is grounded in hundreds of years of complex history. And so I acknowledge it's rather precocious, and I really felt intimidated to try to boil this all down so that we can have a thoughtful conversation in about half an hour. But as you know, that is exactly what we have to do today. So let's dive right in to the deep end of the most gnarly issues of race in corporate America.

So last September, you and two professors from Harvard Business School published an important book called Race, Work, and Leadership. This important book was published last year. So this is before George Floyd, before Amy Cooper in Central Park, before Breonna Taylor. And it's a collection of essays written by other social scientists. So there are two burning questions I really must ask you. Is systemic racism truly commonplace? Is it broadly commonplace among business people in corporate America? And what are the forms in which it manifests? And then I'm very curious to know why you think it persists.

Such an important questions, Lyenda. Thank you so much for welcoming me today, and thank you also for your support and engagement with the book and with the research. It's so important that we have these broad data sets to help inform our answers to these important questions. So with your first important question about systemic racism, is it truly commonplace? Is it endemic to the ways that our organizations function today? Unfortunately, I have to answer based on the data that yes, systemic racism is still widespread and it's deeply baked into many of the structures and practices in corporate America.

It shows up in various levels of the process. When we think about entry, when we think about advancement, when we think about engagement, and when we think about leadership impact, all central important questions around talent management, we see the impact, longstanding and current impact, of racism on those processes.

So at the entry level, we see racial disparities in terms of who gets hired and the ways in which racial bias enters into that process. Just from the point of screening a resume or CV and looking at a person's name to code or decode whether or not that person might be white or whether they might be a person of color. And numerous field studies have shown that those kind of split-second decisions will weed somebody out of the hiring process just that quickly. But let's assume you get into the door. Then there are questions around systemic racism that relate to advancement and engagement.

So we're looking to develop and invest in our high-potential contributors and our future leaders, right? And so we see that there are racial disparities in terms of the kinds of developmental experiences that people are afforded, the types of mentoring and sponsorship that they get along the way, and those translate into whether or not they're tapped for these high-potential opportunities that allow them to advance beyond entry levels in organizations.

And then the last piece is around the leadership impact question. So let's say you advance and you make it to the level of managing director or similar senior leadership roles within your organizations. We find that even at those levels, people of color, and black people in particular, still face the day-to-day stressors of racial microaggressions, of people sort of questioning or doubting their authority, of being mistaken for lower-level or lower-wage workers in the organization, or perhaps an administrative assistant or someone who is on the custodial team rather than someone who's responsible for initiating and executing important decisions.

So all throughout the journey of one's career, racism still plays a role. It persists because systemic racism is capturing the idea that racism operates as a system. And by system, we mean they're reinforcing a system of beliefs, decisions, practices that create self-fulfilling prophecies around who has power and advantage and opportunities within our organizations and who has to struggle harder to get access to those opportunities if they get them at all.

So you touched on the leadership aspect. Let's probe that a bit more. And clearly, now there is a bright light being shone on corporations and leadership across America. How have you been advising corporate leaders about the ways to create changes which will help develop more leaders among people of color and address some of those systemic racism practices which you've just outlined for us?

I think, Lyenda, the first step is to do what we're doing today, which is to invite more open engagement and learning conversations around race. For so long, race has been unspeakable. Even a month ago, I would say, we would sort of tiptoe around conversations about race and perhaps not call it out in the way that we're speaking of it now. Maybe enfold it in broader conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, but not come head-on to these conversations about race and the implications for black and brown people in organizations. So that is an important and noble step, and I have certainly seen a difference in the past months in the floodgate of opportunities that are opening for organizations to start to advance anti-racist work because people have started listening. And when leaders signal that they're listening, then members of the organization and other critical stakeholders will begin to speak more freely about their experiences, and people can learn together how to create or co-create the best path forward.

So that path involves acknowledging the harm that systemic racism may have imposed outside in the community, yes. And we saw that catalyst with protests against the racial violence. But what corporations are doing now is looking internally, so also having to create cultural audits to say, hey, let me look at my engagement practices, let me look at my hiring practices, let me look at the rate of advancement and the

level of credentialing for members of different racial and gender groups within the organization to see is there a different path that certain individuals have to follow within my organization versus others.

