As a member of an industry with a deep-rooted legacy in the systemic oppression of the Black community, we wanted to take this time to focus on reflecting over our role as a community bank, making space internally for our employees to unpack these issues, and building some additional thoughtful and effective efforts towards dismantling systemic racism and changing banking for all.
Several weeks ago, we started to build on our prior work internally by addressing the unjust murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many more as a result of police brutality. Additionally, we also addressed the extreme racial profiling of Christian Cooper and other all too common forms of oppression directly impacting the Black community in our world — a world historically reliant upon systemic racism and white supremacy.
It’s just not enough to make public statements or to invest in communities during moments of acute crisis — we must invest in them continuously to help support their growth. Over a year ago, we launched the Be FIRST Commitment, a comprehensive plan that harnessed our people, products and partnerships to build belonging in our company and ensure everyone could bank with dignity. This included the creation of a committee of our board of directors, an employee diversity committee, robust employee trainings, employee resource groups, Reevx Labs, and The Friends & Family Fund CD, to help entrepreneurs of color access seed capital to launch their businesses. Collectively, we’ve invested millions in minority owned businesses and communities of color, most recently creating The Futures Fund with the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and Massachusetts LGBTQ Chamber to assist black and brown businesses impacted by COVID-19.
While we’ve implemented initiatives and programs to help address some of the prevalent outcomes of systemic racism that plague our country, we know that we are not perfect and there is much more work to be done. Berkshire Bank is committed to implementing additional efforts as we continue to listen, learn and take further action, both internally and in our communities.
First, it starts with us. We are committed to creating safe spaces and providing our Berkshire Bank community with opportunities for learning, unpacking and openly talking about these issues. Shortly after current events, our People of Color/Multicultural Employee Resource Group hosted a bank-wide conversation facilitated by our consultants and launched a virtual safe space. As a follow up, we are hosting a Coffee Talk that will cover safe spaces and what freedom can look like at work and are holding a Creating Safe & Inclusive Spaces for Employees training for our managers.
Second, the work continues with our community. We hosted two critically important virtual town halls, which were livestreamed to the public and are available online. The Future Of The Black Economy and The Future Of The Latinx Economy. The conversations, hosted by Joy Reid of MSNBC’s AM Joy and MSNBC Anchor Alicia Menendez respectively, explored some of the ways we can collaboratively work towards change. As noted by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, “Policy is not neutral. How we choose to respond to a public health and economic crisis that disproportionately decimates our community should reflect and not deny that reality.”
Finally, the work can only be impactful through continued education on systemic racism and inequality prevalent throughout history. Berkshire Bank is dedicating June 19th, also known as Juneteenth — the oldest national commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, as a day for intentional learning, reflection and a holiday.
Black lives matter. Until we all live in a world that honestly addresses systemic oppression and institutionalized racism, then we all will continue living in a world lacking basic humanity. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” These are grave issues that impact us all and will not end without doing the necessary work, both as a company and as individuals. We will do our part here at Berkshire Bank to support communities that shouldn’t have to do this work alone and help to create a more equitable future for all .
Richard M. Marotta
Chief Executive Officer