By Hamza Mohamoud
America’s current system is broken. Only 1% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are African American. Only 2.5% and 3.4% are South / East Asian and Latinx, respectively. The organizations, public and private, are seldom run by individuals who look like me and my peers of color.
John Rice, the founder and CEO of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), echoed my worldview during his event Leveling Up Leadership, Building Diverse Leaders Today for Tomorrow at the Sanford School of March 16 in conversation with Sanford Professor Deondra Rose.
With his life’s work in racial equity and economic mobility in the private sector, Rice strives to change the system from the inside out. MLT is a national nonprofit organization on the frontlines for the push toward increased racial equity throughout companies and their leadership. MLT prepares men and women of color for jobs that deliver economic mobility for themselves and their family.
I have always been taught to believe in the “American Dream:” if you work hard enough, you will find success. My teachers and parents taught that a four-year college will set me up to achieve a well-paying, fulfilling career. However, Rice noted that 60% of Black, Native American, and Latinx four-year college graduates work at jobs that require less than a college degree to work? This shatters the idea of the “high school to college to career pipeline” that we assume is true. For Rice, MLT and other racial equity organizations need to focus more on that final step: the jump from college to career.
Rice stressed that employers are the most important pathway to economic mobility. If we can put economic mobility into the hands of people of color through their employers while also widening those pathways to achieve economic mobility, Rice believes we can address the root cause of inequities in everyday life.
Throughout the event, I found myself agreeing with most of Rice’s points on increasing economic mobility and promoting system-level changes. He advised the audience to not get caught up in doing our own thing. This work will take time; we should use that time to build something that has a real equitable impact.
As a first-year MPP student studying the intersection of social, environmental, and health policy, I can see how this American system is not broken. It instead works how initially intended: to uplift white individuals into sectors of power and push Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) individuals into lower levels of economic, social, physical (health), and mental stability.
We should place more individuals who look like me and my peers in leadership roles. We need seats at the table to make decisions for us, by us. However, BIPOC individuals alone cannot be expected to fully dismantle this oppressive system. Rice emphasized that private organizations need to tackle racial equity with the same rigor as every other issue that organization faces.
Hamza Mohamoud is a current senior and first-year Master of Public Policy student from the suburbs of Atlanta. He is completing his degree in public policy with a minor in global health while also pursuing an MPP focused on the intersection of health, environmental, and social policy. In his free time, Hamza enjoys playing and watching sports, making Somali tea, and frequenting Waffle House.