Diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist, Nicole Lee, joins Traci for the second part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion conversation where they discuss the nuts and bolts of the Black Lives Matter movement and why elections matter.
01:21 – What is Black Lives Matter?
03:26 – Mike Brown’s Death in Ferguson
05:17 – The Movement For Black Lives
06:57 – Misguided Beliefs: What Black Lives Matter Really Stands For
09:04 – People Are More Important Than Property
13:40 – Voter Education and Civic Engagement
14:32 – Local Elections Matter!
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Traci Shanklin 0:37
Hi, and welcome back to the show. For those of you just tuning in, we have been speaking about diversity and the Black Lives Matters movement with diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist and human rights advocate, Nicole Lee. Nicole has dedicated her career to advocating, educating, and bridging solutions for minority groups, especially in corporate environments.
Traci Shanklin 1:02
I divided this conversation into three parts because it is powerful and packed with valuable information for individuals and companies. So, please join me for the second part of my conversation with diversity expert, Nicole Lee, where we discuss the nuts and bolts of the Black Lives Matters movement.
Traci Shanklin 1:21
So, I would like to pivot to the Black Lives Matters movement. And I know that there is a lot of misinformation out there. And I’m really hoping that you can help clarify the message. But I’m going to start by asking you to explain or define Black Lives Matters in general?
Nicole Lee 1:41
Black Lives Matter had been a hashtag that had been used occasionally, but not very often. But on the day, several years ago, actually close to this date, where George Zimmerman was found, “Not Guilty,” for the killing of Trayvon Martin. An organizer in the Bay Area, Alicia Garza, went onto her Facebook page, she had a lot of Facebook friends, and she wrote about how sad that was. How it was terrible that a child, frankly, had been killed by a white presenting adult, a black child had been killed by a white presenting adult, and that even in this case, right, there couldn’t be justice. There wasn’t justice. And the end, she ended it by saying our lives matter, “Black Lives Matter.” And two of her friends, Facebook friend saw it, and one added a hashtag to it, and said “Black Lives Matter”. Wrote Black Lives Matter as a hashtag. Another asked her should they start, you know, some sort of web presence to talk about Black Lives Matter.
Nicole Lee 2:46
And that’s really what most people look to as the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement. Couple years later, right, we had the killing of Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. And I was very much a part of it through lots of coincidences. I became very much a part of the legal team that assisted protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and then on to Baltimore, and then in many other cities around the country, to help to assist protesters with both strategy and also making sure that they had the legal assistance that they needed.
Nicole Lee 3:26
What is missed about what happened in Ferguson is that Mike Brown’s death was a – he was a catalyst, but it was not a catalyst without several sparks. There was significant racial profiling going on in Missouri, and particularly in St. Louis County. And the DOJ found later after – after the uprising occurred, really found that there was some significant violations of the human rights and the civil rights of black people in particular in Ferguson, Missouri. But what happened after Mike Brown was killed, one of the things that I don’t think many people understood was that his body was just laid out in the street for hours. No medical attention, no, nothing – not taken to the hospital just for hours, and it angered people, and people had experienced about they experienced so much injustice that people basically began to protest and never went home. And that’s what we saw in Ferguson.
Nicole Lee 4:25
We saw something very similar after the death of Freddie Gray, in Baltimore, and on and on and on. And we have seen so many – each of us, you know, has seen so many videos of the killing of black men in particular, but also black women as well, by law enforcement, the videos, but then there’s all of these cases where there are no videos. And so, the Black Lives Matter movement really is several movements in one. It’s local folks standing up against what is now being coined police violence, right. It is national organization, national civil rights organizations that have been dedicated to all sorts of issues, but are coming together now to look at this issue of police violence. And this has gone on while it hits the news on occasion, if you will, like when we saw the horrible killing of George Floyd, this comes on the news on occasion.
Nicole Lee 5:17
But these movements are doing work, organizing and educating, in an on – an ongoing basis. And the coalition of organizations is actually not called Black Lives Matter. It’s actually called the “Movement for Black Lives.” And that includes hundreds of organizations around the country that are really looking at this issue and really thinking about what are the ways not just to contend – condemned police violence, but what are we trying to create? And I think to go to the myths – I think that oftentimes people think that one it’s like a kind of a one and done thing, something happens and then you know, the Black Lives Matter movement swoops in, it’s actually really not what happens. What happens is these horrible things happen. And then local people say this is not what we’re willing to be involved in. Even in Minneapolis in the George Floyd case. I worked in Minneapolis during Philando Castillo – helping local attorneys stand up a – a project where we could ensure that people were able to get bail; people were able to get lawyers if they needed them, if they were protesting. I was very much involved in that.
