It’s been three years since we saw organizations make a wave of promises and commitments to their Black employees following the racial reckoning of 2020. So what’s changed? Have these commitments converted to action? What do we do when it feels like performative policy is replacing positive transformation? We want to know – are organizations’ commitments to Black employees woke, or are they really broke?

In this live-streamed episode of Brave Conversations with LCW, Host Larry Baker (he/him) was joined by Executive Director of Equity Communities of Practice Dr. Harry Petaway (he/him) as they discuss accountability through “making woke great again.”

After tuning in to the conversation, we encourage you to share your takeaways on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Show Notes & Highlights

4:47  Dr. Petaway defines the term “woke”

5:40  Dr. Petaway and Larry discuss DEI awareness vs. accountability

10:21  Dr. Petaway explains what’s different from three years ago

15:02  Larry reflects on the backlash against DEI based on discomfort

19:09  Dr. Petaway defines diversity- and woke-washing in terms of marketing

23:01  Larry unpacks the phrase “loudest voice in the room”

25:32  Dr. Harry separates advanced leadership from hyperfocus on the bottom line

29:13  Dr. Harry reflects on commitments and expectations of professional development opportunities

31:55  Larry and Dr. Harry discuss the dichotomy of commitments vs. accountability for the Black community

42:08  Dr. Harry talks about “make woke great again”

Show Transcript

Larry Baker: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Brave Conversations Live with LCW. I am your host, Larry Baker, and I use the pronouns he and him. And I am absolutely thrilled to welcome you to this episode of our livestream series. Each month, we will be making space for timely and important conversations that we hope will help educate, generate discussion, and help you to take actionable items back to your organizations and to your daily lives.

For those of you that are not familiar with LCW—or Language and Culture Worldwide—we are a global DE&I training, consulting and translation firm that partners with organizations to develop global mindsets and help you develop your skills and systems to succeed in a continually changing, culturally diverse world.

I am super excited today to talk about this conversation “Woke or Broke,” and I am equally excited to have as my guest Dr. Harry Petaway, who I know is going to add to the conversation. He is the Executive Director of Equity Communities of Practice.

Dr. Harry, welcome to this episode. I am going to let you introduce yourself before we hop into our conversation. So, Dr. Harry, introduce yourself to the people.

Dr. Harry Petaway: Hey, Larry, and thanks for having me. Thanks for the people at LCW. Love it. Love it. My name is Dr. Harry Petaway. I’m the Executive Director for Equity Communities of Practice. And what that is, it’s a virtual community where we try to bring cross-disciplinary professionals together—I’m gonna say a “hack session”—and try to hack out some of these tough problems that we have. I lean towards public health equity, and DEI falls under that.

And the idea, just to give you some perspective on that, is that sometimes we tend to talk to ourselves, meaning that we end up in a social media group loop where DEI people talk to DEI people. And what I’m trying to do is bring bankers/finance together with educators, together with healthcare professionals, those type of things. So it’s exciting to be here, especially with this topic. I’m giggling a little bit as you say it, but it’s a good one.

Larry Baker: Absolutely. Dr. Harry, because I know we’ve had conversations about this in the past, which is the main reason why I wanted to bring you in on this conversation.

A little bit of backdrop before we get into the heart of the matter. We know that it’s been three years since we saw organizations make a wave of promises and commitment to their Black employees following the racial reckoning of 2020. So what’s changed? Have these commitments converted to action? What do we do when it feels like performative policy is replacing positive transformation?

So we want to know: are organization’s commitments to their black employees woke, or are they really broke? Or have they already broken some of those commitments? That’s really going to be where we center our conversation.

And Dr. Harry, I want to just start off by asking you. We’re gonna start slow, and then we’re gonna get deep into this, right? I wanna know from your perspective, what were some of the most significant company commitments that were made over the last three years, and how have those actions compared to their promises?

Dr. Harry Petaway: Yeah, and I love that question. If I could, let me talk about “woke” for a minute or just for a second. You know, I had to Google it because I wanted to research where the word came from. It’s got history back from the 1940s, and in general it’s an awareness of political and social issues, right? That’s how it starts—oftentimes leaning towards racial inequities or social justice issues.

