What MBAs can do in defense of Black lives

Holly Fetter
May 31 · 4 min read
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Nikole Hannah-Jones of “The 1619 Project” speaking at Harvard Business School

Here are a few ways MBAs can support the movement for Black lives:

  • Donate to and fundraise for racial justice nonprofits. Support local Black-led organizing groups and/or invest in national organizations like Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of hundreds of Black-led organizing groups including Black Youth Project 100, Black Lives Matter, and Color of Change. Invite family, friends, and colleagues to join you. If you’ve already started working, ask about getting your company to match your gift(s). Try becoming a monthly donor if you don’t have enough cash on hand to give a bigger gift right away.
  • Join a protest or take virtual action. If you’ve never participated in a protest before, now is the time to do it! You can also take virtual action by signing petitions, engaging in social media campaigns, calling elected officials, etc. Text ActionNOW to 90975 to get updates from the Movement for Black Lives, and follow the organizations listed above on social media or subscribe to their newsletters to get invitations to take action. Consider supporting a campaign to redirect police funding to alternative community safety programs. Collective action is key — mass movements and grassroots activists influence business leaders, public officials, and other decisionmakers.
  • Educate yourself about anti-Black racism to supplement your business school education. Read essays from “The 1619 Project” in the New York Times to understand the legacy of slavery, and check out these resources for White, South Asian, Latinx, and Asian allies for Black lives. White folks: we need to educate ourselves about racism and stop putting that burden on our classmates of color.
  • Talk to your networks about racism. Risk losing social capital by making it clear to people around you where you stand on the issue of anti-Black racism. Invite your classmates, friends, colleagues, and family members to talk about these issues, in person or over social media. Don’t just talk to people whose views are aligned with yours — help grow the movement by engaging people who might not typically gravitate toward these topics.
  • Join, volunteer, intern, or work for an organization committed to racial justice. Check out the organizations listed above, or find local ones in your communities. White folks, I highly recommend joining SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), which has chapters in many US cities and is a great way to get involved with the movement for Black lives. If you identify as someone with access to wealth or a high income (i.e., most MBA grads), join Resource Generation, a movement of people under 35 committed to using our resources to support movements for racial and economic justice.
  • Sign the MBA Oath. Created in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the MBA Oath is a pledge for business school graduates who aspire to be ethical managers and leaders. Consider joining the community of signatories today.
  • Ask your alma maters to take a stand and educate students about anti-Black racism. Ask administrators to speak out about what’s happening in the US right now, in the foreground of many schools’ graduation ceremonies. Ask faculty to teach about racism instead of constantly relying on students of color to educate their classmates about their experiences. Write a case study about anti-Black racism to be taught to future MBAs.

As MBAs, we’re often told we have very special skills. We’re taught to lead, not to follow. Our instinct might be to think we alone can solve racism by starting a new social enterprise, or that we can only be useful to the movement by doing DCFs or management consulting for nonprofits. Sometimes the ways in which we can help advance social change are more humble and mundane, less glamorous and “sophisticated.” This might be a moment to follow more than we lead, listen more than we opine, and to think about the resources we might need to sacrifice or share (e.g., money, luxury, networks, social capital) if we’re really going to “make a difference in the world.”

Many of our Black classmates and friends are exhausted by having to engage in protest and mourning every time a Black person is killed by the police, in addition to the many daily encounters with racism that often go unrecognized by others. It can feel like nothing has changed or will change every time a new name is turned into a hashtag. Let’s each vow to do something different this time around — let’s lean into risks, let’s make sacrifices, and let’s stay involved in the movement long after the social media hype fades and the media outlets look away. Joining an organization committed to racial justice is a great way to ensure we’re continuing to take action over the long haul. These communities will remind us to stay engaged and help deepen our awareness through regular programming and communications. The goal is to shift systems and cultures informed by centuries of racial injustice, an effort which will require sustained collective action beyond this moment.

Finally, let’s remember the role that business has played in the history of anti-Black racism in the US — that “the slave trade was a trade and the plantation system was a business system,” in the words of Jan Rivkin, chair of the HBS MBA program — and vow to lead our organizations and enterprises with an unyielding commitment to justice, and a prioritization of people over profits.

Holly Fetter is a graduate of Harvard Business School, class of 2020.

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