Nicole Lee 6:23
When George Floyd happened, didn’t have to – nope, never even – never stepped foot in Minneapolis, again, because local people had it. Local people had – had, uh, full on authority and agency over that. So, this idea that there’s like this quote unquote, outside agitators, which actually it comes from that whole notion of outside agitator comes from the civil rights movement where they used to call Martin Luther King an outside agitator. But that whole notion, even in this one movement really isn’t. It’s just not factual. Local people are really taking their agency and control in this moment.
Nicole Lee 6:57
The other thing I would say is that there is this misguided belief that this movement does not have ideas of what needs to happen. next. Meaning, you know, people will say, oh, you’re just against everything. Well, no, the movement’s actually for a lot of things, too. And it’s broader than police violence. It’s also about repair – repair for the black community in the United States. How do we get to wholeness? How do we make sure, you know, Mike Brown, went to a school in Ferguson that was not accredited. How is it that in black and brown communities, we have schools that aren’t good enough that they can receive local accreditation? Right? How are we going to change that? How are we going to fix that? And that’s a big part of the broader calls of the movement.
Traci Shanklin 7:41
You touch on the conflating issues where you say there are subgroups, if you will. And I think that one of the things that has been very frustrating for me, and part of it is my lack of understanding. But still, when people talk about the peaceful protest, they conflate the violence, the rioting, or the looting, with the peaceful protesting. It is a very frustrating conversation. How do we get to the place where we can have a real conversation? And everything you’ve said so far is eloquent and beautiful, but I fear it is getting lost because of all the other noise.
Nicole Lee 8:16
It’s interesting because I have a, probably a unique take at least unique maybe to your listeners on this because the night often when people think about what happened in Ferguson, they talk about the night where the DA announced that they would not be bringing charges against Darren Wilson. And I was actually out there in front of the Ferguson Police Department that evening, right. 40-something lawyer, I live in northwest Washington, I literally have a white picket fence around my house, kids, you know, kind of like frumpy, older person. And there I am, outside of you know, the Ferguson Police Department. And I saw a lot of things that evening. And I am not a person who I don’t make distinctions really in those moments for – for several reasons.
Nicole Lee 9:04
One, I will say this. People are more important to me than property. That’s a value that I hold. Do I like property destruction? No, not so much. But I have looked into the eyes of 14 and 13-year-old little boys who are so devastated that their country has once again told them they don’t matter. That I understand some of the frustration that we see at protests. I also know from being a part of the protests and working along with the Obama DOJ that we also know that some of the things that happen at protests are not exactly as they seem. And we’ve seen that actually this time as well. Where folks that are completely unaligned; have nothing to do with the movement; are not a part of Black Lives Matter; aren’t even people of color are there and they are causing trouble. And that’s of concern to me because I’m not exactly sure, and I don’t think the authorities can say right now, we’re exactly sure as to why.
Nicole Lee 10:04
We have seen cases like in Missouri, where actually it has been white supremacists that have shown up at Black Lives Matter protests and have created issues. So, to allow the what we’re seeing in terms of the uprisings on the news to in any way get in the way of our support for the fact that young 13, 14-year-old black children should not be or even younger, four-year-old black children should have to be terrified of the police, right, to allow those things to get in the way. Actually, to me, it says something about our society that we do tend to try to avoid the hardest thing we look for what’s – oh, well, you know, they’re rioting. So, that must be what happened, where especially in the case of George Floyd, we all saw what happened. We all saw what happened. And so, you know, the pent-up rage and anger, in some ways is justifiable.