But in general, it does have to do with an awareness of social issues, and why I wanted to bring that up is cuz woke kind of gets a bad rap. It’s taking on new definitions, but it’s acknowledged by the Oxford Dictionary and a few others [that] woke is an okay thing.

Larry Baker: Absolutely

Dr. Harry Petaway: That is where I wanna start. I wanna make woke great again.

Some of the significant company commitments… and it was interesting cuz I went to try to find an end-all, be-all inclusive list of some of these things that people talked about and there is no end-all,  be-all list.

Larry Baker: Agree!

Dr. Harry Petaway: (laughs) So three years ago, what was interesting is that a lot of those commitments, I mean, they were—not to play on words—but they were bold. Everybody had to come out with something, and it had to do with two things: “We are gonna focus on social and racial equity or social justice”—that’s one big one with how do you deal with that—and then the other had to do with, “We’re gonna clean up our house internally.” And that’s where things get a little bit tricky because I think that that second part about cleaning up internally, I think it had different meanings for different people.

What that may have meant for me as a Black employee at a major corporation might be entirely different than the process that they went through as an organization.

Larry Baker: Right.

Dr. Harry Petaway:  And whether I felt that and they felt they followed through with the commitments towards me as an individual—especially as we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, this idea of belonging: Who am I as an individual? Am I included?—I suspect a lot of that piece for the individual employees didn’t really come to fruition.

What you saw were things like a commitment towards supplier diversity, right? Something that I like to call “Brown faces in spaces,” meaning that we are gonna hire as many people of color as we can because you can see it, right? It’s one of the things that people can see. But again, did it really help the employees that were already there? I don’t know, but we did see significant contribution in dollars spent outside of the company. I think 2020, it was 50-60 billion or so, and now it’s somewhere around the 360 billion. The challenge is where that money is actually going.

Larry Baker: Yeah, and I absolutely echo a lot of those comments because, having the privilege working with a lot of organizations, their commitment was really about driving awareness. And we were absolutely seeing a lot of those organizations committing to the awareness, but to your point, how is it ultimately impacting those Black employees in those organizations?

What I started to see a little bit was a disconnect in regards to… so now we have this awareness: what do I do with it? What am I expected to do with it? How am I gonna be held accountable for doing something with this awareness? And I think that that’s the piece that started to wane over the last three years. Now that they’ve had this awareness phase, what’s the accountability phase?

I think that that’s the part I’m interested in, and I don’t see a lot of those connections, and I’m concerned that we might be missing that mark to have that impact that you were talking about earlier. As opposed to having “Brown faces in places,” is it actually impacting those soldiers that are in the battle in those organizations? That’s the part where I feel like, “Where’s that promise that’s being kept?”

So that kind of leads me into my next question I want you to focus in on, Dr. Harry. In your opinion, what do you think is different? Because I know that there have been some differences, but what do you think is different now than three years ago? And then more importantly, what’s the same? Because it goes to that adage that many of us in the Black community understand all too well: we take two steps forward, but then we take five steps back. I’d like to get some of your insights on what do you think is different from three years ago and what’s the same.

Dr. Harry Petaway: It’s a great question. So what is different, and we might get into this a little bit later… if we go back to the first question with this awareness, it had to do with how are they getting their data? How are the organizations getting their data? And they were doing things like employee surveys and things like that, and there was also a big push to ramp up marketing and include different people, shape, sizes, abilities on the webpage. And in that time period, what you had were, an assessment of how people of color felt at work today and then some kind of plan that went along with that. But recruiting more people: “We’re gonna recruit some people in there.”

So the thing that’s different right now is that I think that some of these diversity supplier initiatives, y’know, they’re in place. There’s some funding related to that. I don’t know how I feel about this one, but some of the connections in terms of recruiting—now I’m specifically talking about Black employees, right?—we’re going to reach out and create alliances with HBCUs or relationships with with them.

Now, what was interesting for me is that I didn’t come from HBCU.

Larry Baker: Neither did I.

Dr. Harry Petaway: And I’m not saying that that’s a bad idea, but again, me sitting in those spaces like, “Who do you know at HBCU?” I’m like, “I went to Western Michigan University. Go Broncos. I don’t know.” But you do have some of those relationships.

