This is Our Moment to L.E.A.D. for Social Justice

August 12, 2020

By Larry Hanson, GMA Executive Director


The events of this year and the past few months have compelled a strong statement to show that GMA stands in solidarity in opposition to racism, acts of injustice, inequity and intolerance.

I, along with our GMA officers, believe our association is the right organization to create opportunities for discussion among our city leaders that will lead to a better understanding of these issues and how we, as city officials, employees, friends, colleagues and human beings can make a difference.

For leaders everywhere, it’s time to listen deeply, unite widely and act boldly.

We are all feeling anxious about current events. We have rarely experienced this level of collective emotion. Months of uncertainty about a health pandemic has been compounded for many by feeling isolated and apprehensive. Then we face the issue of social injustice and unrest. For most every person, watching the video of George Floyd’s final moments likely activated intense feelings. People have been unable to normalize, rationalize or explain away what they saw. All they can sense is that this is deeply unfair and wrong. These events, and others, make now the time that we can and should all come together.

In this situation, leadership is going to be critical from every corner of society—not just to affect change within organizations but in the public realm, too. This is where GMA and city leaders can play a vital role.

It’s time for us to:

1. Listen Deeply

The first step involves making sure people feel heard. We must all be willing to listen so that people feel heard more than they ever have. It means creating a designated time and place to have open discussions. This means focusing on ensuring people feel safe enough to voice their questions and experiences.

That is the purpose of the statewide town hall that we will host on Aug. 6. This opportunity will give the more than 5,000 city officials from across the state a platform to ask questions to and hear from a panel of four municipal leaders who have made strides for social justice. This town hall, which will be facilitated by Georgia Public Broadcasting will also allow Georgia’s entire population to watch the event.

2. Unite Widely

Creating a Commission of 26 city leaders will allow us to spend the time necessary to study, engage and make sound recommendations for action. Our leaders can come together around shared goals. Learn more about this commission on page 24. In addition, within GMA we have created a 10 person staff team that will support these efforts and ensure the work of the Commission is meaningful and productive.

In order to unite widely, we start with the things we agree on: that racism, sexism, classism, bigotry, hate and oppression have no place in a civilized society nor in our country today. As leaders, we are more similar than we are different, and we can share our own challenges and experiences to remind people of our shared humanity. From this foundation, we can find tangible goals in which everyone can participate. Perhaps this involves bringing attention and awareness, along with calm and purpose to others. We can unite people widely on things that matter now.

3. Act Boldly

As leaders, we have the privilege of voices that are listened to and a platform that can make a difference. Moving emotions from outrage and pain to solutions will take bold action. The actions likely to have the most positive response are those that are not just unexpected, but surprising and courageous. We must come together and own this moment in time. I know we will look back in a decade and be proud of the way we came together to use our voices and the leadership platform we enjoy for positive change.

While as individuals we can’t control issues, outcomes or actions individually, together we have power. This power includes influencing practices, such as seriously com- mitting to diversity as a strategic imperative, looking for opportunities to increase fairness and role modeling what’s right, not  what’s easy. As people and as leaders, we can collab- orate on initiatives to support equity, diversity and fairness.

Making the “right” decisions involves opening minds and hearts, and we need to accept discomfort as a necessary part of that process. We must plan for a long-term commitment and be committed to seeking diverse perspectives about the actions that need to be taken.

Now is the time to L.E.A.D.: Listen deeply. Engage fully. Act boldly. Deliver results.

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