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

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

The event started off with a vibrant and engaging dialogue between host Sabrina Browne and Victor Blackwell, Anchor at CNN. Throughout the conversation, key themes emerged that would be reinforced by other speakers 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 personsonally. For our Black and Brown colleagues, friends, and peers these questions have additional layers that white people don’t have to contend with.

The discussion of the Black Experience being the American Experience 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. 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 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
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? What I can do is believe what my Black and Brown colleagues tell me, not “pooh-pooh,” brush off, or dismiss 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.

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.” 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 that 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 do the work of investing in young black talent–providing active mentorship and sponsorship.

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. Once you have hired someone and get them in the door, how do we co-create belonging? What does it mean to ensure representation? What policies and practices are put into place to retain employees of color?

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. Our work environments should be a place in the world where we are appreciated and valued for who we are and what we bring.

Courageous conversations and interventions may help knock down micro-aggression, which is a step in the right direction. But it will take more than that, actions such as tying compensation to tangible efforts and 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

Kari McLean
Senior Manager, Content & Marketing
As a marketing communications professional with a theater background, Kari coaxes ideas into reality through collaboration.

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