The level of awareness from consumers to the products and services that are provided is much higher than it was before, in terms of what are you doing for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Now this one, it will probably… I don’t wanna say piss people off, but it might not feel good with what I’m going to say. There was a point to where—and I’m gonna say it maybe 30 days—where this issue was a Black social justice issue, specifically surrounding George Floyd. These promises were made about Black issues, be they employment or otherwise, and it quickly became everyone else. And that is not a bad thing because I think one of the positives within the Black community is that it did kind of force us to say, “Well, we’re not just Black. There’s other things about us that make us who we are—our perspectives, orientation, family status, education level, all of that. We are more than just the color of our skin.”

But what is different is the focus on everything else. Public administration’s a political degree, right? And it’s this idea of, how do we focus on this if we have to focus on everything else?

Larry Baker Exactly. Exactly.

Dr. Harry Petaway: Now what’s the same? Well, what’s different: the turnover for Black employees is higher than it used to be. They are more apt to go and look for other places. I think some organizations are catfishing a little bit, meaning that—we’ll get into woke washing in a bit—they’re putting up some significant marketing efforts in terms of saying, “Come to us! We’re inclusive. We’re diverse.”

So Black employees are leaving, going to these other organizations. Other Black employees are coming into these organizations. What they find out is that it’s either the same or worse. The processes are still the same. The mentoring programs are not there. The coaching programs are not at that level.

But one more thing that I think is significantly different from three years ago—and I’m not trying to say that there were not employee resource groups before—but I’m gonna tell you, they blew up.

Larry Baker: They exploded. Oh my God.

Dr. Harry Petaway: They blew up, especially for Black employee resource groups. And it’s no longer just an affinity group about this is how we feel, meaning I need my support network. Their leadership growth and self-teaching is significant, and I think that’s a major factor in what’s different between now and three years.

Larry Baker: Yeah, so in my perspective because again, I’m working with organizations, I think the biggest thing that’s different than three years ago is that folks have been given spaces to talk about these things. I think that they have been allowed to say, “This isn’t cool. I don’t think that this is going in the right direction.” They’ve had the space to do that.

But if I’m honest, what’s the same is the backlash because now that the opportunity to talk about it has been presented, it’s almost as if it’s this catch-22: so if I do talk about it, what are my consequences? And I think that’s what’s the same is that before I couldn’t even talk about it and there were consequences, now I’m allowed to talk about it and it seems like the consequences are even more severe. I’m even more likely to be viewed as difficult to work with or aggressive or I’m not a cultural fit or things of that nature than before. It’s just more pervasive because now because the door has been open to have conversations that make people feel uncomfortable.

Now when they’re feeling uncomfortable, the retaliation seems to be even more intense, which is this whole backlash on “woke,” right? It’s like, “Oh my goodness, we have to stop this woke phenomenon because I’m really, really uncomfortable!” I even saw something the other day where some individual was like, “I can’t even enjoy breakfast anymore because of what’s on my syrup bottle.” Really? That’s why you’re against cultures getting woke? Such insignificance in their life, but they wanna down the company for making a decision that has such a positive impact on an entire community.

So going into that narrative, I want you to dig into talking about what is diversity-washing or woke-washing, and what’s the impact of having just purely performative commitments or purely performative types of policy. So talk to me about diversity-washing or woke-washing first.

Dr. Harry Petaway: I wanted talk about something you said about the backlash also. It’s reflective of society in general…

Larry Baker: Yep, agreed.

Dr. Harry Petaway: …and how the media and social media plays out. And unfortunately, we are in a space where the loudest voices win on whichever corner of the world or perspective you wanna look at. If we were to go back and say one of the things that are different, if I’m talking about Black issues, someone’s going to come in and want me to talk about things like inclusive language. And we’re gonna debate on if “jumping the gun” is violent or not.

And I’m like, “Well, it’s a track reference.” “No, but we shouldn’t have it!” And we do, we get caught up in some of those… I don’t want to call ’em less significant, but they had the tendency to derail us.

Larry Baker: Absolutely.

Dr. Harry Petaway: So we get caught up in some conversations to where we have to acknowledge that for some people, as soon as something comes outta my mouth, “Oh, well I saw on TV that this is what diversity means, and this is what woke means. So I’m not having any of it.” I’m gonna say it’s a leadership thing, and if leaders were dealing with that and dealing with emotional intelligence and how to communicate with other people, we probably wouldn’t be having half of these conversations right now.

