Solidarity isn’t a strategy. Let me explain.

Across the United States and around the world, businesses have been proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, that they stand with the Black community and against racism. Like many others, I find these messages of solidarity heartening. For one thing, they normalize antiracism, even at the risk of alienating bigoted customers. For another, some institutions have pledged money or services to Black Lives Matter and other antiracist causes.

But saying the right things can’t be the end of the change we’re seeing: We need businesses to do the right things for the right reasons and to keep doing them even when the spotlight has shifted to the next big thing. Consumers are increasingly informed, able to spot the insincerity and make their opinions felt via how and where they spend their dollars. We’ve been talking about purpose with clients for years, but it feels like there has been a shift in consumer perception — what and who we stand for is becoming part of our corporate brand and we will be judged by it.

We’ve seen big-name brands and major multinationals make good statements and take positive actions, but we must remember that community begins on the ground and extends beyond the Fortune 500.

In recent months I’ve been most impressed with small businesses. Just today, I learned about a new bookstore in a small city that, with its customers, had raised $2000 for antiracism research and education. The money raised might be small in absolute terms, but proportionately it represents a real sacrifice and effort on the part of the proprietors. When they say they stand with the Black community, I believe them.

When a major corporation takes out an ad or pushes out a press release, it can feel a little bit distant. We may wear Nike shoes or watch Disney movies, but most of us don’t know or interact with representatives of those companies. When your independent neighborhood coffee shop or the mom-and-pop pizza shop you frequent says something, it often carries more weight.

If you own or run a business, you should absolutely make a statement affirming your principles and committing to action. If you’re not in charge, consider ways that you can work for change from within your organization. Just remember that words are the beginning of the process, not the end. Community and solidarity aren’t window dressing.

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