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Leon Kaye headshot

How Business Leaders’ Commitments to Black America Have Fallen Short

An analysis of the promises that large companies made to Black America last summer shows that those pledges have so far had questionable impact.
By Leon Kaye
Black America

A Washington Post analysis of the financial promises that 50 of America’s largest companies made to Black America last summer shows that those once-bold pledges have so far led to questionable impact.

First, the amount of dollars that companies have actually spent versus what they had promised turned out to be a pittance, according to the Post’s number-crunching. To date, only 3.5 percent of the almost $50 billion in financial commitments could be verified.

This research has found that while CEO after CEO proclaimed last summer that they stood with Black Americans, only a sliver of those funds was given to organizations that are dedicated to pursuing criminal justice reform, which is what last summer’s Black Lives Matter rallies and protests across the U.S. were largely about in the first place.

The Post’s reporters also found that 90 percent of those large corporate pledges – more than $45 billion – were loans or other investments from which such companies would profit.

This is not "necessarily a bad thing," observes Ellen McGirt, senior editor of Fortune and lead author of the publication's lauded RaceAhead newsletter. "But it’s a thing worth understanding."

Programs designed to boost homeownership for Black families, which would help generate financial returns for any company, aren’t a bad idea at face value. But one such home buyer grant program in the Minneapolis area would allow anyone to buy a home in a majority Black or Latino neighborhood no matter what their race may be, which would allow white families who hold more wealth to benefit and in the end risk even more gentrification and displacement of Black families.

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Less than 10 percent of this multibillion-dollar promise for Black America went toward grants for community groups. “The $4.2 billion in grants, to be disbursed over as long as a decade in some cases, represents less than 1 percent of the $525.6 billion in net income earned by the 50 companies in the most recent year,” the Post concluded.

The one beneficiary of corporations’ largess? Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have reaped $345 million in donations, though the Post’s review said the end result could be a wider gap between smaller schools and the more elite HBCUs.

At a higher level, while companies may have appeared to be bold and courageous last summer, in the end they, their CEOs and their boards of directors are still risk averse. Donations for causes such as health, equity and education are seen as safe and much less triggering than any reforms targeting policing and the criminal justice system.

“Education is a fairly noncontroversial, conservative impulse in terms of corporate donations,” Robert E. Weems Jr., a professor of business history at Wichita State University, explained to the Post, adding, “when in fact George Floyd as a catalyst specifically had to do with criminal justice and policing.”

Image credit: Jakob Rosen/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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