In a keynote address to Nareit’s inaugural REITworks: 2020 Virtual Conference, Wes Moore, CEO of The Robin Hood Foundation, addressed some of the complex and long-standing issues surrounding race and inequality that the United States is now addressing, and discussed reasons why he remains “incredibly optimistic.”
Speaking Sept. 22 during a session moderated by Sherry Rexroad, managing director at BlackRock, Moore said 2020 had presented two genuine crises—the coronavirus pandemic as well as the recognition, prompted by the death of George Floyd, of the inequitable treatment Black people receive from the police.
Moore, an author, Army combat veteran, and Rhodes Scholar, described racism as “the most difficult issue that our country continues to wrestle with.”
When talking about the issue of race, class, and the way forward, Moore noted that it’s important to understand how interconnected these mechanisms are. “It’s impossible to understand these issues of economic mobility without also understanding the role that race plays,” he said.
Moore also made the distinction between moments and movements, describing the latter as a situation where “people who are not just part of the impacted population find themselves just as deeply passionate about equity and opportunity as those who are a part of it.”
The only solution going forward, Moore said, is one “that we can move in unison and unity on.” Today, the country sits at “another crucial juncture where we have to be willing to fight for that hope, fight for that space, fight for that opportunity, fight for that ability,” he said.
Moore, whose recent book The Other Wes Moore highlights the plight of a convicted murderer also named Wes Moore who grew up in the same Baltimore neighborhood, said the case highlights “how thin that line is between our life and someone else’s life.” It also shows how quick society is to either congratulate or castigate without being able to delve into how someone actually gets into a situation, he said.
Turning to corporate matters, Moore commented that minority representation is important on both boards and in the C-suite. “One should influence the other. Having it on the board is imperative because that’s also where your larger accountability comes from.”
Corporations, meanwhile, are thinking creatively about how best to bring about social change, according to Moore. Examples he cited include Goldman Sach’s stance that it will not take companies public if they do not have a person of color on their board, and Netflix’s decision to put $100 million of assets into a Black-owned bank. “These are things that have meaningful impact not just on the way business is being done, but also a meaningful impact on the example that people will follow in terms of how they are trying to chart their own path,” he said.
Looking ahead, Moore said his sense of optimism is supported by his sense of history, including the fact that his U.S.-born grandfather returned to this country from Jamaica, while other relatives stayed behind.
“The history of the American journey is not that it’s easy. Democracy is hard. Every victory is hard-fought, but the question for us is are we willing to keep fighting or are we okay with watching a larger experiment just fall to the wayside or having future generations challenge our certitude and our strength,” Moore said. “We collectively cannot and will not allow that to happen…There is no plan B, we’ve got to get plan A right, and that’s what we’re in the process of trying to do,” he added.