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Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy: Time to act with compassion and empathy

Maria Saporta
Dan Cathy thumbs up

By Maria Saporta

Now is the time to speak out against the injustices that exist in our society. That’s the message Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy shared during an exclusive interview Tuesday afternoon.

Cathy said he has been deeply affected by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, among others.

“There are things that have happened in our society that we can’t be silent about,” Cathy said. “You want to speak up and speak out.”

Cathy said people who have been blessed with success have an added responsibility to help out mankind, repeating the scripture: “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Dan Cathy thumbs up

For Dan Cathy, it was thumbs up on the night of the opening of the Chick-fil-A on the Westside in January, 2018 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

He felt compelled to speak out and urge other successful business leaders to step up.

“Those who have benefitted most from capitalism need to work for the betterment of mankind,” Cathy said. “Success becomes so cheap when it’s all about self-indulgence. Success has to be shared with others.”

Cathy defined it as “responsible capitalism” – to have a deep sense of gratitude to others and the community at large. Cathy, the Chick-fil-A Foundation as well as numerous other companies and philanthropists have been working tirelessly to lift up the Westside of Atlanta, especially in the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.

But the reality of the disparities in our society really came to the forefront after the killing of Floyd.

“It is an incredibly graphic recording – all eight-and-a-half minutes of, it,” Cathy said. And there was the video of an African American jogging and being hunted down. We can see it. It’s so graphic. It compels us to understand the emotions and the trauma.

You can’t look the other way anymore,” Cathy said. “It’s too blatant.”

Cathy also expressed displeasure with certain leaders in the messages they are sending, but he did not want to name names.

“There’s a lack of a voice of empathy from leadership. This is not a time for a ‘be tough, show of force’ response,” Cathy said. “It’s a show of compassion that’s needed.”

But Cathy did compliment the leadership in the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, mentioning Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp by name.

“I’ll stop there,” said Cathy, when pressed to elaborate of who was not showing compassionate leadership. “This is not a time for finger-pointing or taking a judgmental attitude. We have seen enough of that – taking a polarized and partisan approach. This is a time to close ranks and rally. There are much bigger issues.”

Beloved Benefit

Dan Cathy and Shan Cooper at Transform Westside Summit to talk about plans for the first Beloved Benefit held in 2019 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Cathy is particularly troubled by how African-Americans are being impacted disproportionately because of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn – all the more reason to become more engaged.

“This is the time for us to have the most noble motives,” Cathy said. “We can’t just stay in our place. We can’t look the other way.”

Chick-fil-A also has been impacted by the pandemic and when protests turned violent. About a dozen stores were damaged in Atlanta, Chicago and New York.

But Cathy was particularly pleased with how his operators responded.

Jonathan Hollis, the owner-operator of the Chick-fil-A next to the College Football Hall of Fame, was giving away sandwiches to first responders and volunteers on the day Saturday after the Friday night of violence in downtown Atlanta.

“We can do the repairs of stores,” said Cathy, who added that it’s the people and the personal experiences that matter most. “You feel compelled to speak up and hope you inspire others to speak up as well to build a better world.”

 

Here are reflections from Dan Cathy that he is sharing on his LinkedIn page and through his channels at Chick-fil-A:

“I am tired.”  I’ve heard this phrase too many times in my private conversations with black friends and colleagues, in the last 72 hours.

What I have come to understand is that they are tired of the violence, abuse and injustice. They are tired, because no amount of kneeling or marching seems to truly address what has ailed our country for generations: A controverted view of race which is sometimes overt and sometimes subtle but always destructive.

“Use your privilege.”  This is another phrase I hear over and over.  To whom much is given, much is required.

I recognize that someone like me cannot fully appreciate and understand the gross injustices that are all around us. I also recognize that talking about the systemic inequality, bias, and injustices in our country will draw criticism.  But neither of these reasons makes it ok for me to remain silent about the issues that now so publicly confront our nation. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and many others is horrifying and merits our outrage.  We should also address the disparate impact of COVID-19 on black and brown communities, as well as the disparity in educational opportunities and access to opportunity.  Nobody talks about it enough, because this is someone else’s problem.  I have observed injustice, inequities and blatant indifference to these real problems.

There are countless academics and analysts who have written about how our democratic capitalism benefits only a few hundred incredibly wealthy families, individuals and corporations, so that the American dream is now reserved almost exclusively for them and their descendants.

Because I am among that demographic, I am calling on them – us – to use our power and influence.

A few years ago, I became bothered that the most distressed zip code in Georgia, right next door to the prosperity of downtown Atlanta, was being left behind.  So, I committed to use my own power and influence with policy-makers and friends to turn their attention to the inequities happening in our local community.  Together, we bolstered our financial investments in the redevelopment of the Westside of Atlanta, the historic home of Dr. King.  The work is ongoing.  We have opened a Chick-fil-A restaurant on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in the shadows of Morehouse College.  The store is led by owner-operator Quincy Springs, a black Army veteran.  We have invested in Morehouse College, Community health clinics; the at-Promise Center which serves at-risk young people helping to guide them into a brighter future; the Hollis Innovation Stem Academy; and housing through Habitat for Humanity.  Additionally, we host a gathering every other Friday on the Westside to pray and intentionally plan the equitable re-development and renaissance of that community. It is one of the most diversely represented and action-oriented gatherings in town.

What else might we do?  There are several ways we can use our power and influence.

It starts at home. This is where values begin.  We must teach our children about leadership, love and justice.

We must use our influence in our own businesses to be responsible capitalists who meet the needs of society.

We must use our influence so that all of our communities can participate in the rising tide of prosperity and hope.

We must have intentional, difficult conversations with co-workers and strangers.  We need to be curious to understand the needs of others.  It’s ok to say, ‘I’m not sure I’m saying the right things right now.’ A lot of people don’t engage in hard conversations, because they’re afraid they’ll say something wrong.  A dialogue is better than no conversation at all.

Despair and hopelessness have always been a part of the human experience.  In the book of Nehemiah, found in the Old Testament, we read about the conviction of the cupbearer of the king, who became aware of the plight of his people in Jerusalem.  His conviction moved him to action to be a catalyst for the renaissance in his homeland.

The most dangerous person in the world is a person with no hope. Let’s open the door to dialogue and healing.

It’s ok if its messy.

It’s ok if tears are shed.

We are human.

Let’s be moved to action.  Let’s join together to build a world that reflects God’s love for all of us.

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Pamela Bedford June 3, 2020 8:19 pm

    Thanks Sir I am Of color I love chick -fil-A don’t get me wrong but I visit your restaurant often why can I count the people of color on one hand meaning Blacks just asking

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