A year and two months after the murder of George Floyd, a question remains as to whether the racial reckoning that followed was a movement or relegated to a moment.
On the May 25 anniversary of Floyd’s murder, the Chicago Community Trust and Corporate Coalition of Chicago partnered in launching “5/25 Move to Action,” an accountability framework against which to gauge corporate statements of commitment to racial equity.
To date, 25 firms have joined that movement, committing to actions in three areas critical to addressing economic inequities that have left low-income communities of color reeling from the disparate impact of COVID-19: Inclusive employment, Black- and Latinx-owned business growth and transformational neighborhood investment.
“This is part of our commitment to really look at how we come out of this COVID pandemic, particularly the economic impact of COVID that has been so disproportionately impacting communities of color in our city,” said the trust’s President and CEO, Dr. Helene Gayle.
“We know that many businesses issued statements of solidarity after the murder of George Floyd, and this was a way of working with the business community to honor their commitments to bring resources to bear in ways that address some of these Black and Brown inequities.”
The three focus areas also are at the heart of the Trust’s ‘We Rise Together,’ For an Equitable and Just Recovery” initiative launched in October.
Chicago-area companies turning words into deeds through measurable diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) commitments — or contributing to a newly launched EPIC Fund to support capital investments in disinvested South and West side areas — range from Abbott and Ariel Investments, to Deloitte and Hyatt, Wrigley and United Airlines.
By joining 5/25 Move to Action, all have prioritized business practices and policies that advance racial and economic equity.
In Illinois, 2020 pandemic lockdowns and restrictions disproportionately impacted Black and Latinx residents: Employment for Black residents dipped 15.2 percent, and 8.4 percent for Latinx residents, compared to a 7.3 percent dip for white residents.
The lockdowns also disproportionately impacted Black- and Latinx-owned businesses: 41 percent of Black-owned businesses closed between February and April 2021, compared to a 32 percent drop in Latinx-owned businesses and 17 percent in white-owned businesses, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
And according to the Urban Institute, Chicago’s majority-white neighborhoods receive 4.6 times more private-market investment than majority-Black neighborhoods, and 2.6 times more investment than majority-Latinx neighborhoods.
“When companies question ‘business as usual,’ they often discover practices that exclude places and populations from investment, employment and success in the marketplace. Creating new, more purposefully inclusive approaches not only expands opportunity for employees, entrepreneurs and communities, but also helps businesses succeed,” said Corporate Coalition of Chicago Managing Director Brian Fabes.
The nearly two-year-old coalition launched the EPIC Fund with a goal of raising $50 million in five years, filling a community development financing gap for transformational real estate projects in neglected communities. The coalition, whose mission is to reduce racial and economic inequities in the region, believes companies must stretch beyond philanthropic contributions.
“The EPIC Fund challenges investors of all kinds to think differently about how capital is deployed in disinvested neighborhoods. By investing collectively to fill an historic inequity in the availability of patient, flexible, risk-tolerant capital, investors are not only advancing catalytic, neighborhood-supported projects but establishing the importance of this capital for all communities in Chicago and across the country,” Fabes said.
Among the 25 companies, 23 are working to increase access to employment opportunities like internships and apprenticeships, for Black and Latinx populations, and focusing on DEI hiring and retention. Among them is JP Morgan Chase, which has committed to hiring the formerly incarcerated — 10 percent of its hires last year coming from that population.
Seventeen of the 25 are working to increase contracts and other support of Black- and Latinx-owned businesses. Among them, Hyatt has committed 1,000 hours of pro-bono assistance to help these businesses navigate a slow-moving economy; Cabrera Capital Markets is expanding its professional service contracts with such businesses.
Six companies, including the Mars Wrigley Foundation, have made commitments to help neighborhoods recover through financial investments that support community needs.
“We worked with companies who in some ways or another had already made statements of solidarity. It’s a cross-section of firms willing to go on this journey to make sure commitments are kept. But we hope 5/25 will not stop with these companies,” Gayle said.
“It’s up to all of us to make sure that we not only remember George Floyd but make sure the issue of economic equity is not going to go away, because it costs all of us. This work we are doing with so many of our partners in the business and nonprofit sector is how we make sure this remains a movement and not just a moment.”
The Chicago Community Trust funds two Chicago Sun-Times reporters.