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Keller @ Large: Corporate America Could Make Real Impact In Fight For Racial Justice

BOSTON (CBS) - In the weeks since the death of George Floyd, many companies have pledged to address racial inequality. But will it really happen?

"We've seen a shift in the response of corporate America to recent events, something that we haven't seen before," said Segun Idowu, Executive Director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, a group of local executives and activists devoted to promoting black economic advancement.

There has been a remarkable deluge of statements of private-sector condemnation of police brutality and sympathy with the resurgent civil rights movement. But enquiring minds want to know – where's the beef?

"A lot of companies feel that they have to say something," said management expert Peter Cohan, a lecturer at Babson College. "The question is, of the companies that are saying something, are any of them doing anything substantive?"

Some companies, including Bank of America and Amazon, are putting big money where their mouths are, donating millions to a range of black community causes and Idowu says it could be the start of a win-win situation for the entire economy.

"If we closed the racial wealth gap in this country we would add $1.5 trillion to the national economy in less than ten years. That can only be good for all of us here in the US and particularly here in the Commonwealth," he said.

But to Cohan, the question is: if and when the protests and the public pressure fade, will the dollars disappear as well? "If it stops, if people stop talking about it, I think you're gonna see less corporate support for remedies," he said.

It seems unlikely that racial justice issues will soon fade from view as people focus on the Floyd case and others in Louisville, Atlanta and who knows where next, will continue to make headlines. The topic will be a major part of the presidential campaign. All the while, black communities and businesses especially hard-hit by the pandemic will remain in desperate need of help from the public and private sectors.

We have seen in the past how corporate behavior can change quickly in reaction to consumers' demands when it comes to buying "green." Often, pathetically, it is way out ahead of the response of public institutions.

And given the sight of masses of young adults – the target demo of nearly every marketer in the country - out in the streets day after day, maybe the only real question is: will the social change being demanded come sooner, or later?


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