So everybody's got to get that internal data, and then from there invest in the necessary infrastructure to promote sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative. So it can't just be the flavor of the day or the reaction to the crisis of the moment, but how do we invest in these long-term strategies that address the needs of a wide range of stakeholders so that we can truly transform our organizations and societies in the direction that we hope.

Thank you. There is so much there that we could turn into and go into detail. And I'll just say personally, I spent most of my career trying to avoid having to get into conversations about race. So your point about most people it's not just non-blacks who have avoided conversation about race, but even among us people of color who have wanted to like focus on the work and have that speak for itself. So it really resonates.

There's a danger in assuming, I think, that a few simple solutions can address what is being treated as maybe a homogeneous group, and that the challenges and the biases can be simplified into a few things. Perhaps you can talk a little bit about the differences and what can contribute to some differences that are observable among black and brown and people of color, and things that contribute to whether it's attitudes, perception of what is bias, privilege, or racist practices.

Yeah, I think there are a few dimensions of difference that are important for us to engage if we want to move forward in a thoughtful and sophisticated manner and not sort of a one-size-fits-all approach. I would acknowledge that one of the shortcomings of many of the DEI initiatives, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that are in place, are that they have adopted a one-size-fits-all approach and haven't looked specifically at race, much less at the intersections of race, class, gender, national heritage, and other dimensions of difference. So that's where we want to hone in on understanding.

The experiences of your lower-wage black workers in a health care system are going to be very different than the experiences of your chief surgeons in the academic department. The experiences of men versus women, the experiences of heterosexual versus homosexual, are very different. Racial differences are really important to attend to right now.

Much of the energy in the streets is being driven by the younger generations, the 20-somethings. They have a different energy than those who are in their 40s and 50s, the Gen Xers who say, look, I didn't touch it for 20 years of my career. And then, most importantly, I would also say not everyone has had the same experience of blackness. Blackness, or any racial identity, doesn't mean the same thing for all of these individuals. If you came from an immigrant background versus multiple descendants of enslavement on the US soil, your experience with race is going to be different. If you're in London versus based in the US, your experiences of race will be different. Once we start to explore these differences, then we can advance our agenda for inclusion in a more sophisticated, impactful way.

Let's move the conversation forward with talking about a recent Harris poll which revealed that there is still skepticism about whether corporate America will live up to the bold statements on addressing racial inequity in the workplace. 43% feel companies have not done enough to increase diversity in their leadership. And almost a third say their employers have not made meaningful efforts internally to address racial inequality. So what do you think are further catalysts that corporations need to act and go beyond the talk to demonstrate their real commitment? What will be the drivers?

Well, I think it's important for us to acknowledge that a lot of the urgency of change right now is coming from those external catalysts and drivers of success. It's been a public outcry, a public global outcry around racial injustice, and that is much of the same horror that drove change around racial injustice during the 20th century civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movements.

And so we have to recognize that there's a lot of collective voice that helps organizations and corporations understand what their priorities need to be at this moment in time. Now, internally, what happens here in driving the change is to have those courageous voices who can partner with their colleagues in the organizations to help engage this new call to consciousness, help to translate what some of the experiences are that people are having within your organization that, quite honestly, many of the leaders probably hadn't been aware of until this point in time. So that's where the partnership in the allyship comes into play in terms of helping to keep the momentum and driving the change internally.

The last piece I would say is we have to acknowledge the source, the root causes of silence. For some who have been silent about race to date, it's because you said well, we wanted to be evaluated simply on the basis of our performance and to not have race be an obstacle or barrier. So you try not to call more attention to race. But there are others for whom race represents a collective shame or guilt, or just a lack of empowerment, a frustration about what to do with this big challenge and how to fix it. And we recognize that terrible things have happened in the past and maybe they're still happening right now, but I feel like I'm not equipped to be able to handle it. So therefore I'm afraid to talk about it and acknowledge it.

And then there's a third group who have actively resisted a lot of the DEI initiatives. So for those who say they feel that their organizations haven't done enough, there are others who have been reflected in these that say white men are being overlooked and excluded by DEI initiatives. And so the DEI initiatives then have fallen out of favor, especially when people feel that they are focusing too much on race or on racial and ethnic minorities. So leaders, in order to move through change, are going to have to contend in some way with that conflict, the internal conflict within the organization about how much attention and how many resources, to be quite frank, this kind of work should be getting.

