We are, I believe, in one of the toughest times in our country’s history, as we continue to battle a deadly pandemic and the resulting economic havoc while, once again, coming face-to-face with the long-term effects of racial injustice. Watching tens of thousands take to the streets to speak out against fear and inhumanity is, on one hand, inspiring for the commitment it represents and, on the other, heartbreaking for its profound need.
But what’s next? What do we do to change the cycle in which black men or women, with tragic frequency, are harmed by those who are supposed to protect them? Or the gut-wrenching truth that to be a person of color in America is often to not feel fully safe, seen or heard?
For me, it starts with seeing the situation for what it is, acknowledging these experiences for what they are and, quite simply, apologizing for not doing enough. As important, it includes committing the company I lead down a path of systemic, permanent change in as many ways as we can find.
I don’t have the answers, but I am no longer OK with not asking the question: If everything were on the table, what could Best Buy do? With that in mind, I am appointing a diverse group (by demography and level in the company) to challenge one another and, ultimately, our senior leadership team and Board of Directors, with substantive, enduring ways we can address the inequities and injustices to which all of us bear witness every day.
In many ways, we have engaged in these issues for years. We have long been focused on the opportunity gap and its companion, the digital divide. More than a decade ago we began building a national network of what we call Teen Tech Centers, places where teens from disinvested communities are exposed to and trained on a range of technology that, we now know, can make a critical difference in helping them find success in post-secondary education or the job market.
We are looking to create more than 100 of these centers, open year-round and typically hosting hundreds of young people who begin in middle school and leave when they graduate high school. We do not do this alone, of course, as our employees, vendor partners and dozens of nonprofits are actively engaged in bringing this mission to life.
Additionally, we have brought our resources to bear on the issue of remote learning. In our home state of Minnesota, we helped found a public-private effort to provide computers and internet access to hundreds of thousands of youth from disinvested communities who have neither. Without this technology, learning from home, should it be necessary this fall and winter, would be impossible, widening both the digital divide and opportunity gap.
This effort is reflective of our broader view that we must continue to be an important player in the communities we are a part of, especially those hardest hit. This includes continuing to serve the neighborhoods in which our stores were damaged.
As for those who rely on us the most — our employees — we continue to focus on their safety. Just as we did in response to the pandemic, we closed some stores around the country when we felt the risk was too high. Some remain closed, and any affected employee will be paid for their time. As always, no one is compelled to come back to work if they feel uncomfortable.
Neighborhoods across America have felt the heat of flames lit by those who would do only harm, and still others have felt the fear that comes from not knowing where that harm may go next. But those fires will be extinguished, and the damage will be repaired. What remains, however, are the indelible images of George Floyd and the many who came before him. It is in their name that we embrace the fight for equality and justice as a common cause, one we all fight — and solve — together.
Chief Executive Officer, Best Buy