As Prepared for Delivery on Friday, February 17, 2023
Hello, everyone. And thank you, Renée, for that warm welcome.
It’s an honor for me to be part of this panel of this year’s Wegner Award winners and AACUC Hall of Fame inductees. To be included among such trailblazers is humbling, but it’s also fitting. After all, the theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Black Resistance: Building Bridges and Navigating Barriers.” Everyone on this panel shares a passion for building bridges to serve under-resourced and marginalized communities.
Today’s event also reminds us of the importance of uniting in the cause for diversity, equity, and inclusion. We all come with unique backgrounds that give us the perspectives to make a difference in the credit union system and beyond. I grew up in Northwest Indiana’s industrial belt of steel mills, auto plants, refineries, and other heavy industries. That upbringing gave me an appreciation for hard work and fairness, as well as a commitment to community service.
As the first openly gay man to lead a federal financial institutions regulatory agency, I strive to understand the importance of representation in an organization’s words and deeds. My experiences have taught me that working for diversity, equity, and inclusion is more effective when I am the strongest ally that I can be.
In a recent episode of a podcast from Indiana University—yes, I’m a proud Hoosier—there was a discussion about a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that explores perceptions of white allyship by Black Americans. During two experiments, the researchers found that if a white ally spoke out against a racist remark directed to a Black person, the ally’s motivations for standing up against prejudice directly affected the level of self-esteem the Black participants reported afterwards.
To quote the study, “A white person saying that an anti-Black remark isn’t okay because it violates their personal beliefs and values was more beneficial to Black perceivers than saying the remark isn’t okay because it can upset other people.” In other words, standing up for what is right is more meaningful when it comes from an ally’s convictions and heart rather than when it is born of a compulsion to keep the peace.
While this conclusion may seem obvious, acting out one’s earnest beliefs is easier said than done. Speaking from the heart when going against the grain of long-held popular opinion can make an individual a target of scorn, a social outcast, and an object of suspicion. I’ve certainly experienced all those things as a gay man.
But, alternatively, speaking from the heart can make an individual a change agent, and that’s where I stand. Each and every one of us has the power to be that change agent, both in the credit union system and across the nation. We can stamp out fear, hatred, and discrimination when we realize that we are all allies.
It starts with one person, one voice, one gesture in support of others to get the ball rolling for a brighter future for all. In doing so, that inspiration lights the way for others to come forth and do the same. And, in doing so, we build momentum to reach a critical mass of support that can tip the scales toward sustained economic equity and justice. Seeing all the allies here who have led lives dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion makes me more optimistic about our chances for real and meaningful change.
Thank you again for inviting me to be a part of today’s panel. I look forward to a spirited and enlightening conversation.