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How Can We Stand Together When We're So Far Apart?

February 01, 2021
Leah Wallace, Senior Vice President of Workforce Development, Diversity, & Inclusion at Citi Retail Services

Leah Wallace (L) and Dr. Khalil Muhammad (R), Black History Month 2018

Leah Wallace (L) and Dr. Khalil Muhammad (R), Black History Month 2018

In 1976, Gerald Ford became the first U.S. President to recognize Black History Month. He called upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." Today as a nation we're still trying to answer this call.

When I was younger, Black History Month didn't even exist. I attended newly desegregated schools with very few Black children and rarely saw people that looked like me in the curriculum. The limited knowledge I gained about Black history came from my family and the few Black teachers I was blessed to have. They taught me about the power of my ancestors and the limitlessness of my potential. Now, as SVP of Workforce Development, Diversity, & Inclusion at Citi Retail Services, Black History Month serves as an opportunity for me to help build an inclusive workplace and drive change. I develop programming, facilitate events, and elevate dialogue around Black history and culture. It's part of my job to make sure that my Black colleagues feel celebrated, seen, and heard. I strive to engage Citi's global network of employees in learning about and honoring Blackness in all its forms. I challenge everyone to get involved in the uncomfortable, but necessary conversations we need to have about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

This Black History Month I think it's more important than ever that we focus on the future. We have to stop history from repeating itself. The inescapable truth is that this country was established on principles of freedom while being built by the enslaved. Racism and inequality are still twisted into the fibers of our justice, healthcare, governmental, and corporate systems. The onus is on us to rip them out.

This begs the question, how can we stand together when we're so far apart? The solution lies in our individual ability to choose acceptance over ignorance and our collective ability to abandon privilege and demand equity. In order to build a more inclusive and equitable workplace where everyone can reach their full potential, we must move from ideas to actions. We must continue to create opportunities for growth, activate diversity, and lead without bias. We all have to make the choice to become a champion of change.