Our associates got together to discuss racial inequality in America

Duke Realty has a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion within our company and among the organizations we do business with. But we recognize there is always more work we can do. Because we’re determined to follow through on our commitment to justice and equality, our associates gathered recently for an online conversation on diversity and inclusion entitled “A Discussion on Racial Inequality.”

The protests of this past month may have started in Minneapolis in response to the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, but as Duke Realty Chairman and CEO Jim Connor points out in his opening remarks, this is far from an isolated incident. The injustice experienced by so many in our communities—not only recently, but on a regular basis—has started necessary and overdue conversations throughout our country about racial discrimination, inequality, and the need for social justice in today’s society. We gathered to continue that conversation.

Our panelists were Senior Property Manager Dave Jarvis, Claims Manager Janean Wilson, Vice President of Acquisitions & Development Michael Chukwueke, and Vice President of Regional Asset Management Natalie Tyler-Martin. Saundra Gilbert, Corporate Responsibility and Brand Manager for Duke Realty, moderated the discussion.

As participants shared their memories of growing up Black in communities across the country, along with reflections on what it means to be Black in America today, you could hear how thoroughly discrimination and inequality still pervade the Black American experience—adding frustration, pain, and threat of bodily injury to everyday experiences like shopping in a department store, exercising outside, or driving in one’s own neighborhood.

It’s also clear that the discrimination and bias our Black associates continue to experience in the world aren’t all that different from what their parents and grandparents dealt with generations ago. We have a lot of work to do in our communities to change attitudes and beliefs.

But our participants also shared signs of hope. “The protests this time are different,” said Natalie Tyler-Martin, contrasting the demonstrations happening now to those six years ago after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  “There’s more diversity and inclusion in the movement. Traditionally, it’s just been black and brown people in the movement, and to see the diversity of folks protesting now has been amazing.”

“If you feel overwhelmed and you want to do something, there are baby steps,” said Janean Wilson. “If you have a friend who’s making comments that they shouldn’t, in a gentle way, say, ‘That’s not right—let’s not do that.’ And model this behavior for your children. Teach them that diversity and inclusion are important. And then the next generation will learn and move forward. Little steps can make a better world, all the way around.”

Several participants pointed out that change takes everyone’s participation and  we all need to acknowledge the part we play. Michael Chukwueke likened this to a photo he saw recently taken of a sign at one of the protests. “‘Treat racism like COVID-19: Assume you have it, listen to experts, don’t spread it, and be willing to change your life to end it,’” Chukwueke said. “It’s short and sweet, to the point, and something that everyone could follow.”

And the effort needs to happen not only at the personal level, but community by community. “You have to know what’s happening locally, and what the real solution is,” said Dave Jarvis. “And it’s the same with every piece of systemic racism that remains in society.”

We feel it’s crucial to keep holding conversations like this about diversity and inclusion—within companies like ours and throughout all of the communities we serve. And we’re committed to keeping those conversations going.

You can watch the videos of the online discussion, below. Please note, some of the videos are longer in length as we wanted to give our associates an opportunity to share their stories.

Question 1: What was it like for you growing up?

Question 2: How do you feel about what is happening with the national protests?

Question 3: What does it mean to be black in America?

Question 4: How do you talk to your children about race?

Question 5: What has your experience been like as a person of color in the commercial real estate industry?

Question 6: What can people do who want to get involved?