Yeah, I understand that. And leaders have a lot of priorities to focus on at a time like this when they're thinking about dealing with a potential and our already present recession. And so it brings me to another question related to this just for a bit longer. Does there need to be a real, even greater urgency and sustained focus at this point?

I agree. A sense of urgency is necessary. Just as we speak of COVID as a pandemic, the American Psychological Association recently stated that racism is a pandemic. It's been a 400-year marathon. And if it's not addressed, it will erode the very fabric of our society. It's not a thing that one can isolate themselves from perpetually in the same way that in any virus, the toxic element of racism spreads unless we take active measures to mitigate against it. And right now, I think the implications are that we will have deepening conflict and inequality throughout the society.

And I guess I would say that fundamentally then erodes our ability to create the kind of democracy that we have envisioned and that we say that we're committed to enforcing through all the choices that we have. Right now we have the data. We can't unsee what we've seen. So it's our choice now to decide the kind of world that we want to co-create.

You touched on racial equality. Would you mind just explaining that, especially for the broader audience?

Racial equality is more aligned with that one-size-fits-all framework. It begins with a blank slate. So let's say you go to the store, you get a pie. Everybody sits around the table, and then you just divide up the pie

based on the number of people that are sitting around the table. So within our organizations when we're trying to implement these equality-based strategies, we can use that blank slate set of assumptions. You start with either at the point of birth or the point of hiring-- that everybody comes in, sort of has the same experiences. The same rules, the same guidelines and policies apply to everyone.

Equity questions are raised when we start to examine the differential impact of some of those policies, practices, and routines for some groups versus other groups. So an equity conversation would have to do with a hair style code that would say you're not allowed to wear braids, or hair that is too big, or unruly, or too curly, or however you would characterize the way that hair grows out of the scalps of black people. Everyone has to comply, but one set of individuals in the organization has to do more. They have to put in a little bit more effort. It's not like going out and buying the suit, but it's having to fundamentally transform some aspects of who they are. That creates an inequitable dynamic in an organization.

There are also some equity-based principles that acknowledge that certain individuals have more social capital coming into organizations. They're already plugged into certain networks because of their racial and economic background. Other individuals may not have access to those same networks. And if they're all held to the same performance standards when no one is helping to provide the additional capital or resources that the other individual needs, it's as if the playing field is not level. So an equity compensation at least takes into account those kinds of dynamics.

Very helpful, and I feel really schooled and much more educated by that. So there is an important and somewhat sensitive question I must ask, but I feel this conversation would be incomplete and we would be remiss to not get into this topic, and it's about the role of developmental feedback in the experience of black professionals in corporate America. Some good managers are reluctant or fearful of giving critical feedback to black people for fear of being called racist or biased or prejudiced or what have you, and this is good managers with constructive feedback. What insights does research offer on this, both for leaders of all sorts coming up in corporate America and those who are in positions to give the feedback on the positions of authority?

Well, first I would say that the research supports your observations. Let me just say that part out of the gate. For instance, there was research by David Thomas on race and mentoring that addresses this phenomenon that he termed protective hesitation, where white managers withhold the high-quality feedback that black subordinates need because they are so concerned that it will be misconstrued or they will be viewed as racist.

That fear of being viewed as racist is a deep-seeded fear for many white people. There is research by professors Nicole Shelton, Jen Richardson, and Bert Seager who identified that there is a difference between what white people are more concerned about in interracial interactions versus what black people are concerned about during interracial interactions. White people are very concerned about being liked. They are concerned that they would be viewed as not likable. And so being seen as racist is certainly something that would undermine that self-view.

Black people don't have that same concern about being liked in interracial interactions. Black people are more concerned with being viewed as competent and capable. So imagine what's coming together when you're trying to have these feedback exchanges. Both people feel that their ego or their self-worth is on the line, and that can undermine the process of growth and development for everyone.

