Aug 24, 2020

Stamping Out Systemic Racism

A message from Samuel Ajobo, Estimator, P.Eng. at EllisDon. 

The exceptionality of humanity is the ability to think abstractly, plan for the future and foster change. This ability enables us to understand not just hunger and pain (as primal functions), but also to contemplate complex societal issues like the injustice that creates human suffering. It saddens my heart to know that this misplacement of our core identity has led to us not taking the time to fully conceptualize the effect, stand against and educate the present and future against these inhumane actions including all forms of discrimination, hate, and bigotry. As a human being, and a black man of African descent, I can acknowledge, and plainly see, that these mistakes have had a significant impact on people of different races, gender, age, abilities and disabilities, sexuality, and faith. While I cannot speak on behalf of everyone, I can say that it is painful to see that other humans could not see the need to stand up in the past.

In the late 1970’s Lebert Lester II was playing on a beach in Connecticut while on a trip that was organized by an anti-poverty organization. Having only ever seen the ocean in books and on television, he was excited to get to work on building a sandcastle. He was soon joined by a young white girl who wanted to help, only to be swiftly taken away by her father. When she came back, she asked Lester to “go in the water to wash it off”, and while confused, Lester later realized that she was talking about his complexion. If we all agree for a moment that children are not born racist, rather taught it, what did this young girl hear, see, or experience to make her ask such a question?

I have seen and experienced how the effects of painful acts of racism both, conscious and subconscious, are detrimental to the emotional, mental, physical, and material wellbeing of people. At some point, I will tell some stories of mine. It becomes more frustrating when you see that there are systems embedded in our society where the colour of your skin can dictate your ability to match your social standing with your potential and prominence. This includes, however is not limited to name calling and racial profiling of your very existence and intelligence. How do we make progress in the right direction? Note that I said “in the right direction”, because we can no longer be ignorant of when we move backwards, or consider it a success when we are just standing still.

Key Realizations and Moving In the Right Direction

I believe that in the same source of sadness of our misplaced human identity is born the renewed hope for the present and the future.

Maybe we can argue that as long as humans have the ability to make choices, there will be forms of prejudice. However, I believe from that choice we also have the ability to empower progressive and positive ideas. This is why I am taking this moment to call on us all to stand and work together in these times. Through real actions not mere lip service or performative activism or just brand protection; let’s help empower love to become a dominant force in our society and hate recessive, help make equality dominant and expose racism and all forms of hate and bigotry. No more excuses for inexcusable jokes, and no more hateful actions excused with ignorance. My hope is that ignorance will be met with the opportunity for growth, and that we find empathy for those who have been the target of discrimination.

In a world where you run the risk of being misinformed from news or uninformed by the lack of news and other education opportunities, I had to ensure I developed my own standards that I believe would help me know who to trust in moments of life like we have now. I had to ensure that those willing to take up the mantle to join this cause are:

• Conscious of the fact that the past, present, and future are important in these discussions.
• Have a genuine reason for their empathy, and by choosing to educate themselves know that the fault lines lie in our knowledge and acceptance of the reality of the past.
• Are conscious that the keys for reconciliation, unification, recalibration, re-equalization, and reunifying lies both in our present and perhaps, to a greater degree, our future.

From recent discussions, I am certain, and filled with hope that EllisDon wants to lead the Construction Industry in the area of doing this right. When I say “right”, I mean not by a quick fix, however by developing and engaging in new effective habits around active listening, while simultaneously educating, empowering and initiating an effective feedback loop to ensure we stay accountable.

I choose to believe in these realizations:

• We all have a role to play in creating the change, however the roles are not equal as that is not possible due to the historical effect of privilege.
• Our leaders in EllisDon are willing to act and not just talk to protect our brand. Even prior to the death of George Floyd, our leaders have dedicated resources to Inclusive Diversity and this has led to training materials, webinars, book club activities, newsletter materials, and hopefully many more to come.
• We have taken a very clear and strong stance as signatories of the BlackNorth CEO Pledge, and continue to work rigorously behind the scenes to carry out a review of our existing standards, developing and implementing tool kits to be made visible across our sites, and engaging in effective and actionable discussion.
• Transparency and accountability is key, and are willing to walk that path in true honesty.
• We can’t have real change by telling people what we think the solution to their problem is without firsthand knowledge of how they feel and what they need in order to address the problem.

In moving in the right direction, our leaders have birthed EllisDon’s Alliance of Black Employee Experience and Leadership (ABEEL). This is an initiative I am glad to participate in to work with great minds within our company, to make our company, industry, and world at large a better place. The primary purpose of this group is to work with our leaders to effectively and without prejudice empower our most important assets, our employees, while simultaneously educating the present and the future on how to avoid mistakes of the past. I call on everyone in EllisDon to get and stay engaged in this effort. This group will work to:

• Ensure that there is a platform for all of the voices at EllisDon to be heard across our company.
• Ensure that our present and future is equally educated and empowered by working with institutions such as schools and marginalized neighbourhoods.
• Ensure that we continue the work to enhance the awareness of social injustice through project site visits, town hall meetings and workshops.
• Ensure that we work with our leadership team to develop metrics to ensure all marginalized groups are fairly treated in area of wage, promotions, and mentorship.

Conclusion:

Though there is a lot of work to be done, I feel glad to see that genuine actions are being taken by companies like ours and I am hopeful for the future. Similar to Lester, a brown child in 2020 in the GTA was victim of discrimination when a friend refused to hold his hand in fear that he would have to wash himself after. However, unlike Lester’s experience that has stayed with him for several decades, the parents of the other child took the time to explain to their child that his actions were wrong, hurtful and that he should apologize to his friend.

I really look forward to a progressive future. A future where my family and I feel safe and equally respected; a future where it is no longer normal for someone to consciously or subconsciously feel lesser or superior; a future where I can point to moments in time where EllisDon worked together to take actionable steps in making our industry and world at large a better place!