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Dr. Sandra Braham talks about race; St. Petersburg Chamber releases statement

Megan Holmes

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The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video. 

On this episode, Dr. Sandra Braham, President and CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst.

Steinocher first takes listeners through the Florida Chamber Scorecard for Pinellas County. On the eve of Phase Two reopening in Florida, the average daily cases are now increasing above 20, but the percent positive has stayed below 2 percent.

In a powerful conversation, Braham shares her thoughts on how white people can work to listen and understand the experiences of black people and people of color.

“The first thing you can do is accept that people’s experiences are their experiences and those are real,” Braham said. “It doesn’t matter how challenged you may feel, to say, ‘Oh wow, is it really possible that that happened?’ I think what we’ve seen unfolding in public, thanks to video, is showing yes, it’s possible, but what’s happening when the cameras are off?”

“The second thing is to listen and try to understand and not equate what people of color are experiencing with what women are experiencing and what the LGBT community is experiencing. There are aligning messages in all of that and everyone has a story to tell. In this moment of injustice, this injustice and this frustration and anger is because of 400 years of inequality that has yet to be realized because of systemic racism.”

“Then, you have to do all that you can to learn about inequality and to learn about what it means to live in your skin versus my skin. And to come into this understanding that no one is here to blame you … It’s not about blaming, it’s about understanding … I want you to understand, I want you to try to understand, and I want you to commit to educating yourself and accepting that my experiences are real and they’re not made up in my mind. And what I feel is what I feel.”

Braham says that while leaders can’t change everything in the world, they can change the pieces that they have control over, particularly around the HR systems and practices that their companies have. “You can seek to understand your HR systems that disproportionately affect African Americans because of coded things that appear on their resume,” Braham says. She mentioned that bias can come from reading about organizations candidates are involved in, even if their resume does not show their race.

“It’s subtle, but if I put on my resume that I’m part of the Black Leaders Coalition, they may assume I am African American and assume that there is some sort of radical element in my life.”

Braham says it’s important to implement a blind review process for applications for that reason. “Being in the Junior League is not different than being in Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, or Church Women’s United Group, which are historically black organizations.”

Braham and other Chamber leaders were behind a statement that the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce released on injustice, equity and systemic racism.

In this nationwide crisis, Braham says, people are looking for business and civic leaders to set the tone. It’s important, she says, that the public knows what side business leaders are on.

“We’ve been here before as a nation, before, as a community,” Braham said. “On the edge of change, on the pin of insanity … we’re being given a chance to do it right and if we don’t do this right, I’m afraid of what the future holds for us. This is the time, it’s been time. It’s beyond time.”

Braham shares in Steinocher’s hope that the scale and diversity of the St. Petersburg community, which is comprised of  elected officials who are people of color, diverse community members, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community and persons with disabilities, will push the conversation forward in the city.

Braham shares advice for how to take the conversation to the next level, and build relationships to the next level, and recommends reading the book White Fragility.

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