TCF Bank in Ypsilanti, MI
A branch of TCF Bank in Ypsilanti, MI. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This letter, originally sent to TCF employees, led to a news conference last week with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and nine leaders of the region’s biggest companies, focusing on how the business community can combat racism.

When corporate and business leaders gather in their c-suites these days, we remind ourselves of an adage as old as business: “A company is only as healthy as the community it serves.”

This ethic has never been truer than it is today — when the African American community has been inflicted with what my friend the Rev. Wendell Anthony calls “a pandemic within a pandemic.” The first assault came in a silent storm — the coronavirus that disproportionately killed African Americans and exposed the racial disparity in U.S. health care. The second attack came with an achingly familiar cry for help — “I can’t breathe!” — as a white policeman plunged his knee into George Floyd’s neck while bystanders videotaped the agonizing final nine minutes of his life.

Gary Torgow
Gary Torgow

We condemn Mr. Floyd’s vile and violent murder and share the grief, fear and anger of our community and team members at TCF Bank. We demand the prosecution of every police officer complicit in this racist slaying. While we commend the vast majority of police who bring justice to the job without undue violence, there are still some in law enforcement who terrorize communities of color with impunity.

Many of us do not experience the fear and humiliation of getting stopped by law enforcement simply because of the color of our skin. We do not experience the invisible hand of bias and different treatment when we go shopping or wait to be seated at a restaurant.

But we hear you. Our hearts go out to the men and women of our community who have endured the pain and suffering of bigotry. As a company, and as citizens of our community, we unite together in rejecting all forms of bias, racism and violence in our workplace and in our communities. We will meet this challenge with more than words. We will accelerate our unconscious bias training throughout our company to ensure we all have the tools to identify and respond to injustice. TCF Bank is blessed with outstanding African American teammates up and down our ranks. We will provide spaces to talk openly about racial equality and give a voice to team members who feel marginalized.

In the cities and towns where we serve, especially in our beloved hometown of Detroit, our bank will continue to champion causes supporting social justice in partnership with the community and ecumenical leaders. We will double down on our personal and purposeful engagement with our cities and neighborhoods, especially where peaceful protests were interrupted by agitators seeking unrest and destruction.

Corporations can and must play a leading role in eradicating bias and discrimination, along with racial and economic inequality. We proudly heeded the call of Mayor Mike Duggan to not only invest $5 million in Detroit’s neighborhoods but to partner with six other great corporations to do the same. Fifth Third Bank, Flagstar Bank, Huntington Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Penske Corporation, and American Axle together donated more than $35 million to a fund that supports the improvement of infrastructure, parks, business corridors and affordable housing initiatives with direct input from residents who live in the neighborhoods.

But it’s not enough. Our bank must and will do more. For all its exceptionalism, America is a nation founded on the Bill of Rights but is still plagued by what W.E.B. DuBois called “the color line.” As Rev. Anthony likes to remind me, “Every citizen has a stake in this reality.”

We accept this challenge in the name of George Floyd.

We accept this challenge in the name of Michael Brown.

We accept this challenge in the name of Amaud Arbery.

We accept this challenge in the name of Breonna Taylor.

We accept this challenge in the name of every victim of institutionalized racism. We stand with you in the pursuit of justice.

Together, we will endeavor to consign the color line to the ash heap of history. For all its faults, America is a community of great people ever striving to be better — and to form a more perfect union. We will rise to the challenge together.

This letter, originally sent to TCF employees, led to a news conference last week with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and nine leaders of the region’s biggest companies, focusing on how the business community can combat racism.

Gary Torgow is executive chairman of TCF Financial Corp. He is senior vice president of the Orthodox Union and the board president of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah. Reprinted with permission from the Michigan Chronicle.

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