Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Matter.
Like so many of you, I have been deeply saddened and frustrated by recent events in our country stemming from the racial injustices facing Black Americans. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others in the Black community have died an unjust and tragic death. They should still be here with us.
Best Buddies is an organization staffed with passionate individuals dedicated to building a more inclusive world, but in full transparency, we have not had a candid conversation about race. This conversation is long overdue, and I am aware of our responsibility to take action towards creating what we want to see realized in the communities we serve.
I understand that it is time to have a real conversation about racial discrimination and inequality. We must do better to ensure that our Black employees and participants feel valued, respected, seen, and safe within this organization. We see you. We hear you. We value you.
Currently, our International Board of Directors is 9% Black; 10% of our Best Buddies staff members are Black; 18% of our Jobs participants are Black; and 6% of participants in our school programs are Black. We are determined to increase these numbers every year with new initiatives that we will be rolling out in the coming weeks. We are committed to increasing the representation of Black voices across our work and ultimately creating a framework that paves the way for real change.
As leaders in the field of inclusion and diversity, our organization is committed to doing more. We will create more open, transparent lines of communication with our staff and will make every effort to foster a corporate culture where people from all backgrounds feel included and heard.
We are here to listen, to learn, and to act. Each of us must look inward and educate ourselves so that we can address biases, assess our cultural weaknesses, and create a workplace where employees feel safe voicing their suggestions or concerns. Our company culture must encourage everyone to show up at work as their authentic self. This progress will advance us forward as an organization.
Additionally, the Best Buddies Leadership Team will be more intentional in developing talent and hiring Black people at all levels. We also will ensure that our Black participants have a seat at every table — including as Best Buddies employees and as members of our International Board of Directors. Our employees, management team, and Board must become more diverse.
I have heard your concerns and recognize the reality that we have work to do both internally and externally. I do not have all the answers but believe it is better to show up imperfectly than not to show up at all.
As a very first step, we have formed a Diversity & Inclusion committee that will enable staff from all levels to engage with one another and help Leadership determine the best path forward for our organization.
Here are the steps we are taking in support of our Black employees, participants and communities as we continue to determine our long-term goals:
I. Commit to increasing diversity among BBI’s Leadership Team, Board of Directors and management positions. More specifically by 2022, we will have more Black representation through the use of data, analytics, and more importantly leader accountability.
II. Implement Diversity & Inclusion training during the onboarding process and year-round with the required support.
III. Create a new senior-level position focused on diversity and inclusion to combat implicit and explicit bias as we evolve our internal company policies. This position will manage the organization’s long-term, wide-ranging D&I strategies to ensure that we are leaders in this space.
IV. Create a fund and develop a strategic plan of action to expand Best Buddies programs into communities of color, high schools in predominantly urban areas, and the nation’s 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s).
V. Create formal structures to ensure we are hearing from our staff by establishing greater transparency and clear channels of communications between organizational leadership and staff through virtual town-hall based formats, annual staff surveys, and other forms of communication.
Open, honest dialogue is just the start. I am aware that we must follow up with active engagement and accountability throughout the entire organization.
We are still figuring out additional ways to try and be part of the solution. Therefore, the actions listed above are just the beginning of our progress. We can, we must, and we will do better.
I am grateful for your hard work and dedication as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic and a racial pandemic.
Anthony K. Shriver
Founder & CEO
Best Buddies International