By Joy E. Mason, President, Strategist, Speaker, Author, Optimist Business Solutions, LLC
“What can I do?” That was the gnawing question that gripped me during the turbulent summer of 2020. Systemic inequities and unjust treatment of Black people have plagued our country since ‘Freedom’ was declared in 1776. George Floyd’s murder in 2020 was a racial and cultural tipping point, not only in the United States but around the world. It wasn’t the first senseless police killing of a Black male, but it was the one that finally seemed to resonate beyond the Black community—and for me, it was a deep and urgent call to action.
I experienced a roller coaster of emotions, from anger and sadness to tears and frustration. During that time, I had difficult conversations with white friends who proclaimed that they never saw my color. I also gained new friends who said they wanted to see and understand my ‘color’. During these emotional, but productive, conversations, I continued to ask myself, “What can I do?”
In July of 2020, a friend, Deondra Wardelle, asked me to write a blog for her #RootCauseRacism® series. My article focused on leveraging Six Sigma to tackle racial inequities in the recruitment and promotion of Blacks in corporate America. The seed was planted.
In January 2021, I knew that for me, the conversations, tears, book clubs, and platitudes had run their course. For decades I participated in countless community meetings about race relations, educational inequities, police relations, and systemic racism. While the community discussions, task forces, and committees had good intentions, it felt like we were perpetually spinning in the same circles—with no clarity of the actual problem, root causes, or viable solutions. Still, I had to do something. In February, I thought, “What if I could train Black women on a robust methodology to address inequities in the Black community? What if these women could be trained to leverage Six Sigma to further develop their leadership skills while also tackling some of the most challenging issues that impact our community? What if these trained women could become change agents to improve how we talk about and solve racial inequities? What if this vision is the reason I was given the opportunity to be certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt?”
I shared this vision with a local Black Belt who suggested I contact the Purdue Manufacturing Extension Program to explore the idea further. Five months later, a pilot cohort of 12 Black women began virtual classes as part of the Six Sigma Racial Equity Initiative™, created by my company Optimist Business Solutions. This was the first all-female and all-Black Cohort for Purdue MEP. These women represent business, education, and non-profit sectors. They are passionate, committed, and smart. All 12 passed the exam on August 13, 2021, and their projects will impact Black maternal mortality programs, poor retention of Black employees, participation of Black students in local civics programs, and more. They are using Six Sigma to clearly define problems and amplify viable solutions. Their work is creating a better understanding and methodology for processes to include community voice, evaluate and analyze data collection, and reveal root causes. These women are leaders who will use their training to leverage systems that lead to continuous improvement. This is one way to catalyze fundamental changes for long-term impact and outcomes. The seeds were planted, and the question, “What can I/(we) do” was answered.
Black History Month Series. Indianapolis is rich in Black history, and that history teaches us about our past and develops a better understanding of the world. Today, this month, and all year long, we appreciate the contributions and perspectives of African Americans. Every week during #BlackHistoryMonth we’ll celebrate the successes of local African Americans impacting the quality of life and growth in our city.