I’m writing today to amplify the voices of those who are rightfully calling our nation to account for racist injustice and inequity that has persisted for centuries. Alongside them, Year Up mourns George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and the countless Black people who have been murdered by systems of white supremacy, including those whose names we will never know. We are heartbroken for those families and stand with those who are showing up to make their voices heard calling for justice.

The undeniable reality is that the acts of brutality and murder of Black people captured on video are heinous and a predictable result of systems designed to dehumanize and oppress Black people. What hurts the most is knowing that these systems continue to work because the collective complacency and silence of so many has let them, but no more. By “so many” I mean myself and other non-Black Americans, those with power and influence, those who could effect change but have chosen not to. We choose complacency, deflection, explanation, comfort, or silence, and those actions have made us complicit. Many of us have acted similar to the way Amy Cooper did, fully aware of how our systems are weaponized against Black people and ready to use our privilege and invoke them to our advantage. Our willingness not to focus on our part in this means that we have actively chosen to support the system. We can and must make different choices starting today.

We are living through a historical moment. All those who are showing up around the world to say with one voice that Black Lives Matter are heroes, and I am humbled and proud to see my children walking and taking action in solidarity. This can be a moment for change – but only if we take action in support of what we say we believe. The events of these past two weeks have shown what is possible when we take action collectively and we at Year Up are redoubling our commitment to the Movement.

Systemic and institutional racism plays a key role in determining which young adults get opportunities to experience economic mobility, and which young adults face countless obstacles to reaching their full potential. Those obstacles are everywhere – in our workplaces, in our legal systems, in our social lives – and removing them takes work, investment, and care. At Year Up, we have worked for 20 years to remove these obstacles knowing the systems were flawed, and we will always have more work to do. We also clearly have much to focus on inside of Year Up as well and we are working with our employees to become an even better Opportunity Employer. Last week I announced to our company the next steps we will take to further the causes of justice and equity within our organization, and improve how we support our young adults to cross the Opportunity Divide. Some specific examples – and there will be more – include:

  • Creating a Year Up Antiracist Activist Group that will challenge us to further educate ourselves and directly attack barriers that our Opportunity Youth face each day, with the intent of more aggressively and quickly eliminating racial barriers inside and outside our organization.
  • Accelerating racial equity education for all our leaders and managers.
  • Articulating more clearly to our staff that they have the right to expect a workplace that is not only bias-free, but one that is more inclusive, equitable, and engaging – and outline steps they can take to ensure management is held accountable when that is not their lived experience.
  • Calling on business leaders to join OneTen. Participation in this coalition will require not only a “pledge for progress” but clear commitments to action. Now is the time to take action so that we can rebuild an equitable and just society with economic mobility for all Black Americans and other underrepresented groups.
  • Joining other employers in voicing support for the Floyd, Arbery, and Taylor families’ call to draft bipartisan legislation that will take real steps to end racial violence and increase police accountability.

These are just the steps we are taking today, and we know that we will have more steps to take tomorrow to be a part of creating sustainable change. We do this on behalf of our students, our alumni, our employees, and all those in need of an opportunity. As DeRay Mckesson once told me: “Systems don’t break all at once. They break in pieces.” We are committed to breaking every piece within our reach, and we will be challenging you to use your voices, power, and privilege to do the same. We must rebuild our country into a more just, more inclusive America where power and privilege are shared more broadly and fairly.

Our children and grandchildren and the generations to come will read about this moment in history, and my hope is that they read about this as a moment of redemption for our nation. A moment where we took action to fight racial injustice, expand economic opportunity, end police brutality, care for those being crushed by racism, poverty, and oppression, and make real our nation’s promise of liberty and justice for all. That requires all of us choosing to use our voices and having courageous conversations with our loved ones, our communities, our leaders, and ourselves – especially ourselves. That feels like the right choice to me, and it is the choice I am making today. I hope you choose the same.

Gerald Chertavian
Founder and CEO of Year Up