#CuriousNerds: Learning from Black PR History: The Imperative of Belonging

photo collage of famous African-Americans across the centuries

Last week, members of our team attended Learning from Black PR History: The Imperative of Belonging. This event was co-sponsored by the Museum of Public Relations and the Diversity Action Alliance.

Hosts Sabrina Browne and Victor Blackwell, Anchor at CNN, kicked off the event with a vibrant and engaging dialogue. Throughout the conversation, other speakers reinforced key themes throughout the evening.

  • The value of work vs. the value of worth: What is appreciated? What is rewarded?
  • Bringing your authentic self to work and showing up for what you, individually, can bring.
  • Recasting our appreciation of each other in the definitions of our workforce.

All people, regardless of the amount of melanin in their skin, have struggled with these existential questions and what they mean to them personally. For our Black and Brown colleagues, friends, and peers these questions have additional layers that white people don’t have to contend with.

The Black Experience is the American Experience. However, the conversation reinforced the need for incorporating voices, not segmenting them. For example, a story about farmers should include Black farmers, not only a separate story about Black farmers. And, while Black farmers likely face additional challenges, they also need to be better represented within general stories.

The Gap Between Reality and Goals

One thing is strikingly clear: no organization is getting diversity, inclusion, and belonging completely right. This work and these conversations have been going on for decades. As Nyree Wright noted, while there have been improvements and changes, it isn’t enough. All organizations have work to do. All year-round, not just during Black History Month. That means all people, all employees, have a role to play.

It starts with:

  • Understanding that which should be obvious: respecting, valuing, welcoming, and equal pay
  • Believing the lived experiences of our colleagues.
  • Not “othering” colleagues and making them an ambassador or a spokesperson for the entirety of the Black Experience
  • Allowing every person to bring, in the words of Emmanuel Reid of Ogilvy, “the full mosaic” of who they are

Creating an Eco-System of Inclusion

As webinar host, Sabrina Browne stated of Black and Brown folks, “We are not a monolith; we shouldn’t be treated as such.” She noted, “there are so many experiences and data to learn from that will help your organization create an eco-system of inclusion and belonging.” An eco-system includes positive exposure, “a place where people see the possibilities of success from the beginning,” and where people in leadership positions speak people into the rooms they’re excluded from. (Tiffany Knighten, Brand Curators). Organizations need to invest in young black talent–providing active mentorship and sponsorship.

It means being aware of issues like hair discrimination and the hopes and disappointments surrounding the power of Juneteenth. And a whole lot more.

For Allies, it means doing your homework.

As a white woman, I have not, personally, faced the daily encounters with racism and microaggressions that exhaust and detract from the work. How could I? Yet, what I can do listen, learn, and act. That starts with believing what my Black and Brown colleagues tell me. It means, not “pooh-poohing,” brushing off, or dismissing what may be uncomfortable to me. I can speak up when I see something wrong, rather than remaining silent. It means doing ongoing homework so that I see, understand, and can take action. I recommend Rachel Elizabeth Cargle’s 30-Day #DoTheWork course or follow her on Instagram with The Great Unlearn.

Accountability. Transparency. Intentionality.

Organizations (and the people who work there) need to ensure they take positive action “beyond pamphlets and ERGs.” It means more than recruiting. It goes beyond hiring and onboarding. Organizations and their people are responsible for creating an inclusive environment that welcomes and embraces different perspectives.

How do we deliberately co-create belonging? What does it mean to, explicitly, ensure representation? What policies and practices are put into place to retain employees of color? Employee Resource Groups are not the sole answer to ensure representation; it’s bigger than that.

Stepping Up

Ultimately, we all need to make a living and feel a sense of belonging. At this place and time, we spend a lot of time working or looking for work. So, our work environments should be a place in the world where we are appreciated and valued for who we are and what we bring.

Certainly, courageous conversations and interventions can help knock down microaggressions. That’d be a step in the right direction. But it will take more than that: tying compensation to deliberate actions, tangible efforts, and measurable results will lead to improved equity.

Thank you to the brain trust that provided such insightful commentary and conversation.

Host: Sabrina Browne – Vice President, Corporate, BCW
Fireside Chat on “The Role of the Communicator Today” with Victor Blackwell, Anchor, CNN

Panel I: DEI, Belonging and The Black PR Professional

Panel II: DEI, Next-Gen Black Talent on Belonging