Larry Baker: Agreed.

Dr. Harry Petaway: Anyway, so what is diversity-washing and/or woke-washing? It’s similar to what I said before in terms of organizations go out of their way to appear that they are socially conscious—you know, doing the right thing in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And so the first wave of that was Brown faces in spaces: let’s get them in here so we can say, “Look, our numbers went up.” Sometimes those might not be Brown faces; they might be all women. “Let’s promote the women in the organization.” And that is not a bad thing, so whoever’s watching this, I’m not saying that that is a bad thing, but that is not a racial equity issue.

Woke-washing in general is putting out the perception that the company is more in-tune with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and is doing more in society and internally than they actually are. And I think part of this is the catch-22 marketing. If I am a Black employee and I’m looking for somewhere else to go, I’m gonna look at the webpage. And if the webpage doesn’t look inclusive, if there’s not people like me I might not click on that.

Same thing though if I’m looking to buy products—and this is where it gets tricky in terms of the business case for diversity. If I’m looking to buy products, the marketing department has to appeal to different groups, whether they be Black, LGBTQ, abilities, you know, we can go through it. But that ends up being this catfishing type of scenario where you get into an organization and they don’t do what it appears that they’re doing.

Same thing with investors, and investors are looking at where should we put our money? So they’re looking at the webpages, they’re looking at these metrics, but you talk to the employees—”How’s it really going down there in XYZ companies?” It’s not that great. (laughs)

Larry Baker: Yeah. And you know, Dr. Harry, you bring up one of my pet peeves in this space of DE&I work because I have a huge problem with organizations tying DE&I work or DE&I initiatives to the bottom line and their mindset of we can’t do this work because it’s not profitable. We need to have the mindset of it needs to be done because it needs to be done because it’s the right thing to do.

And I think that that’s always been a struggle for me, for organizations to always say, “Okay, well tie this into the bottom line. Tie this into how it’s going to make me profitable.” Well, if I can’t do that, does that mean you’re not going to do it? And I think it has to be more of that conversation that you have responsibilities outside of profitability that impact society as a whole, if that makes sense.

So I did wanna open it up to see if anybody else has any insight that’s on the call to what you’ve heard woke-washing is or what it looks like or diversity-washing or any types of examples of that in your experience. And I will let my folks in the background who are monitoring the chat say that. We’ll go ahead and wait for individuals to submit that, and Dr. Harry, we’ll continue to have our conversation.

But you did mention something that I thought was really interesting. You said that sometimes it’s the loudest voices in the room, and for me, I don’t even think it’s the loudest voices. I think it’s just the voices that stand up, right?

Dr. Harry Petaway: Mm. Yeah, yeah.

Larry Baker: Because the reality is there are far more people that disagree with the loudest voices in the room. They just don’t say anything because they know that there is this social capital that’s at stake if I rock the vote, if I appear to be sympathetic to a cause that’s not the cause of my affinity group and all of my homogeneous relationships say are valuable.

So it’s not necessarily the loudest in the room, it’s just the one that’s not afraid to start the ruckus, if you will. Go ahead.

Dr. Harry Petaway:. It might be the boldest. Like I had this conversation last week. I did a live stream about Black-shaming or when we shame each other for not acting the way that we expect someone else to do. And the challenge becomes… you weigh that social capital, right? You weigh that capital. Like do I disagree with this person that in theory is aligned with me because who does that give fodder to?

I’m looking at the thing [comment tracker] “I hadn’t heard of woke washing before, but I’ve definitely seen it. “

Larry Baker: See, you’re welcome. So we’ve already provided that awareness, which is definitely part of it, but it’s a real thing. Thank you for that comment, Shana.

Dr. Harry Petaway: I think it was Share Jones: they called it kind of corporate catfishing. It wasn’t specifically about woke-washing, but it was presenting something that was not—once you actually got into it—it wasn’t what you thought.

But back to what I was saying, it’s difficult to sometimes have varying degrees of dissenting opinions with another Black person about things. And another challenge is when you have your white allies that speak on behalf of you because they’ve heard something from a Black person that’s not necessarily the case.

