Black History Month: Shaping the path for the future

Each February, we celebrate Black History Month, honor the achievements of all African American pioneers and consider how those people shaped, challenged and strengthened the country we live in today. The month also reminds us of how far we’ve come as a nation and how much further we need to go.

This February resonates differently. Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and after more than a year of the global pandemic, we still struggle to adapt to so much dramatic change in how we work and live. This is also the first observance of Black History Month following the sorrow, rage, protests and advocacy unleashed last summer. Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” may earn a troubling modern context, with Black lives being reduced to hashtags—#GeorgeFloyd #BreonnaTaylor # AhmaudArbery —unless we make substantive progress toward social justice.

Have you checked on your Black friends lately? We are a resilient people, but we’re emotionally drained, angry and tired. Still, as it has been throughout this country’s history, we embrace what needs to be done to move us all forward into a better world.

We as communications professionals have a responsibility to tell authentic stories of past pioneers, current leaders and future innovators to further acceptance, understanding and equality. We can start with empathy then keep the momentum going by speaking truth to power. As brand gatekeepers, here are some ways you can contribute to the progress being made:

  • Support your leaders in making diversity and inclusion a true business priority by embedding diversity, equity and inclusion practices and language into your organization’s marketing, advertising, PR, and internal and external communications.
  • Advocate for a more inclusive and diverse communications team built around individuals who care deeply about amplifying the varied perspectives and experiences of employees and consumers.
  • Create an inclusive language guide to assist in crafting messages that are free of biased or discriminatory language.
  • Anyone can be an ally and speak out against bias. Provide your audience with tools and training to help them speak up about injustices when they happen. This can include bystander training, employee feedback channels, first-person testimonials and other experiences.

Communications professionals can guide internal and external audiences to use Black History Month to honor, reflect, learn and connect, especially in 2021. If last year was a worldwide reckoning, this year, it’s time for all of us to “show our work.”

Janeal Garry is a Communications Specialist within the Emerging Markets division of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and is a member of PRSA Detroit/D&I committee chair.