By Beverly Norman-Cooper
Former Executive Director of Supplier Diversity and Sustainability, Kaiser Permanente
July 31, 2023
I was born in 1955 in Albany, a sleepy little town in Southwest Georgia. Well into the 20th century, Albany was the economic and transportation hub of the region. King Cotton ruled, fueled by the Flint River and the brutal labor of enslaved Africans.
I lived as most Black people did—in the dark shadow of the 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision, a ruling that proclaimed Black people possessed “no rights which the [W]hite man was bound to respect.”
In the Albany of my youth, public places had separate water fountains, one labeled “White” and the other “Colored.” Being a little Black girl, I used the “Colored” fountain.
At 20, my father, worked 14-hour days, six days a week, earning $12 a week, insufficient to support a wife and a baby. To make ends meet, both my parents took on odd jobs. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old, inexperienced white kid at the same shop earned $50 a week. The glaring disparity highlighted the daily realities of racial inequality.
On June 29, 2023, by a vote of 6-3, the Roberts Supreme Court severely limited, if not effectively gutted, the use of race in college admissions. The decision reversed more than 40 years of precedent. Perversely, it left other preferences in place, giving legacy admits, the children of donors, faculty members, athletes, and others a leg up.
The ruling will likely lead companies to cut back on efforts such as workplace diversity, philanthropy, and yes, supplier diversity (which might just be capitalism at its best. It rewards risk-taking entrepreneurs who create millions of jobs that drive the economy, spur wealth, and form the cornerstone of better health and education in many under-resourced communities.)
It is tempting to despair in the face of the ruling. For me, it is a reminder that life is hard, and wins are temporary. It also reminds me that we are a people who do “hard”.
“Hard” pushed my father to join the Army, which later created the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 5 to keep him on active duty past normal retirement age. At 21, he quit his mechanic job, joined the Army, served twice in Vietnam, once in Iraq, mastered his craft, was promoted to warrant officer, and became part of the Department of the Army’s program to select and help train the next generation of master mechanics. It pushed my 19-year-old mother to bundle me up in the family’s 4-door station wagon, drive the deserted, moon-lit country road to a downtown church and join the Albany movement, part of the effort to desegregate public and private spaces. Thanks to them, my siblings and I got a chance to travel and live throughout the U.S. I finished high school in Germany, returned to the U.S. to earn my journalism degree at the University of Georgia, and later, an MBA from Columbia University,
Hard times are the booster fuel that propels us towards progress. Consider:
So, rage if you want to. Cry — even ugly cry — if you need to. But fight because we must. Fight to send a message to the six Supreme Court justices that there are people who care enough to challenge their ruling.
But fight how?
It’s hard right now. And the years ahead will be harder. But I was made for hard. So were you. Let’s get to it.
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