You brought up something that was interesting to me of why is it tied to the bottom line, and we can’t do this unless it’s tied to the bottom line. I think it’s a fundamental “this is me, I’m talking, this is a point-of-view issue.” When you look at advanced DEI strategies, they have to do with things like emotional intelligence, communication, inclusion, belonging, right? Those are advanced leadership strategies. What I think happens in the DEI space is that it becomes a space and it becomes a bucket. To whereas we should be talking about leadership, it becomes DEI. Well, you know, you just paid for everyone to take this Franklin Covey course and this emotional intelligence course. Why can’t we expand that, and why can’t we have that kind of conversation?

Your market, if you’re selling a product… And that’s the funny thing when we look at three years ago. I think everybody said, “Oh, there’s a lot of other people out there that want things, whether they’re boycotting Nike or whatever else. Let’s appeal to them.” You see it in the Super Bowl, right? That’s where it starts to add to the bottom line. It’s all over; it’s dispersed throughout the organization.

And the other thing I think that challenges me a bit is this idea that the people —they’re not DEI professionals—that are making this call. And oftentimes the people that are hiring the DEI professionals are hiring off the mark, like they don’t even know what they’re hiring for. And so they get varying different degrees and perspectives of things, which is of course why I do like LCW cuz y’all are on it. I don’t even think that you claim DEI like that. But you’re on target with that, so I appreciate it.

Larry Baker: Yeah. Yeah. So I see a familiar face in the place, Dr. Harry. I think you are very familiar with this incredible individual. Tahitia, thank you so much. “Thinking from a business perspective, to not talk our way makes DEI seems like it’s just optional. This type of separation of financial value has been used to de-emphasize the need for things like education.”

I agree a hundred percent, and it always becomes the first thing that we cut, right? Because if we look at it as being optional, anybody that’s running not even just the business, in your own household, when it’s time to tighten up the bootstraps or what have you, those things that are viewed as optional are typically the first ones you pick away. But you have to resist that temptation because that’s always what’s been done. And for our community especially, it’s almost as if we are sitting back waiting for the shoe to drop. Like okay, they’re pretty gung-ho about this in 2020, let’s see how it goes in 2023.

Dr. Harry Petaway: Yeah.

Larry Baker: Let’s see 2025. Do we still have this fire? And unfortunately, it’s the same result, right? We’re seeing it. It’s starting to wane. It’s starting to kind of slow down. It’s like, I think we’ve gotten beyond the intensity that this has, so let’s start just “whoop, whoop,” pulling away, pulling away and using that ROI as the scapegoat for doing that.

So when we talk about different commitments, what, what did you expect Dr. Harry. What do you expect those commitments to look

Dr. Harry Petaway: In 2020, I was with an organization, so I can only speak for what I thought we were looking for, and it was kind of comprehensive. There was a social responsibility piece too that was with it, meaning we want to see this type of investment—either time or money—in the community. There was also this human development component to it because at the time I feel like we were being heard, but everyone was being heard because like, “Oh, we better listen. They’re upset.”

And I’m not trying to be funny, but really we better listen. They’re upset. I was expecting more career development mentoring for the people that were joining and starting to speak their truth because they quickly left. “We want this posted on our webpage about George Floyd:” it left that quick, and it went to “here’s what our experiences are.”

And when I was doing some research for this, that’s one of the things that are still missing, meaning that for some of the positions, you don’t see a lot of Black employees in the higher ranks of management. And when you look at coaching and executive coaching, it’s up here. It’s not in this developmental phase, which is why I’m so excited about what ERG the employee resource groups are doing right now because they’re learning how businesses work, how to navigate the political components of it, and how to lead and work with each other. So I think that that’s pretty significant.

But one thing I do wanna say is that—and I believe this—if you fix something or create something for a marginalized group of people, so we’re gonna say Black people… if we want a mentorship program or coaching program for Black people, you have to then question is there one for everybody else? It’s almost like is it a if-then and if there’s not, then you need to make one, right? And if you have one and you can recognize whatever the gaps are and the failures between— or not failures, but the missed opportunities for Black employees to engage in that—all you’re gonna do is make the program better for everybody else.

So this idea like, “Oh, we can’t do this,” again, it goes back to a leadership issue for me. So I was expecting or wanting to develop the people at the organizations where they were instead of this idea like, “Hey, we just need to bring in more people and let them all leave because they’re talking too much. Let’s let them go.”

