Wale Elegbede: Building trust is essential in our society

We have made great strides in our nation since Dr. King’s speech, but a lot of work still remains, including in Rochester.

Wale Elegbede
Wale Elegbede
We are part of The Trust Project.

Midterm elections and annoying ads may have stopped, but the real work we all need to do in Rochester and surrounding communities in Olmsted County — and beyond — remain.

Social trust is the belief in honesty and integrity, and that people in society can generally be trusted. Social trust is also a psychological state in which positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of others are anticipated, and emphasis is also placed on behavior, relationships and hope of positive outcomes in civic participation, inclusion of minorities, and that things are fair. When that trust is broken, however, it takes a longer time to regain it than to maintain it.

A common misunderstanding of trust and distrust is that it’s an either-or situation. However, scholars have shared that while trust and distrust are part of a continuum, people experience different social realities when it comes to trust. Having low distrust is different from having high trust, and likewise, having high distrust is different from low trust. It’s also possible for both trustful and distrustful attitudes to coexist, and when they do, ambivalence – a state of having mixed feelings and simultaneously holding at least two juxtaposed attitudes toward the same thing – sets in.

Ambivalence is about getting stuck, and the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King noted the perils of ambivalence in an interview he conducted at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, 11 months prior to his assassination when he mentioned that “there has never been a single, solid, determined commitment of large segments of white America on the whole question of racial equality. I think that we have to see that vacillation has always existed. Ambivalence has always existed…”

He continued, “It’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee an annual income, for instance to get rid of poverty for Black people and all poor people. It’s much easier to integrate a bus than it is to make genuine integration a reality and quality education a reality in our schools. It’s much easier to integrate even a public park that it is to get rid of slums.”


We have made great strides in our nation since Dr. King’s speech, but a lot of work still remains, including in Rochester. Structural racism is a public health crisis and is the underlying condition that has fueled disparities in economic opportunity, education, housing, public safety, criminal justice, and racial health disparities. It is these inequalities, rather than any cultural or individual differences or behaviors, which contribute most dramatically to the disparity and deadly outcomes for Black and underrepresented communities.

When it comes to building trust in society, numerous studies have also shared social trust determinants that we need to look out for. For example, individuals who lack the necessary economic resources experience lower levels of social trust when compared to those with more economic income. Makes sense: The more you have legitimate access to opportunities that will translate to more economic income, the more social trust you have.

The same goes for the quality of education received: the higher the education, the higher the social trust. In communities where people don’t have access to economic opportunities, affordable health care, quality housing, equity and inclusion in schools and organizations OR intentional efforts are present which aim to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion, refrain honesty from being taught in education or overlook discrimination by few law enforcement who deteriorate social trust, when they do not follow the honored police officer’s creed.

Even the physical appearance of neighborhoods has an effect on social trust, and places that are dirty, noisy, run down, or public parks that don’t have adequate restroom facilities negatively affect the social trust for people that live in those communities.

Building trust is a must-have in our society, and structural racism is not an exemption from what you personally can do to make society fairer and more equitable for your neighbors, friends and co-workers. Yes, it is a time-consuming process but so worth it in the end.

Things you can do include educating yourself on disparities. Few understand what redlining is, and how this contributed to social determinants of health that we are still dealing with today as a country. Few know that Black WWII veterans and other veterans of color were denied the GI Bill which was given to their white service counterparts.

You can also engage yourself in personal accountability. While you are not personally responsible for inequities that we as society are grappling with, how will you ensure you are doing your part so that racist harms and inequities are not perpetuated? How will you commit yourself to collaborating with diverse groups of people and organizations in the community? How will you be an upstander and a strong ally to marginalized groups who may not have the privileges that you have? Will you support leaders that encourage social justice, inclusion, equity, and diversity or be part of the problem?

Organizations should also engage in organizational accountability and be strong proponents for social justice – fairness as it manifests in society- and diversity, equity and inclusion. This means moving beyond public statements, getting their hands dirty and doing the real work to advance opportunities for all their employees and the community in which they live.


Untitled 2.jpg
Walé Elegbede (middle) and his Jewish brother, the late Irv Balto (left).

There can also be no mincing of words when it comes to hate crimes, hate speech, and discrimination including Islamophobia (check out my TED Talk “ It takes a community to eradicate hate ”) or anti-Semitism. The recent antisemitic and deplorable comments by Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, are unacceptable and I stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters. This is on the heels of his repugnant attempt to discount the inhumane death and modern-day lynching of George Floyd at the knee of former police offer Derek Chauvin, who has since been convicted. His comments were hurtful to the Black and African American community. All forms of discrimination are unacceptable and need to be called out for what they are.

Rochester is a bastion of opportunities, but those opportunities are not reaching everyone. It is time we recommit to each other, advance social justice, promote diversity-equity-inclusion, address discrimination. It is time we make this work everyone’s business, commit to dig deep and work collaboratively so that we can succeed and build a better future for everyone.

Walé Elegbede is President of the Rochester Branch of the NAACP , TED Talk Speaker, Director of Strategy Management Services at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, and co-founder of the RISE for Youth Program . A keynote speaker on leadership, strategic execution, community, social justice issues, diversity, equity and inclusion and project management, Elegbede is recognized as an innovative thinker and a strategy-to-execution expert by the Project Management Institute, serves on global advisory council of the International Institute of Medical Project Management, is an advisory board member of Mayo Clinic Children’s Press, and board member of Fostering African-American Improvement in Total Health (FAITH). You can connect with Walé Elegbede at

What to read next
'The biggest thing is connections'
Meet local businesspeople and network.
Minority Owned Business Network offers resources, education and mentorship for minority business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Charlie Perkins tells you how to feel less stressed. We need that.