NAACP Speaker Eric Ellis Shares How To Put Aside Personal Biases And Build Relationships To Create Social Change
Eric Ellis is president and CEO of Integrity Development Corp., a diversity and inclusion consulting firm. He'll be the keynote speaker at the Bloomington-Normal NAACP's Freedom Fund event at 6 p.m. Saturday on Zoom.
Ellis said when people struggle to find common ground or value their differences, there is no possibility of transforming many social justice issues that currently exist in society.
Ellis has led his diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm for the last three decades. To Ellis, devoting his life to building bridges and seeking social change through creating more inclusive and diverse environments is “part of his DNA.”
His father and mother had to learn to build bridges and navigate being the only Black family in a small, white community of less than 1,000 people during Ellis’ childhood.
“My dad was a pioneer in diversity. My mom was a preacher that believed she was commissioned by God to help save people and connect people so that they might love their neighbor and love each other. So, I think I was born in a household where it was very natural for me to grow up recognizing that all humans are flawed, and that our job is to love people and teach people to value one another.”
When reflecting on what’s happened globally in the last year and a half, George Floyd's murder was a seminal moment. His death caught everyone’s attention in a time when a global lockdown forced everyone to be at home watching their TVs and phone screens.
Ellis said he remembers the collective outrage of millions after Floyd’s death and the sense of appall that this extreme situation was still happening in the United States. However, the enthusiasm to fight for racial justice fades at times, and so long-lasting social change takes time.
“I think we’re still making some headways, but it doesn’t take long. It’s like a rubber band: It expands, and then it contracts. I know that some of that will happen, but if we all commit ourselves to the collective understanding of the value of equity, then it may have some sustainability," he said.
When looking at the state of many institutions and organizations in the world, Ellis says we lack a people-centered mindset and instead are focused on how we can personally benefit in day-to-day situations. He says it’s important to go beyond how we can benefit and instead consider the societal benefits of building relationships with one another.
“Well, we hear you can’t change a person’s mind, but really people’s minds are changed all the time. Most often by affiliation, in other words as people develop relationships with others. Then they get a chance to see that some of the things they were told or some of the things they grew up with - that those aren’t true. It’s one of the strongest ways for us to bring down biases. If you drink, go have a beer. Go party with somebody who’s different. Let’s listen to music together. Let’s worship together sometimes. Let’s spend time getting to know each other.”
Ellis said as we develop a posture not of debate but of empathic listening to one another, he believes the world can become a more understanding and united place.
Several awards will be presented at the NAACP's annual Freedom Fund event on Saturday. The Rev. Dr. Brigitte Black was named the 2021 recipient of the Merlin Kennedy Community Service Award, and Charles G. Halbert will receive the Roy Wilkins Award for exemplary service to the local branch. Arlene Hosea was named the Bloomington-Normal NAACP’s Woman of the Year, and Jade Carthans is winner of the Harry Hightower Youth Community Service Award.