Listen. Learn. Take Responsibility.

Cowen’s Statement on Racial Equity

Across America, a groundswell of activism has created a tipping point toward meaningful action against systemic racism and the long history in the U.S. of racial inequity and violence against Black people.

At Cowen, we recognize that inclusion and diversity are catalysts for success and innovation in the workplace and that we must regularly engage in conversations and activities that build awareness and empathy in order to eliminate unconscious bias.

While we have increased our Inclusion & Diversity initiatives over the years, we still have room to meaningfully improve. The tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among many others, are a clarion call for positive change. It is an imperative that we embrace at Cowen. 

By putting our shared values of Vision, Empathy, Sustainability, and Tenacious Teamwork into action, we will continue to improve our culture by fostering greater inclusivity and tolerance. We must: 

  • Listen to each other, with empathy and compassion
  • Learn all we can, particularly from the experts, about the causes of racial inequality, and
  • Take responsibility, as individuals and as an organization, to use our words, actions, and influence to create and support greater equality, justice, and opportunity

We can be a part of the solution.

A Message from our CEO, Jeffrey M. Solomon

I have been struggling to find the right words to express to my feelings of anger, frustration and sorrow following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others. The truth is that the exigency of the situation is far from over and there is a risk that whatever I say in this moment may seem outdated as events continue to unfold.  But I can no longer remain silent.  So I offer you my perspective in the hopes that we can foster a constructive, respectful dialogue as colleagues by sharing perspectives amongst each other and those around us.

Over the past week, I have reached out to African American friends and colleagues to ask how they were doing. They used words like “tired,” “angry,” “frustrated,” and “hopeless” because nothing ever seems to change. When a friend thanked me for just reaching out to talk, I hadn’t realized how important it was for him to have that conversation with me. 

I felt remiss that I hadn’t reached out earlier, and I asked myself why it had taken me so long. As I reflected, I realized that it was because the conversation made me uncomfortable. I was afraid that I might say the wrong thing and appear insensitive.

What I learned humbled me: The truth is all I had to do was ask, “How are you doing?” And then listen.

Changing behavior starts with self-reflection – getting in touch with what we believe. “Black Lives Matter” is a statement of fact for me—not an opinion. It is an absolute statement, not a relative statement. I have heard people respond with comments like, “All lives matter.” While that is true, it misses the point. Black Lives Matter stands on its own because too often it feels like the opposite is true. 

The events of the past few months are a stark reminder of the long history of racial inequality in the United States. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on the African American community. Just look at the statistics from the APM Research Lab: Black Americans are 2.5x more likely to die from Covid-19 than White Americans.

The flashpoints – the murders – are just the latest in a series of unfathomable tragedies which have laid bare racial inequities that have been allowed to persist for too long.  The videos are leading us to question how and why these horrific events continue to happen.  They are reprehensible. But, we must ask ourselves if they will lead to real change or, in 20 years, will we reflect on them the way we look back on the Rodney King tragedy?  I know which one I prefer.  The question for each of us is what are we willing to do?

There is an opportunity for each of us to change the status quo.  However, in times like these, when we see how far we have to go as a society, the problems can feel insurmountable.

But just as every great journey begins with a single step, every great positive change begins with a single action.

Here are a few suggestions on how we might begin:

Start a Conversation. Listen and Learn

I have long held beliefs about the importance of racial equality. My thinking has been shaped by reading and studying our tortured history of race relations in the United States. In February, during Black History Month, Cowen held an event designed specifically to initiate the dialogue around race – a town hall conversation with legendary investor John Rogers who is the founder and Chief Investment Officer of the African American-owned Ariel Investments. In that conversation, I asked John about what it has been like for him as a black man operating in a business dominated by white men. I genuinely wanted to know, because over the course of my career, the question had rarely been asked. His answers enlightened me.  You should give it watch.

Internalize the Message and Make it Personal

Empathy begins with connecting to the stories about individual experiences with racial bias. Personally, I know I need to internalize them in whatever way I can. Because I am not African American, I will never know what it is like to fear being pulled over by the police on a routine traffic stop. I will likely never have “The Talk” with my children on what they should do if that happens to them. But I can, and do, actively listen to my African American friends and colleagues when they describe their experiences of dealing with racial bias.

I recognize that their challenges and worries are different than mine. And while I realize that I will never be able to truly experience what others are experiencing, I can and do allow myself to get angry about the injustice of it all. In that way, it does become personal to me, and it calls me to action.

Take Responsibility for Creating Change

If you feel the way I do, then you are compelled to do something about it. Educate yourself further. I have been reading through this document deciding what articles to read, videos to watch, and podcasts to listen to. One of particular interest to me is the 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning The 1619 Project of The New York Times Magazine. These resources are invitations to learn and to get involved in helping to bring about positive change.

There are also many organizations whose mission is racial justice and equality, and all could use more help.

One final reflection: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released their groundbreaking rap song called “The Message” on July 1, 1982, when I was 16 years old. I was a DJ at the time, so I heard every word. I learned every word. Now, 38 years later, when I listen to every word, I am appalled at how little has changed. 

The time for change is long overdue. So let’s get going. Listen to The Message.

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