In a letter to Bozzuto employees, Chairman and Co-Founder Tom Bozzuto stated:
I cannot write with the eloquence of Toby nor the insight of Stephanie about the events of the past weeks. On this day of George Floyd’s funeral, I only hope I can add a little historical perspective to what we are living through and to what they have written.
Like so many of you, I am angry, I am saddened, I am frustrated and more than a little depressed not only by the actions of the Minneapolis police officers who murdered George Floyd in public view during daylight, arrogantly defying punishment, but also by the murder of Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through a residential neighborhood, the murder of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville home, the behavior of that bigoted woman in Central Park calling the police on Christian Cooper and so many, many other recent events. And the worst part is I feel like I’ve been here before.
In 1968, I watched on television as first Martin Luther King Jr. and then, a few months later, Bobby Kennedy were murdered. I campaigned for Bobby until I watched him shot to death. I watched the protests in Detroit, in Baltimore and in Washington, D.C. I joined the march in the small town where I was in college. I watched a country with no national moral leadership go through a wrenching period of civil disobedience, violence and ultimately self-examination. I watched a country be exposed to the racist strain that underlies and undermines our civilization.
So, like many of my friends, as I sit here today and watch my television screen, I wonder, did we learn nothing from what we saw in the ‘60s, that conflict, that turbulence, that brutal demonstration of our country’s failures? It is so easy to conclude that we have made no progress, that nothing is better, that we are still a Jim Crow society.
No, I would like to believe some change came out of the ‘60s. I know the murders and the protests shaped me. They shaped how I chose to live my life and ultimately how John, Rick and I, and now Toby, Julie and Mike, shaped this company, a company where we’ve tried our best to build a diverse and inclusive workforce, a company where skills and commitment to our values are the sole determinants of success.
I would like very much to believe that our society, too, learned from the protests of the ‘60s. Some of us, maybe most of us who are white, thought we had. Oh yes, we heard about the racial “incidents” that routinely occurred, but we always assumed they were unique and rare, the result of isolated demonstrations of bigotry. We knew there were hateful people out there and we even had friends who told racist jokes, but somehow, we ignored them, quietly thinking those folks ignorant and in the minority.
But, as a friend recently pointed out, maybe I’m the wrong one to judge whether our society has made progress.
After all, no matter how many times I hear about it, I really cannot understand what it feels like to walk into a store and be immediately suspect of shoplifting. I can’t imagine someone crossing the street in fear rather than facing me head-on. I’ve certainly never thought of a speeding ticket or any other encounter with a police officer as other than an inconvenience. And I never had to have “the talk”—the lesson describing how to behave when encountering the law—with my kids.
Yes, in some respects, this feels like the ‘60s. Just like then, our nation has had a major wake-up call. We have all watched a black man wantonly murdered on our televisions. Yet, it also feels different.
Like the ‘60s, the protesters have been people of all races, people of all ages, come together in sadness, anger and frustration, joined together demanding that we be one nation, under God, in which all are treated equally, a nation in which there will be “equal justice under law,” a nation in which there will be equal opportunity for everyone. People have gathered together all over the country, all over the world, insisting that we live up to our nation’s ideals.
Unlike the ‘60s, this time is different because what we saw was not the murder of an icon and a hero, a Martin Luther King Jr., but the murder of one of us—the murder of someone who was just an average guy. He could have been anybody, or at least, anybody of color. It is different because George Floyd was murdered not in the heart of the Deep South, as was Dr. King, but in Minnesota, of all places. It is different because this murder made it plain to everyone that despite the many, many changes in the law that came out of the civil rights movement, despite all the affirmative action and equal opportunity programs, despite all the good intentions and efforts by so many people, despite even having had a black president, America is still torn and maybe even governed by racism.
But most importantly, this time is different in a way that I cannot measure, a way I can only attempt to describe. This time, there is more hope than I have ever felt before. This time, there is no longer tolerance for half-hearted change. This time, there is a sense of shared energy to complete the job of making our country what we all hope it will be.
Let us remember that history is not just something people read in school. It is something people create. Let us, each of us, be part of creating history. Let us make the most of this historical moment. We can make a difference.
How? First, vote! Vote for people who will not tolerate continued racism.
Secondly, get involved! Our company has long encouraged and supported volunteer activity. We will continue to do so with more energy than ever. We have been and are guided by the knowledge that since the time of the ancient Greek cities, those who chose not to be active in civic life, who failed in their responsibility as citizens, were described by the word “idiotes.” Let us be citizens and not “idiotes.”
Finally, always keep in mind that it is only through our actions, through what we say and do, what we teach our children, that racism can end with this generation. Let us be part of history. Let us come together as people, not white people nor black people nor brown people, but simply people, and, with love, make the changes necessary so that we can fulfill our nation’s promise, eliminate racism and live together in peace and with justice and opportunities for all.
Chairman, Co-Founder & Chief Culture Officer
The Bozzuto Group