Stronger Together: Joy Into Action

Stronger Together: Joy Into Action

June 13, 2024

It's been just about a month since our BRIDGE24 retreat, and my heart remains grateful for the inspiration, connections, and joy I shared with all who were there.

Along with our guests, I had the extraordinary fortune to be graced by Dr. Bertrice Berry's reminder to "always clean the light," to be activated by Prof. Kenji Yoshino's and Dr. Sesha Joi Moon's urgent alarm over the political landscape, and inspired by Dr. Omar Rodriguez-Vilá's presentation of ground-breaking research proving that inclusion is good for business.

And I remain humbled by the opportunity to be in the room to receive the wisdom, wit, and wonder of Dr. Clarence B. Jones, civil rights icon, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, and, it turns out, darn good singer (to hear his soul-stirring rendition of "This Little Light of Mine" was to be awakened).

Yet, in the days following the retreat, I'm reminded that we face significant, even daunting, challenges. The steady drumbeat of judicial attacks on DEI and affirmative action, the rise in racism, antisemitism, and hatred in all its forms, and the looming shadow of Project 2025 make it clear that inclusion is no longer just a moral or business imperative. It's a human rights issue, too.

BRIDGE is committed to being an agent of action, embracing the true spirit of inclusion and unity with urgency and courage. And BRIDGE24 was an excellent example of what we can accomplish when we join, convene, and connect.

As we turn into the wind of a divisive political season, I am sharing my opening remarks from the retreat as a reminder to us all that hope is abundant, intention is powerful, and courage drives change. And as always, we are stronger together.

Hello everyone, I am Sheryl Daija, Founder and CEO of BRIDGE.

On behalf of the BRIDGE Board of Directors, I welcome you to our second annual retreat, BRIDGE24.

As I stand here tonight and reflect on last year, I feel humbled at how far we have come. In just two years, we have brought together an incredible Board of over 30 DEI, marketing, and business leaders. And this superpower combination of disciplines is further reflected in the many new and familiar faces who have chosen to be with us over the next two and a half days.

But other things have changed, too. Last year, I shared a little about my personal journey. How I was born in South Africa under the apartheid regime, and that was the impetus that spurred my passion for social justice. And how 30 years ago, while in the United States, I had the privilege of voting for Nelson Mandela to become the first Black President of South Africa. I also shared the honor of being a mother to my son, Abelli, and how I get to see the world through his eyes. He is my inspiration to make the world a better place, a better place for him and for all our children. As I shared my story, there was a sense of optimism around our collective goal.

I could not predict one year ago, however, that I would stand in front of you all tonight at an inflection point in our culture, our country, and our world. And while back then, our work was a moral and business imperative, it has now become ever more crucial to the future of our society — a future that must be pursued uncompromisingly and committedly.

We must be prepared that the politicization and relentless conservative backlash against DEI will only get louder as we head into this election year. And that Chief Diversity Officers will once again be called on to support communities that are the most terrified and the most concerned.

This, coupled with the explosive rise in hate since Oct 7 — with antisemitism growing at a rate most of us have not seen in our lifetime, and the ongoing crisis of racism, Islamophobia, and anti-LGBTQIA+ bigotry — places even more responsibility on us all. Over the past seven months, BRIDGE has found itself in new territories, conducting listening sessions with both Jewish/Israeli and Muslim/Palestinian employee communities. And while there were certainly political differences in what we heard, they had much in common, most notably the pain each community feels.

Just a couple of days ago, on Friday of last week, Dr. Clarence Jones, who will be here with us at BRIDGE24 on Tuesday morning, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Biden. Dr. Jones has worked tirelessly as a civil rights activist for 60+ years. Alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, as his friend and lawyer, he helped co-write one of the most iconic speeches in American History. The call in the I Have a Dream speech to speed up that day when all of G-d's children, Black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands is as urgent now as it's ever been. Dr. Jones's message to us all is to stay silent is to be complicit.

His words remind me of Martin Niemoller, a prominent Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany who said — and you can substitute any community in his words:

"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me."

As inclusion makers, we have an awesome responsibility. Those who might not be as directly affected by injustice should be as outraged as those who are. As Dr. King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." We need to call on each other to change the notion that women should fight for women, Black people for Black people, Muslims for Muslims, and Jewish people for Jewish people. We must stand up equally for each other and show up like our Chief Diversity Officers for any community most directly affected because Inclusion is Inclusion for everyone.

And it starts with intention. I hope tonight we stand unified around that intention and that you will all join BRIDGE as we continue to pursue our agenda unapologetically, courageously, and expeditiously.

After all, as Kenji Yoshino so pointedly put it in a conversation he and I had recently, we have now inherited the civil rights movement. WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER!

Please enjoy everything we have in store for you — from the incredible speakers we have lined up to the real conversations I expect we will all have to the immersive cultural experiences. I am personally looking forward to meeting each of you, and if there is anything I or the BRIDGE team can do to make your time with us more meaningful, please don't hesitate to reach out.

And now to inspire us, Dr. Bertice Berry will share why we all need to Clean the Light!

#wearestrongertogether #Inclusion #DEI #BRIDGE

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