Larry Baker: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And Dr. Harry, there was a comment, and can we bring that comment back up on the screen? Because honestly [mic cut out] the organization was going to do, and I didn’t get the individual’s name. She said that a lot of organizations made the commitment but neglected to integrate a strategic plan for providing those resources, personnel support, ongoing education and training, engagement and professional development.

And honestly, that’s what I thought those commitments meant. Because I’m in this space, because I’m in this field, that’s what I thought we were going to be discussing. We’re gonna be talking about the plans. We’re gonna be talking about the resources. We’re gonna be saying, “All right, so once we get these programs together, boom (claps). Here’s how we make this work in our culture.”

And in a lot of situations, that’s not happening. And in our community, we know when it isn’t—when it’s woke washing, right? We know that you have the outside of the house looking so beautiful and spotless, but then you come into a hoarder’s home on the inside. And I think that that’s the connection that we absolutely need to continue to push organizations to do: have a strategic plan so that when you have individuals attending these sessions, they know how it fits into the big picture. If not, it’s just checking the box. and we all know, what that looks like and what that feels like.

Now, Dr. Harry, I love to give our listeners some actionable tools, so I want to get your insight onto this question and then maybe we’ll open it up to some more comments to the audience. But from your opinion, what does that authentic action look like? Or in other words, how do we move the needle on commitment into action. So gimme your thoughts around that.

Dr. Harry Petaway: Hopefully I don’t make it too complicated. One, I think we need to have more current pulse checks on what life is like for employees today—all employees, Black included, meaning we can’t go off of the 2020 survey that we did because most of those people are gone, especially people of color, and I’m just gonna be blunt with that.

The other piece of that is that I feel that we should be partnering—we in the DEI community—with the learning and workforce development component, talent management components of these organizations to find ways on how we connect principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion with things that are already in play, right? I don’t think it’s too hard to modify an existing emotional intelligence course to then include issues with bias and race and things like that. I think that that’s an easy, low-hanging opportunity if people just want to do it. It’s not too hard.

Larry Baker: Yeah.

Dr. Harry Petaway: The other piece of that, when we talk about professional development—Imma backstep a minute—I think that miss was a miss for all employees, and the reason why I think it was a significant miss is because I don’t think that a lot of organizations have a culture of professional development. So when Black employees said, “Hey, we want to be a part of this…” and I think my camera froze, but I’ll keep talking so it doesn’t shut off my audio.

Larry Baker: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re fine.

Dr. Harry Petaway: “Hey, we want to be a part of this,” there was nothing to be a part of, right? There was no professional development piece, so create one. Build one, work on your succession planning, you know?

No matter where it is, it’s just fundamental to me—business and organizational strategy—that we don’t need to call it DEI if it’s hurting whoever in the corner office or the corner cubicle over there because somebody said DEI and they think it’s because they’re not allowed to use these words or whatever anymore. Call it something else. I really don’t care. As long as it gets, it gets done.

The last piece of that has to do with when you said it’s a “check the box,” and we need to revisit then how we check the box. So if it’s a check the box, if it’s a compliant initiative, then somehow you need to slap people in the face with something that’s valuable. And I don’t mean slapping the face in a way of forcing opinions and ideologies on someone and making people feel bad for their privilege. I’m not really about that, but what I think that we can do is start to revisit some of these vendors that are offering check-the-box-type of courses and tools and say, “We need more,” and bring in consultants like yourself or facilitators like yourself and coaches like yourself to really do more with some of the tools that are out there.

Larry Baker: Yeah, Dr. Harry, of course I’m really resonating with what you said, and I have to read this comment from one of my most favorite people in the entire universe: Cecilia Hurt. She said, “It’s so important to dual-path our efforts as we seek to increase representation, including recruiting efforts. We must also seek to support the culture shift and journey to make sure that these environments are supportive and psychologically safe for the employees we are attracting and retaining.” And of course, hand clap, finger snaps. You are right on the money with that, Cecilia, but that doesn’t surprise me.

And I also want to give a little credit, right? Because I do feel that these statements of solidarity are important, but they need to understand that, look, this is just the starting point. You are literally at this critical juncture as a nation, and this moment simply demands more.

