“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – former President Barack Obama
Although former President Obama first delivered this message over a decade ago in 2008, I find myself often revisiting it. The part that sticks with me the most is the last sentence, “we are the change that we seek.” As this new month of February begins as does Black History Month, those words remind me that we are all on our own individual journeys to create the change we seek. Whether it’s a dream to start a business, to be the first in your family to graduate from college, or to share stories that change the way we relate to one another, it’s often easy to focus in on what we are doing at an individual level. This month, in honor of Black History Month, I am challenging myself and others to think bigger.
It’s true that change starts at the individual level, but the key word is starts. Don’t let it end there. Instead of pledging to read more Black authors this month (which is great!), question all of the media you interact with and consume and make a conscious change to diversify what you read, all year long, not just for a month. That is just one example of an action that might seem small but can have a great impact. And when done at a large scale, this action can shift societal norms and address negative stereotypes that disproportionately target Black people and communities of color. In the spirit of thinking bigger, I’ve suggested three ways for you to consider the actions we take, and the impact we can have, as we work on being that change that we seek.
Action1: As an Individual
Check your Biases.
I like to think of personal media audits similarly to how we might think about yearly check-ups with a dentist. We all probably think we are doing a great job with dental hygiene, brushing and perhaps using floss regularly. Yet, no matter how on top of it you are, your dentist might catch something you didn’t know was there, because they have a different perspective. Similarly, we all have blindspots and biases we might not catch in our day-to-day routines and habits.
What to do? Take an inventory of the media you interact with and make a conscious decision to diversify who you engage with and where you collect news and information. It’s not a one and done process so embrace the journey and find resources that create an enjoyable learning experience. One of my favorites is Anti-Racism Daily, founded by Nicole Cardoza. I invite you to check out their daily newsletter with daily actions to dismantle white supremacy and follow the antiracismdaily Instagram account for great visual storytelling.
Action 2: As an Organization
Authentic Storytelling. Although it might seem conspicuous that messaging should be based on your mission, I have seen many organizations fall short on this. Alternatively, I have also seen many organizations do this exceptionally well. The piece that seems to always be present in strong messaging is authenticity in storytelling. The power of leveraging stories to connect to one another and the world around us is rooted in shared lived experiences. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated many of the existing inequities in our country, and at the same time clearly demonstrated how interconnected we all are, across coasts, industries, sectors and the bottom-line. And at the core of all this, is empathy. Storytelling as an organization requires careful consideration including consent, respect and empathy. Avoid using coded language or helper language that portrays an organization coming into a community of color and “solving all their problems”. Next time you craft messaging about your organization or mission, consider the stories you draw from and how you accurately and authentically follow through.
Check out Season 1 episode 9 of the Mission Forward podcast for more on centering empathy in business. Empathy as a Force Multiplier with Ryan Pintado-Vertner
Action 3: As a Society
Words Matter but Action is Required.
The first step to creating new, more equitable changes in your business, community or society at large, is listening. History has shown us time and time again, words matter. Having difficult conversations and questioning toxic norms based on white supremacy is key to calling out the inequitable systems in the US and around the world. However, we cannot stop there. For those who are white and benefit from these systems, consider, are you only having these conversations in spaces where it is “accepted” and normalized? Do you step away from your work and act upon the same core values and approach during your day-to-day life? How are you showing up as an ally or accomplice? These are some of the ways we can push past the well-intentioned progressive echo-chambers that often exist in a professional setting and instead extend our collective impact into everyday interactions and experiences. The reality is, this is something that Black, Indigenous and people of color juggle both in “professional” settings and outside of them, as a product of the society in which we exist. We cannot step away and forget about the ways in which institutional and systemic inequities affect us, because it is our reality. The process of advocating for and realizing a more just and equitable society is a journey and it won’t be solved in a day, month, or a year but we all have a hand in realizing it.
Check out how the Mission Partners team hold ourselves accountable to racial equity goals and actions: Racial Equity Plan
At Mission Partners, we believe firmly that building equitable and anti-racist practices is a lifelong journey and not something that can be done in a silo, such as the workplace or in personal settings alone. Rather, building one’s strongest equity muscle requires layers of unlearning, learning, and action over time, in all aspects of life. We are committed to this practice and hope you will join us.
Above all else, I hope you find some inspiration to move into action this month and honor Black History and excellence. Support a Black owned business by buying their products or services, hire and promote more Black people, and ensure your workplace culture is truly supportive and inclusive, for all.
If you like the header image, check out Black Illustrations.com for more inclusive images and illustrations.