The second thing that I would acknowledge is that some feedback, a lot of feedback, is culturally-coded, and therefore is signaling some degree, whether intended or not, of racist attitudes and beliefs about

performance and success within an organization. And so black people exist within this murky space of trying to decode the feedback to understand what is a value within that feedback and what might be layered by some cultural stereotypes or beliefs. Like, wow, you're so articulate. That should be a compliment, right? But when a black person hears that in corporate America, they feel, wait a minute, what did you expect? Did you expect that I wouldn't be able to? Like, why is this surprising? Is there something else that you might comment on that I feel is more aligned with my skills and capabilities and human capital?

So here are some suggestions of how to move forward. If you are seeking to grow and develop in your career, proactively seek feedback. Shape the narrative so that people understand that you're someone who is open to feedback-- the learning, developing, and growing. When someone gives you feedback or makes a comment about your performance or the ways that you've shown up, inquire, ask more questions, try to learn and understand. When someone gives you a compliment, try to inquire. Learn about your strengths as well so you can grow and develop in that process.

And then, for those who are on the feedback-giving side, I think there is some coaching and some development work that managers need so that they can understand some of these implicit biases that enter into feedback processes. But in the meantime, try to emphasize behaviors and your observations of behaviors without sort of labeling them in some personality traits or characteristics. Like, I'm not so sure you're a team player. What exactly does that mean as aligned with the competencies that are associated with a particular job? I needed you to deliver this report at 4:00 o'clock. You sent it over at 6:00. I found seven errors in the report that you sent over. Let's talk about that. Versus I don't really think you're committed to the work of the team. So there's work that can be done on both sides, but yeah, it's really important to do that. Yeah.

Just one quick follow-up related to that. Sponsorship and mentoring-- I mean, we know that those topics are well documented as well. What do you say about that for black people? I mean, we need sponsors and mentors as much or more than anyone? Would you agree?

Oh yeah. We need the sponsors and mentors, and there's a lack of access because of the diminishing representation of black and brown leaders, and because of the tendency of people in power to pick other people, their successors, from a group who reminds them of their younger self. Absolutely. So what do I say? Find somebody who doesn't look like you and bet on their potential. If you're a junior person trying to advance, I say look for the green lights. If there's people who have indicated that they're interested in what you're doing and what you can bring, follow up with those people. Those are green lights. And see what kind of relationship you can grow and develop from there. Don't just go on the phone book or on the directory and randomly select somebody. But when you make an initial connection with somebody, trying to cultivate that.

We are drawing closer to the end of our conversation, unfortunately, but I have to ask this question. How has your work changed since that fateful encounter of May 25 in Minneapolis?

Oh, gosh. I would say at once, everything changed, and at the same token, nothing changed. The world of May 25 was the world of May 24 and, in large part, from a structural perspective, the world of May 26. Since George Floyd was killed, other black people have been killed by police officers. People have been run down by cars in the middle of riots and protests. COVID is still having a disproportionate impact in a shocking and brutal way on black and brown communities. And we are still not of common mind or

common voice about what it takes to protect the lives and livelihoods of our planet, much less those who are most vulnerable.

And so those remain deep-seeded concerns for me. I'm encouraged by the fact that many corporate leaders have expressed their unequivocal support. I'm also mindful and observing the fact that there is still a wide continuum, where some corporate leaders are all-in, and other corporate leaders have sort of dipped their toe in the water, and now they're realizing it's a little hotter than they expected that it would be, and they're starting to pull back a little bit. And it hasn't been six weeks yet, barely six weeks.

Right.

Bottom line, am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful. I always say I do this work because I'm hopeful. If I weren't hopeful, I need to go find something else to do. I believe that it's meaningful and valuable and that we can make progress. And so I'm looking forward to seeing the evidence of that progress made manifest as we live out the months and the years ahead.

This has been a fascinating conversation, and it's quite clear why you, Dr. Roberts, are sought out for your wisdom, even more so now at this important crossroads in our shared history. We at BlackRock are grateful to have been benefiting meaningfully from your guidance, and I personally have just gleaned incredible new insights today. We wish you the very best, and we thank you again for joining us.

Thank you. Thank you.

Extended conversation with Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts

Watch or share with your colleagues the entire one-on-one interview with Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts, Researcher and Professor of Practice at UVA.

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Cory Booker
Senator of New Jersey
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Lyenda Delp
Head of Client Relationship Management for the Financial Institutions Group
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Wes Moore
Chief Executive Officer, Robin Hood
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Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts
Professor of Practice, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business
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