So a couple of things, and you’ve touched upon it, Dr. Harry; it’s all about prioritizing and assessing your corporate accountability. Because just putting on these programs without expecting people to do something different, we are missing the mark. So we have to prioritize and assess the corporate accountability.

Then there has to be this commitment to really evolve the corporate structure. We have to make steps that people can actually see, “Oh wait, this is different. Things are changing, and we have to move in that direction.” And then let the employees have a say, right? Let them have more ability to drive the culture that you’re looking to accomplish.

So yes, I think that there are a lot of these good steps that we’ve already been talking about, but those are critical. You gotta have that accountability. You gotta start to have that structure evolve in a way that people sense it and feel it, and then bring them into this process as well, right?

So, Dr. Harry, I know we’ve talked about this phrase, and you said it a little bit earlier and I’m not gonna steal it. So I’m just gonna let you use it, but give me some insight on that statement that you said that you told me I couldn’t steal from you.

Dr. Harry Petaway: which one, the “make great again?”

Larry Baker: Absolutely.

Dr. Harry Petaway: (laughs) Make woke great again. Well okay, so wait. Before I do this though, I think that there is a gap that we have to acknowledge as, as professionals in, in the D E I space, health equity space, whatever it is. And it the last comment that came up really triggered it for me— this idea of psychological safety that is something that is different than three years ago. This idea that my mental health and wellbeing matters, especially for Black people. There’s been more about that, especially in the professional space, more Black employees have left to create their own businesses. That is significant, and some of that is like, “Hey, I know your worth. Protect me. Know your worth and do your thing.”

Larry Baker: Yes.

Dr. Harry Petaway: So I think that that is a positive that, that we’ll probably see play out over time. But there is this interesting gap between me as an individual working here today—what I need today and what organizations are doing systemically. I don’t wanna say that some organizations aren’t doing anything. They are. It’s just whether or not you can see it right away. So those relationships with HBCUs or whatever the organization is, some commitments to different social responsibility programs…

Now, I will tell you, I was sitting in a program with the Forum on Workplace Inclusion, and it had this idea of decolonizing philanthropy. They always have these names kinda like “Woke or Broke.” But the idea was that the money that’s coming into these programs isn’t necessarily going towards the programs where they need to or being able to be spent in a way that is most beneficial. So it’s like, “Hey, we’re gonna give you a million dollars cuz that’s what’s in our budget.” It’s a lineup. “We’re gonna give you this, but you’re gonna do this with it.” So that’s a different conversation for a different day.

But, but let’s make woke great again. This is something that’s been bugging me, especially as I watch politics and things like that. We see it a lot in Florida. The first time I saw “woke” show up in legislation was Donald Trump’s executive order that had to do with bias training. He wanted “no bias training.”

Larry Baker: Right.

Dr. Harry Petaway: There were some decent things in that order, but it said the word “woke” in it. “Woke” originally meant along this emotional intelligence tip just to be aware of how systems work, politics work, social issues, whatever. From that standpoint. Ron DeSantis—I hope we don’t get banned for this—is probably one of the wokest people I’ve met because he’s in tune with his voters and what’s important to their issues. Whether or not I agree with that, not really; it doesn’t match with the rest of what woke means.

But I feel that because—when I talked about these loudest voices in the room—that sometimes “woke” can shift to a place where I don’t even want to… you know, I’m trying to focus on a few things, and I don’t always have time to argue did they have enough different faces in that ten second commercial. Some of that stuff is just hard to do, and what I would like to do, is bring back the positivity that was associated with woke and get back to the systemic awareness, the structural issues, the political issues. “How are you feeling today, Larry?” You know, some of those things related to woke, so let’s make woke great again.

Larry Baker: And on that line of thinking, to me, it’s about how people take words, and this was a word that was historically used in our culture, right? This originated from Black culture, the word “woke,” and I think this is just another example of how certain people want to take the words that we use and weaponize them to be used against us. And what you are proposing is to take back that word and use it in a way that’s positive.

Now, I know this is gonna sound crazy when I say this, but to me, I think that when the other group is using that word “woke,” it’s their 2023 version of the N-word.

Dr. Harry Petaway: It is.

Larry Baker: I truly feel like every time they say it, it’s their version of the N-word because they don’t wanna be ostracized by saying the N-word anymore, and they’ve struggled to find a word to replace the N-word. And woke is it.

