In Moving Talk, America’s Top Black Business Figure, Robert Smith, Envisions The “Blessing” That Can Emerge From Current Tragedies

Robert Smith, the CEO of private equity firm Vista Partners, is one to the top investors and most influential philanthropists in the world. After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, he wrote to his Vista team a moving letter sharing his thoughts about the crime, his own devastating experience with racial violence, and his optimistic hopes for a more just America. On June 5—to kick off Forbes’s Under 30 hackathon to support the city of Detroit—Smith gave his first public talk on the issue, joining Cadre founder Ryan Williams to discuss how the Floyd murder and protests affected them as black entrepreneurs and what the business world must do to champion racial equality.

Inspiring, poignant, and compelling, the conversation lays out the opportunity found in the Floyd tragedy, a plan for progress, and how the nationwide Covid-19 shutdown created the perfect environment for the video of George Floyd’s murder to spark the nation into action for lasting change.

“There was one blessing about the curse of Covid-19. It’s the blessing of quiet. Today businesses and sports are shutdown. There’s not a lot of distractions. So those eight minutes and forty-six seconds are louder than even the shots that occurred a few weeks earlier on Ahmaud Arbery. Because of that, we listened. We listened as Americans. We listened as the world. And said This is not right.” — Robert Smith

“In many ways, I look at this week as painful and hurtful, but also as an opportunity to reflect on how to build a better, more prosperous, more fair, equitable society.” — Ryan Williams

“I have to give young people credit. My generation sits and talks. They got out there immediately. They brought their anger, their fear, their sadness in a peaceful way to the streets.” — Robert Smith

“We now have a movement in the U.S. We have global support. There’s an empathy that I haven’t seen before, from not just white Americans, but people across the planet” — Robert Smith

“The world is ready for a real systemic change. You have to drive that into products and services and solutions and new ways of doing things that help the citizens—all citizens—in a way that gives us some hope about an equal opportunity economy and country.” —Robert Smith

“This is not the time for folks to be politically correct. If you have a question about why the systemic issue is the way it is, you should speak up and acknowledge that we’re in this period where we’re all looking to educate and enlighten each other. It’s all about people having uncomfortable discussions to understand the roots of this pain.” — Ryan Williams

“We need to utilize technology to modernize the capillary banking system, so we can drive true capital into the communities that don’t have branch banks. We should utilize telemedicine to bring health care to these communities that have been suffering from these epidemics around healthcare and access to healthcare. And let’s use technology to educate more people better in various platforms K through 12, higher ed, coding, stem programming, etc.” — Robert Smith

“It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable. But that’s how growth happens. It’s been a necessary moment for our country. The deepest pains have risen to the surface for everyone to see. This moment is the opportunity of a lifetime to change the lifetimes of so many people.” — Ryan Williams

“I’m optimistic. When I look at the pictures of the civil rights actions and marches in 1968, and I look at the ones today, I see a much more diverse, broader coalition of allies fighting for what is right. And I’m optimistic that’s where this new world is going. I am thankful that I’m alive to see it, and to be a part of it, and to participate, and give whatever voice, energy, and effort I can to equalizing the opportunity that is America.” — Robert Smith

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