When Wright Lassiter III became CEO of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, he said he was surprised by the reaction to his being named to the position as a black man.
Then he learned that Henry Ford Hospital once had only one ward that treated African American patients, and it was originally located in the Detroit’s hospital’s basement.
“I didn’t know that history coming in, and I was somewhat taken aback,” Lassiter III said.
The health care CEO was one of three business leaders who spoke Monday during a Detroit Economic Club discussion marking the 50-year anniversary of the city’s 1967 rebellion.
The five-day-long civil disturbance came in a city where tensions brought by systemic racism, segregated neighborhoods and a nearly all-white police force exploded, leaving 43 dead and aftershocks that last to this day.
On Aug. 4, the Kathryn Bigelow film “Detroit” will hit theaters nationwide. The film details the deaths of three black men at the Algiers Hotel during the rebellion.
Lassiter III told Benzinga that while he hasn’t seen the film yet, he views its release as a positive catalyst in the dialogue about race.
“The movie will be a unique opportunity to raise the conversation to a national level.”
Making Diversity A Corporate Priority
At PricewaterhouseCoopers, U.S. chairman and senior partner Tim Ryan initiated a company-wide, day-long discussion about race after the July 7, 2016 ambush killing of five police officers in Dallas.
Ryan leads a new group, CEO Action For Diversity And Inclusion, which makes a pledge that’s been signed by more than 175 CEOs to advance workplace diversity and inclusion.
“Every company has a responsibility not just to run their bottom line, but to make a difference in society,” Ryan told Benzinga.
A good starting point for companies is to ensure the workplace is a safe place to have dialogues about diversity and inclusion, Ryan said.
“As CEOs, that’s the biggest responsibility they have — to make the workplace safe. In doing so, their people will understand each other better, give better answers to their customers and make more of a difference in their communities.”
‘We Were Taking Cover’
LaJune Montgomery Tabron, the president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was at her family’s Cadillac Boulevard home on Detroit’s east side in July 1967.
“I remember very vividly one moment where I was in my home with my family and in my mind we were taking cover,” Montgomery Tabron said. One man who showed up at the home was stopped by Montgomery Tabron’s father because he had a TV under his arm, she said.
As Detroit enjoys major investment in some areas while continuing to struggle with failing schools, high unemployment and impoverished neighborhoods in others, Montgomery Tabron said the city’s comeback must be inclusive.
“We have to reach out to our neighborhoods and engage in dialogue at a very local level.”
Image: Henry Ford Health System CEO Wright Lassiter III, left, PricewaterhouseCoopers U.S. chairman and senior partner Tim Ryan, W.K. Kellogg Foundation president and CEO LaJune Montgomery Tabron and Crain’s Detroit Business editor and publisher Ron Fournier at a Detroit Economic Club meeting Monday. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.
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