Dr. Harry Petaway: It is also way more inclusive than the N-word. So a lot of people that they are talking about, “woke” is “not me.”

Larry Baker: Exactly.

Dr. Harry Petaway: It is not me. Some of them are what we would call allies of other ethnicities and colors and races like those all, but it’s also anything that’s just not “normal.”

Here’s why “make woke great again” is important to me. There was a a point to when with the NFL we were arguing about should you or should you not kneel during the national anthem and the flag and what happened. And it started to change how I felt, and I started talking to my friends. Somehow that flag—the American flag—was not mine anymore. And it’s not because I’m not a patriot. It’s not because my father wasn’t a vet, my brother wasn’t a vet. They were, right? It had nothing to do with that.  It’s the people that, “This is ours,” and you don’t believe in it. It was a struggle to work through that because you go outside, I see the flag. Well, what kind of patriot you?

Larry Baker: Right. And it’s like you’re punished for having a realistic approach to saying that yes, I can love something and chastise it at the same time. I think of my children—I love them, but I can chastise ’em at the same time because if you’re not doing right, I’m gonna have to let you know that.

So, Dr. Harry, we can talk about this, as you know, for hours upon hours. I do want to see from my colleagues, if we have any other questions or comments in the chat, and if so can we throw that up on the screen?

If not, Dr. Harry, this has been amazing, and I wanna thank you. Interesting thought: “The flag is there’s is not mine.” Dr. Harry, I’m gonna give you an opportunity to let folks know how they can reach you, how they can get in contact with you. What do you have going on? You talked about your podcast, and I know I’m gonna sneak on there and we’re gonna raise some ruckus on there. But tell folks a little bit about how to get in touch with you and some of the things you’ve got going on.

Dr. Harry Petaway: The best place to get in touch with me right now is on LinkedIn; I’m trying to focus on LinkedIn. The specific reason for that is that I feel that all the decision makers are there. The challenge is you might see me poking out to different people is that I’m trying to break out of the algorithm of just DEI health equity folks because I’m trying to do this cross-functional thing. So I mentioned before, you could look up I’m building a virtual community where we’re inviting cross-functional professionals from different areas.

My podcast is actually dropping by, and because I live in the country—some of y’all are seeing this right now as my camera freezes—we switched it to dropping by because I have no idea what my internet is gonna be live. So sometimes I’m just dropping it at the top of the hat.

But I do have a really cool project that’s coming out, and sometimes it still gets me a bit emotional when I talk about it. It’s called Equity War. And what it has to do is I had an interview with a health equity advocate for veterans. His name is Tim Houser. He is the podcast host for the Gulf War Advocate, and it had to do with him and the work that he did—Imma say as a normal person, right? I watched him say, “I have an idea. I think there’s something wrong.” Watched him end up joining with a group called Burn Pits 360, then getting engaged with John Stewart fighting on the halls of Congress.

Larry Baker: Wow.

Dr. Harry Petaway: You know, I would turn on the TV and I would see him. Then getting the PACT Act passed, which is the largest healthcare bill for veterans passed in this country. And the reason why it’s significant is that it was one voice that became a few voices that that then got the help that they needed.

But what’s so significant about this interview is that there’s so many things about social determinants of health. Those are the things that make us who we are—how we interact life, how we decide to go to school or go to the military. All those things come out in the conversation with him.

So we’re releasing that in four different episodes. The first one’s out right now, has to do with the PACT Act and how Tim join4r the army at the age of 17. But we live in a click currency. We’re really trying to get the information about the PACT Act out. So if you see it, please tag a veteran in it, and pass it along. We really appreciate it. And thanks for that opportunity.

Larry Baker: Awesome. Absolutely. Dr. Harry, I always appreciate and enjoy the conversations that we have. So because I don’t see any questions coming from the background, I am going to assume… and if that’s not true someone on my team let me know. Flag me. Let me know. I don’t see anything.

So, Dr. Harry, this has been such a great conversation, but the reality is it doesn’t stop here. So we hope that you take the advice that was shared here and some of the questions that were asked back to your own workplaces. And if you want a partner in having these conversations, just let us know. You can contact LCW at

Dr. Harry, thank you. Thank you so much for joining us today. This has been Brave Conversations with LCW Live. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful rest of your day.

Skip to content