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‘We are far from turning the corner, but we have begun to see some progress’: Darren Walker

Darren Walker, Ford Foundation President, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss how the Ford Foundation has been paving the way for more equality in the United States, being one of the largest, private, charitable organizations in the country, and what has been changed since the murder of George Floyd.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others? Well, for nearly eight years, our next guest has been answering that question by working as the President of the Ford Foundation, working on behalf of others.

Now, the Ford Foundation is one of the largest private charitable organizations in the country, with a $17 billion endowment. I spoke with Darren Walker about what it will take to create true equality in this country and his thoughts on this past year since George Floyd was murdered.

DARREN WALKER: Well, Kristin, I think last year was truly a racial reckoning of the kind we have never seen in this country, and certainly in our lifetimes. To see corporate America, the CEOs of the major companies acknowledge that, in fact, corporate America has failed Black America-- and what I mean by that is the reality of how African-Americans' success has not been achieved in corporate America as we had hoped and anticipated, and certainly the leaders of our civil rights movement and others.

So there has been huge disappointment. And that disappointment was manifest in 2020. But the encouraging thing that came out of 2020 was the strong statements-- Black Lives Matter and other statements by CEOs-- with concrete, measurable objectives attached that give us time now, one year later, to assess just how much progress has been made. I'm not prepared to say that we have turned the corner. We are far from turning the corner. But I do think we have begun to see some progress and some reasons for hope.

KRISTIN MYERS: What are still the biggest hurdles to equality in this country, or perhaps the systems in the biggest need of reform?

DARREN WALKER: Well, I think we have to look at our capitalist system. Let's just start with the basics. We are a capitalist democracy. I am a believer that there is no better mechanism to organize an economy than capitalism. But I also, as an advocate for capitalism, have to acknowledge its shortcomings-- and the reality that in the United States, we have actually never given real capitalism a chance.

And so we have really only recently started to talk about really truly giving capitalism a chance so that everyone has an opportunity to benefit from a sense of shared prosperity. And so what we need is a new form of stakeholder capitalism that recognizes the importance of all stakeholders-- yes, shareholders, but also employees, community, suppliers at the places where we do our business.

All of these are stakeholders, and we need to think about them. The actual boardroom of corporations needs to change. If you look, a year ago, we had a third of the S&P that did not even have a single African-American director. I can assure you that if you do not have representation at the board, you are not likely to see material, sustainable change at the C-suite and within the company more broadly.

And so we've got to change the boardroom. We've got to change the c-suite. We've got to change the rules of the game so that people have an opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, you've said that the question that wealthy, privileged people should really be asking themselves is not how much they're willing to give, but rather, how much they're willing to give up. Is that just a question of money, or is it also of power?

DARREN WALKER: I think it is of both. I think there certainly is no doubt that we have to ask ourselves-- we privileged people-- and, Kristin, I have lived with privilege and without. And I am lucky enough to live in a country where a poor kid like myself could be born in the bottom 1% and find myself in the top 1%. And that can only happen in America.

But if we want that to continue to happen, we have to not hoard all the privileges and all of the assets-- that we have to understand that in order for opportunity-- that opportunity ladder, and that mobility escalator to continue to work, we've got to have a system that does not compound the advantage of the already-advantaged, and compound the disadvantage of the already disadvantaged-- and particularly the historically disadvantaged.

So we have to look at what are the systems that produce and reproduce inequality. Those systems are our education system, our access to capital systems, financial systems, and say, what do we need to do to change those systems? Our tax system, which privileges people like me-- certainly those of us in the last year who were lucky enough, fortunate enough to have investments, to have assets, to have real estate, to have investments in the stock market-- we are much better off.

A year after the most devastating pandemic in history, we are better off, we privileged Americans, than our fellow Americans are, because most Americans suffered during this pandemic financially. Most Americans actually feel less financially secure, whereas most of us who have benefited are more financially secure than we were a year ago. There's something fundamentally wrong with a system like that if it goes unchecked.

So I'm simply saying, we need to ask some questions to ensure that we still leave hope on the table. At the end of the day, the American dream of hope and aspiration is what fuels our society. Hope is the oxygen of democracy.

And if we allow it, hope and hopelessness will be the end of our society. And I believe in this country. I know there is no other nation like the United States of America, and my loyalty and faith in it is unwavering. But I also am sobered by the reality of what I see in this country, which is far too much inequality.