Black History Month reflections

by Rebecca Conway and Ashlee Wagner
Charles Aris Executive Search

In his book Across That Bridge, legendary civil rights leader John Lewis wrote, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.”

February was a great time to reflect on the achievements of the committed and determined Black individuals whose names we’ve known since grade school: icons such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, to name a few. Based in downtown Greensboro, home to storied HBCUs North Carolina A&T State University and Bennett College, Charles Aris team members are proud of the fact that the Greensboro Four and their courageous sit-ins in 1960 made history mere blocks away from our firm’s headquarters today.

In the course of our ongoing work to transform Charles Aris Executive Search into an antiracist organization, we reflected on how to celebrate Black History Month. Listening, learning and educating are all tenets of the month, so we decided to launch an internal spotlight series to highlight some of today’s Black corporate leaders each day.

We wanted to share these standout quotes from a handful of the inspirational executives we highlighted last month:

“Forget your corporate slogans or what you say you stand for. Show people who you are and the culture you want by whom you hire, fire and promote.”
Kim Seymour, Chief People Officer at WW (formerly Weight Watchers)

“Every day, three times a day, [my all-male, all-black Catholic high school] blasted this message through its PA system: ‘Gentlemen, prepare yourselves. You’re going to run the world.’ ”
Arnold Donald, President and CEO of Carnival Corporation

“Your background is what you make of it. It can be an asset or an excuse. I have never accepted lowered standards. Where I grew up, everyone looked like me – all of our leaders were Black, so color didn’t set any limits to my dreaming. But I have learned that growing up Black in America is very different. There are not nearly enough examples of people who look like us in positions of power or who have a lot of success in the tech field. Unfortunately, that limits people and can hinder the idea that they can do whatever they want.”
Tope Awotona, CEO and Founder of Calendly, a Charles Aris favorite to ease the burden of scheduling

“When I walk into a room, you’re going to see my race and you’re going to see my gender. I just think that we need to stop being apologetic and trying to fit in.”
Thasunda Brown Duckett, CEO of Chase Consumer Banking and incoming CEO of TIAA-CREF

“It’s important to sit and reflect on the magnitude of this because anytime a person of color is the first of anything, it’s significant and it’s meaningful. It’s not so much because it’s about me, but it’s about all the folks that attempted before and paved the way for this to be something that I was able to walk into.”
Jason Wright, President of the Washington Football Team – the youngest team president in the National Football League and the first Black team president in league history

“I’m hoping that a pandemic plus a social disaster comes together to give us the opportunity to rethink [the injustices in our country].”
Ursula Burns, the first Black woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company while leading Xerox

The Charles Aris team is excited to continue this momentum in March with Women’s History Month, with more to come this year. In closing, we’ll share one final quote from John Lewis, who posed an important question for us all to consider:

“Every generation leaves behind a legacy. What that legacy will be is determined by the people of that generation. What legacy do you want to leave behind?”