The following letter from Michigan Sugar Company President and CEO Mark S. Flegenheimer was sent to all employees of the cooperative on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.
Dear Fellow Employees:
Over the last couple of months and weeks I have written to you about COVID-19 and the adjustments we made to keep employees safe and how proud I am of all of you for keeping our essential ingredient flowing to consumers. More recently, I commented on the response employees and growers have made during the historic flooding in Midland and the surrounding region. It was humbling and uplifting hearing how neighbors were helping neighbors.
This has been a heartbreaking and painful week for America as citizens react to the unjustified death of George Floyd. I was recently asked what I had communicated to our employees about these events. I responded that I had not said anything. “You know, silence speaks volumes,” was the reply.
So, I am not going to be silent. However, let’s be clear: I grew up in a white, upper-middle-class family and by no means am I an expert on racial injustices. Far from it. I do not pretend to understand the emotions or feelings of the black community after watching the videos of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, or Christian Cooper. What I do realize is that these injustices and biases have been going on too long in America and we all should take a bit of time for self-reflection and think about what we can do to better understand and diminish racial inequalities.
In so many ways, this is a better, stronger, more inclusive country than it has ever been. In other ways, progress still feels so elusive. There is still so much hate, bigotry, anger, violence, and misunderstanding in our society that is a lot harder to overlook after the events of this week.
So, what can we do right now?
- Watch this TED Talk discussion on “How to Overcome Our Biases and Walk Boldly Towards Black Men.”
- Reach out to your friends of color. Read this article to find out why and how. Simply ask, “I’m thinking about you this week with everything going on. How are you coping?” Be prepared to listen. You do not need any further expertise to open this discussion.
- Reach out to your white friends and start a discussion they might never have had before. This might start with, “I’m heartbroken over George Floyd’s death and all the racial injustice coming to light right now. How are you processing it all?” Express your feelings about the rioting, but remember to focus on the underlying racial injustice as well. Have you previously been so keenly attuned to issues of racial injustice? Why or why not? What is it about these most recent events that stir the feelings you have?
- Find a way to talk to your kids about this whether it’s reading a book or discussing their feelings.
- Read a book to understand unconscious bias and understand institutional racism. Here is a good list for where to start.
- Watch a documentary about racism in America. Here is a list of 13 available on Netflix.
- Google articles and other resources on the Internet for free. Follow others on social media who don’t look or think like you.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “We must discover the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world.” Let us hold the people we love a little tighter this week and let us take this opportunity to make our cooperative, communities and country a better, new world for all individuals from all walks of life.
Mark S. Flegenheimer
President and CEO, Michigan Sugar Company