At the annual conference of National Council of La Raza, David Abney discussed UPS’s 35-year relationship with the United States’ largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization through the lens of three shared diversity beliefs. (At the close of the conference and after Abney spoke, NCLR announced it was changing its name to UnidosUS.)
Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here, even if it is a little on the warm side.
And I say that having grown up in Mississippi and as a current resident of Atlanta. Two places that humidity is proud to call home.
But I think we’re all getting accustomed to the heat – a different kind of heat. Hot-button issues, hot tempers and heated debates seem to rule the day.
It’s because we live in a divided nation that’s becoming even more divided.
Over the years, we’ve seen North versus South, Republican versus Democrat, conservative versus liberal, left versus right, rich versus poor, white versus black and brown.
This country was founded on philosophical and ideological differences. But we always find a way to pull together.
Today, it often feels that we’re pulled so far to the extremes, there’s almost no one left in the middle. And it seems there’s even less willingness to find reasonable compromises. Our differences threaten to strip us of shared values, shared goals and shared dreams.
There are people today who no longer believe in the American Dream. Some think it’s a nightmare. Others believe it’s a thing of the past.
While I don’t agree, I do recognize that someone who feels lost in the process or denied opportunity might hold those sentiments.
“Populism” is more than political jargon, and it’s growing in many parts of the world – including this great country. It’s a force that can break up families. It can keep people from earning a living. It can send entire communities into hiding.
There are families transferring custody of their children to friends or family members, in case the parents are deported. There are more empty seats in classrooms, fewer day laborers looking for work, and businesses experiencing sharp drop-offs in business.
This is not the America that many of us dreamed of. It’s one that looks far too much like what I saw growing up in the Deep South in the 1960s, when the nation seemed ready to split apart at the seams.
In 1974, I was an 18-year-old student at Delta State University when I took a part-time job at UPS.
You can learn a lot sorting packages and loading trailers in the middle of the night. The most important thing I learned is that it doesn’t matter if the person working next to you is white, black or brown.
It doesn’t matter whether they worship at a church, a temple, a mosque – or if they worship at all. You don’t care who is conservative or liberal.
When you work side by side with someone, you quickly learn that we’re all a lot more alike than we are different. And if ever there were a time when we need to put aside differences to do our jobs, it’s now.
I say that because I still believe in the American Dream.
I am a child of the Mississippi Delta, the first in my family to graduate from college. Through hard work and the help of many UPSers along the way, I now have the opportunity to lead a great company. And I am thankful each and every day for that opportunity.
I’m also proud to see NCLR and UPS making that dream possible for others.
UPS has partnered with NCLR nearly 35 years, focusing our people and our funding on programs that give the Latino community greater opportunity.
For 12 years, (NCLR CEO) Janet Murguía has been a fearless leader through difficult challenges, advocating tirelessly on behalf of all underserved and underrepresented communities.
Our work together over all those years comes down to three shared beliefs.
One: Everyone has a dream – and a story.
And each person’s story is both unique and part of the full story. That’s the point of diversity.
Eduardo Martinez and his family came to this country with few resources. They learned a new language, worked hard and raised Ed and his sister to focus on education, family and community.
Ed joined UPS in 1976 as a package handler, and like so many people in our company, his hard work and talent were recognized.
For years, Ed worked as an attorney in our legal department. Today, he’s president of the UPS Foundation and also was appointed Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, and is an important member of our leadership team. Ed had a dream and he’s seen it come true.
Our second shared belief: Everyone deserves to be heard. Diversity without inclusion is a numbers game. Inclusion ensures everyone is heard.
Business understands that better than anyone. At UPS, we know that we are a stronger and more successful business because of the melting pot of voices, opinions, experiences and cultures that contribute to our goals.
One great example of that is Juan Perez. Juan immigrated with his family to the U.S. at the age of 18. Today, he is the Chief Information and Engineering Officer at UPS, reporting directly to me.
In his 27 years at UPS, Juan has been the driving force behind a number of incredible innovations that are improving the way UPS does business. He’s still coming up with new ideas, and I am confident he will continue to for many years to come.
But he’ll tell you he’s proudest of his work with UPS’s Hispanic/Latino business resource group, which – among other things – has played a key role in rolling out several Spanish-language versions of UPS products and services.
At UPS, we view diversity and inclusion as the right thing for our culture, our people and our customers and the smart thing for our business. It’s a core value for UPS, one that we are proud of and committed to uphold.
The third belief that we share is that everyone deserves a chance.
Several years ago, we began helping NCLR expand its impact on Latino youth through several key programs. Now, UPS is honored to be the primary funder of the Escalera program.
We are inspired by stories coming out of this program – like the story of 18-year old Jennifer Salamanca. Jennifer lives with her father, who had to leave school after the first grade. As much as he encouraged her, he couldn’t help her navigate the college admissions process. Escalera did.
Today, she’s a freshman at Middle Tennessee State University with a world of opportunity ahead of her. In addition to Jennifer, this program has helped many students and will continue to reach many others.
Diversity. Inclusion. Opportunity. The shared beliefs of our two organizations are also the foundation of the American Dream. It’s my opinion that business and its leaders, as well as government and civic organizations, must continue to build on this foundation.
It’s what has made our country the land of opportunity.
We also must challenge any threat to the soundness of those beliefs. Because we cannot reap the benefits of a diverse workforce without doing everything in our power to ensure all people have the opportunity to reach their potential.
As chair of the Diversity Inclusion Steering Council at UPS, I’m determined that we do not lose sight of the importance of diversity and inclusion to our people and to our business.
Like NCLR, we continue to focus on creating a more inclusive culture, one that values diversity – in all its forms.
But I think we would all acknowledge that we have more work to do.
For Juan Perez, Ed Martinez and Jennifer Salamanca, opportunity is the path to a brighter future. But, for many others, the path may not seem so straight.
And that begs a very important question: Can we make things better?
I stand here today confident that – working together – we can.
To make certain, we must ensure the American Dream is attainable for all who are willing to reach for it. We must decide that opportunity is an unquestionable right, worthy of our best efforts. So everyone sees the value in the differences that make us a nation unlike any other: a mosaic that isn’t complete without every single, colorful tile.
We will accomplish these things through partnerships like the one we have with NCLR.
In her speech at this event last year, Janet (Murguía) said: “Some people like to say that America has lost its way … that its greatness is a thing of the past. But the American Dream has never been more alive.”
She went on to say, “We have the power to decide who we are as a country and what we stand for. Our destiny is in our hands.”
That is the true definition of the American Dream.
That is the America we must all work to uphold.
For inspiration, we will continue to look to NCLR, and to the women and men of the affiliates and companies that help make their work possible.
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