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Time to Speak Up and Embrace Diversity

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Written by Michael Wolaver, Captain of Magellan Promotions

The issue of race and equality has been an evolving topic for me. When I grew up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a well-off suburb of Chicago, there were very few African-Americans in the city. So I really had very little interaction with anyone of color in my life. When I went to Marquette University, all of my close friends were white and did not have much of a multicultural experience. I was on the sailing team and one of my teammates once commented how he loved “the diverse sailing community.” I remember thinking what an off-target comment that was for a team of all white and mostly well-off college students. But I never sought out to diversify my community. I always wanted people of color to be successful, never understood racism, and wanted all to get along and be successful.

Michael Wolaver pictured with his wife Michele, and two sons, Abera and Mehandis.

My perspective really changed when my wife and I adopted our two boys from Ethiopia in 2007 and 2010. Only then, when I saw them with fresh eyes, knowing we could not protect them from the unwarranted biases against them, did I begin to understand how unfair systemic racism is. My boys did nothing to deserve being unfairly judged, hated and discriminated against. Because of the color of their skin, I have to talk with them about why they will be unfairly judged, questioned, and categorized. It is so unfair for them to have this conversation while their white friends don’t have to live with these unfair judgments.

I wish I would have arrived to this conclusion without having to adopt from Ethiopia, but when it became personal, I understood this struggle differently.

Why Speak Up Now
I am a non-confrontational person by nature. I believe almost everyone is a good person in their heart and have believed that racism, while still prevalent, will go away over time. However recent events are reminders that racism is very much alive and I think the country is ready for an honest conversation about white privilege and the underlying issues of systemic racism. We have had so many people tell us through the years that our boys will not be judged like other African-Americans. My wife and I know this is not the case and really shows to us how far we really need to go as a country in understanding these issues. So I believe now is the time, with this national conversation starting, that I can start to speak up on this topic.

I have struggled in the past on addressing systemic racism from a company perspective because I felt it was not the place for businesses to get involved in. But I also believe that businesses have an identity and responsibility to stand up for what is right. I have talked with other business owners and read immensely on this subject over the past few weeks. To me it has become clear that businesses need to play a role in helping end systemic racism in the United State. Businesses create cultures and social norms that can choose to be diverse, equitable and inclusive. Businesses can educate their teams and lead by example in stamping out injustices. We can be leaders of this change.

What We Are Going to Do
Magellan Promotions is going to take actions on a number of fronts to address systemic racism and to ensure we are creating a company that is inclusive, diverse and equitable. The pathways that we are going to accomplish this will include:

Advocacy – Motivated by the social justice awareness championed by Black Lives Matter, our team will continue to support national and local causes through genuine action and advocacy, guided by the desire to usher in positive changes that will benefit our communities.

Education – Provide continuing comprehensive diversity and inclusion training to all of our employees, by a credible and trusted third-party professional. This will be a mandatory training that will help us understand unconscious racial bias, and actively work together to change and support one another.

Company Donations and Volunteering – Magellan Promotions will charge our volunteering culture team to find and donate to causes that defend justice, create policies, and support families and communities affected by systemic racism. This team will also identify opportunities that we can create positive change as a company through giving of our resources and time. We welcome any and all suggestions from the community in helping us achieve this goal.

Individual Volunteerism and Learning Resources – Offer all employees helpful resources for individual learning, as well as information about ways they can volunteer and mentor, including connections to organizations we know that are seeking help.

Implement the PPAI Playbook – The industry association that we belong to, Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), recently introduced a resource on how to create a playbook centered on diversity, equity and inclusion. We will make sure to effectively implement these recommendations.

Diversity pledge – Magellan Promotions in 2019 signed the Metro Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce (MMAC) pledge to make Milwaukee a region of choice for diverse talent. The goal is to make Metro Milwaukee’s workplaces and community more welcoming, by committing to increasing the number of African-American and Hispanic/Latinx employees in Metro Milwaukee by 15%, and the managers by 25% by the year 2025.

This is Our Starting Point
As we all know, this is not something that will be solved quickly. But I am confident through our intentional action, in our small way, we will help create an equitable, just and fair world.



Questions? Comments? Connect with Michael on LinkedIn or contact him by email.


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