Nicole Lee 11:02
I do also know that the movement works tirelessly. Folks in the movement work tirelessly around education organization, around getting people to really focus on – okay, what are the changes that need to be made? And most of the time is spent there. And so, I encourage folks look, as they’re watching television, as they see these disturbing images, to really think about, like, what would it be like if your family lived under the threat of being harmed by the police? Like, what would that feel like? What would your relationship then be, not only to the police, but to the society. And that’s something I will say, even as a black woman who works in diversity, equity, inclusion, I have had to deal with that myself. Meaning I’ve had to do a reckoning internally with myself about when I see things that are disturbing, like, am I then willing to say these things don’t matter? Or am I going to overcome like my own stereotypes about things, and really get involved, so that we can all live peacefully.
Nicole Lee 12:01
And I guess the last thing I’ll say about this, as Minneapolis is a really good example of where this was shown from the business owners, even business owners that had their businesses burnt to the ground, the whole notion of people over property really actually came from them. Most recently, they’ve really been saying like, “Listen, we need a change. And we’re not going to get into good protester versus bad protester. What we’re going to do though – is we’re going to demand that this society, and particularly our local and state government, change that so that people do not, for whatever reason that there’s no, there’s no opportunity even for us to not live in peace in this society.”
Traci Shanklin 12:37
This was awesome. Nicole, I will say I will close because we’re running out of time. But thank you so much for sharing with me and teaching me in this conversation. And then just to say that there is a racial problem in America. And the sooner that we all admit that there is a problem, the sooner we can get on to finding solutions to heal it. And I believe that we can make systematic changes in this country through our election process. And I just wanted to have you touch on that, in terms of what should people be looking for as we go into an election cycle, not just nationally, but also locally that can potentially put into place public officials that will enact more just laws and advocate budgets in the right places that help solve this very critical problem?
Nicole Lee 13:40
I love that question. And you know, that I big proponent of voting and voter education and civic engagement. One thing that I think is really important that you’ve already touched on is your local elections are very important. Local elections are what your governor race is going to look like in twenty years, right? So, as you’re thinking about just skipping that part of the ballot or not finding out or not being engaged, do it for your kids. Right, do it for your kids, make sure that that you’re really engaged in that oftentimes, I hear folks talk about, oh, my kids moved away. They don’t live here anymore. They don’t like the climate here. Right? If you want your kids to stay close to home, or stay around where you live right now, like really thinking about those local races and understanding how important they are. Both for changes are happening right in this moment, but also for changes that you want to see down the road.
Nicole Lee 14:32
As it relates to Black Lives Matter, these local elections are so important including the prosecutor, the mayor, you want to be thinking about really reading and getting into what the platform’s look like. And then with the national race, this to me – this is my personal political opinions I’m about to give – this race is about our values as a society. What do we care about as a society? And so, I know for me it’s clear cut, but what do you want us to care about? What do you want this quote unquote democracy to look like because I do believe democracy is actually on the ballot.
Nicole Lee 15:08
And then, but separate from that your own vote and how you vote and how you think about voting. I want folks to really be thinking about who does not have access to the vote because that is a huge issue right now. Polling places that are being consolidated. Some of it has to do with COVID, but some of it really didn’t. So, really making sure that everyone can vote in a timely manner. When I work on races, and I do on occasion help out with political races, the person that I have, in my mind, is the soccer mom, right? The mom with the three kids who’s working, who’s got to get the kids to practice, who has to get dinner on the table and own and works all day and only has an hour window to vote. Are we serving her? Right? And frankly, it also my own just – I think the soccer mom, but she could be of any color, right? Are we serving her with how our polls are being run, and that’s a state issue. So, that’s something to be thinking about, in terms of how we vote in, again, our governor, etc. And so really thinking about those issues, I think is really important in this moment, but this is, you know, we always say this is the most important election in our lifetime. I think this time we might be right.
Traci Shanklin 16:20
I think you might be right. This concludes the second part of my conversation with diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist and human rights advocate, Nicole Lee. Please join me again for the third and final installment of our conversation, where we discuss talking with your children about racism. As a Caucasian mother of a Haitian daughter, this episode was deeply personal to me. I learned a lot. I hope you do too. Thanks again for joining the conversation where listeners connect with leading experts throughout the financial and investment world.
Traci Shanklin 16:55
And that’s it for this week’s episode of The World of Multiemployer Benefit Funds podcast. We love to hear from you, and if you have any comments, questions or suggestions, head over to www.multiemployerfunds.com, and let us know.
Traci Shanklin 17:10
Thank you for joining us and we look forward to next time.