Buffalo: Leaders Must Rise to The Challenge

A woman lays flowers at the scene of the Buffalo, NY shooting. Photo: AP News

Issue 199 — May 23, 2022

First, say their names: Margus D. Morrison, 52; Andre Mackneil, 53; Aaron Salter, 55; Geraldine Talley, 62; Celestine Chaney, 65; Heyward Patterson, 67; Katherine Massey, 72; Pearl Young, 77; and Ruth Whitfield 86. On behalf of all of us at Take The Lead, we mourn the loss of their lives and stand in solidarity with their loved ones.

We are shocked and outraged by yet another cold blooded, racist murder by yet another aggrieved white supremacist man. It should go without saying that what happened in Buffalo can happen, might have already happened in your hometown, your neighborhood, too.

As a leader, how do you help your employees (and yourself) in times of such great trauma? How do you show up and what specific actions do you take for them? How do you express your values publicly? What concrete actions can you take to help prevent the next such event? In short, how do you rise to the challenge of leadership in such times?

Unfortunately I have had too much personal experience with these situations. During my tenure at both the local Arizona Planned Parenthood affiliate and as the national president, similar perpetrators of violence and murder of doctors, volunteers, and staff happened with far too much regularity.

I wrote an article in 2009 after yet another cold blooded murder of a physician. It began with “I am done with candlelight vigils.”

While acknowledging the need for public and private mourning, I challenged Congress, the clergy, the medical profession, the media, civic leaders, and people at the grassroots to say: “This kind of violation will not be tolerated. Period,” then back it up not just with eloquent public statements but also with laws and a culture that truly values women.

I feel the same way after the premeditated murders of nine Black people at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, NY. Today, though, I would add business leaders to the list of those called out to join hands and challenge the beast of domestic terrorism aimed at people of color, fueled by the ugly underbelly of white supremacy’s racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ, and antisemitism. We cannot neglect to acknowledge the intersection of these animosities for they are always joined at the head.

Such hatred has always existed in American society but has today reached a tipping point. We will either take the negative energy of this crisis and use it to push toward healthy inclusion, or we will allow that negative, toxic energy to take America down into the hellish oppression that threatens to turn this country into the ones my grandparents came here to escape.

This isn’t a partisan issue as some will try to make it out to be. It is a human issue, a human rights issue, a human decency issue. And after providing solace and support to employees and the community, it is incumbent upon those with the power to push the fulcrum of more equitable public and private policy toward greater justice. This is true on both the individual and systemic level.

People need to see their leaders taking a principled stand.

Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan writes that “It’s time for local journalists to reckon with the racism we overlooked. The massacre in Buffalo exposed not just violent racial hatred but the legacy of inequitable policies from years ago.”

Fortune’s brilliant “RaceAhead” columnist @EllenMcGirt says, “We are long past the time when leaders need to be coached and reminded to check in with their employees or other stakeholders who may be traumatized by events like these. Silence speaks volumes, and your absence will be noted. Make every syllable count.”

And when it comes to how leaders and coworkers should empathize and communicate on the individual levels, LinkedIn Career Expert and Sirius XM Culture and Economics Contributor Andrew McCaskill has this advice:

“Your Black coworkers and coworkers with Black loved ones experienced intense trauma this week. Our families are calling us asking us if we’re ok, telling us to stay inside, asking us to move back home and closer to family. We are asking our parents and grandparents not to go to prayer and church services this week because of terror attacks on Black faith centers. WE ARE PROCESSING A LOT. Be aware; a radicalized 18 year old with an online community murdered people who look like us. Give us grace; we are working while working through grief, fear and (yes) anger. Respect our words; this is terror. Many of us will be and are terrified to do a simple thing like going to the grocery store. If we say it feels like terrorism, take our word for it. Caring for your Black coworkers and employees will require EXTRA EFFORT in the coming weeks. They are worth the effort and the discomfort of engaging on the difficult subject of racial terror. This is hard work of inclusion. We all get to choose how we respond to these unthinkable acts. Let’s give each other grace.”

Margus D. Morrison, Andre Mackneil, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey, Pearl Young, and Ruth Whitfield. May their memories be a blessing, may their loved ones find solace in the lives they led, and may their legacy be the impetus for us all to do our part to eradicate the causes of their untimely deaths.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.



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Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.