The Fire This Time
“If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in a song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, fire next time.”
James Baldwin, Author, Playwright and Civil Rights Activist, 1963
The GEM team, like every community in this country, is watching, listening, and learning from this pivotal moment of public focus and national introspection. The senseless and reprehensible deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and many others serve as a harsh reminder that our society’s ongoing reckoning with its deep-rooted wrongs cannot and should not be ignored. This moment only reaffirms what we should already know: that we must make use of the resources and position we have, both to support those who are struggling for justice and healing and to seek fairness and respect within our community. Baldwin’s prophetic call for action still powerfully resonates.
GEM launched an intensive effort three years ago specifically to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We undertook this work in a spirit of humility and discovery, knowing that we had much to learn and much to do to achieve a more diverse and equitable workplace. Our aims are intentional, authentic and, we hope, will produce results that make a difference not only for GEM and for those we work with, but also for the larger community. The events of the past few weeks have intensified and reaffirmed our commitment to this work. To that end, we are accelerating activities within the four focus areas that are part of our existing strategic planning framework:
Education, Engagement, Recruitment and Manager Sourcing.
For us, education means framing events in context, and providing the insights and skills necessary for our team to understand how to contribute to and work within a diverse, inclusive and equitable community. Because education does not happen in a vacuum, it must be coupled with and strengthened by engagement. In this context, engagement means providing "on the ground" opportunities in the Charlotte community to confront inequity where it lives and grows. It also means bringing into the firm a variety of resources, including speakers of local and national import, to explain the specific, real-time ways we can better serve our community and our neighbors. Through the GEM Foundation and our Committee on Community Outreach, both of which are staff-led, we have and will continue to focus not only on the theme of upward mobility, but also on how that work can further support a more just and equitable future.
Recruitment efforts focus on increasing the diversity of candidates in our hiring pipeline, and making our culture more welcoming and supportive of team members from diverse backgrounds. We aim to ensure a respectful and empowering environment for everyone who works with GEM, and to be aware of the broad spectrum of identities and experiences that make up our community. We have accelerated our planning and work paths to engage with more diverse investment managers and management firms for our portfolios. We also partner with these managers to assist in breaking down barriers to entry into the institutional marketplace.
More can and should be done by all of us. During the earliest days of the recent protests, we recognized the lack of historical understanding of the larger struggle for civil rights in America. Without an understanding of the origins of the issues we confront today, how can we ever address them effectively? In an effort to meet this need, we will expand our efforts to foster a deeper understanding and awareness of race and racism for all our team members by requiring participation in race equity workshops. We will also offer opportunities to participate in firm-wide open dialogue.
We opened with James Baldwin. We close now with him as well:
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
We will acknowledge and confront this pain, and we will welcome the healing that it brings.