National Capital Chapter

Change Starts with Us

Three ways communicators can contribute to racial justice

Over the past few weeks, civil unrest has disrupted our nation. The recent racist acts against Black people such as Chris Cooper and the heartbreaking deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and many others further confirm just how embedded racism is in our society. Thousands of people in every state across the country have taken to their local streets to protest systemic racism ensuring equality remains front and center in our hearts and minds. All this is happening amidst a global health pandemic — one that has further illuminated health disparities in communities of color and racism against Asian people.

At every turn, issues of racism, discrimination and bias are prominent in both our personal lives and in the workplace.

So, what can we do as communicators and PRSA National Capital Chapter (PRSA NCC) members?

PRSA President T. Garland Stansell offered the following challenge: use our voice to lead the conversation in ways that make lasting differences in our sphere of influence. PRSA NCC President Lisa Kiefer further acknowledged that words are not enough. We must commit to action and hold ourselves accountable.

What follows is a starting point for chapter members willing to commit to action and contribute to change.

Learn: Communicators must understand what systemic racism, discrimination and bias are, why they exist and the intersections with the PR and communications discipline. The following curated list of resources are a good place to start:

Then, look at the intersections of race and PR with these resources:

I encourage others, particularly the academics in our chapter, to share other resources that may be helpful.

Practice Inclusion: Next, ask yourself if other people unlike yourself with different voices or perspectives are missing from your interactions or conversations. Actively engage your Black colleagues and conduct a well-being check. Listen intently, express empathy and compassion and offer support as an ally – a person that builds relationships with trust and accountability to the marginalized and underrepresented. Do not take over the conversation with your thoughts on what’s happening or ask your Black colleagues how to fix it.

And finally, recognize that authentic conversation may be uncomfortable at times but lean-in, embrace the uncomfortable and engage on topics related to racism, bias and discrimination. Then take those conversations, coupled with your learnings, and act in your spheres of influence.

Take Meaningful Action: Action drives change. In your personal life, ways to act include raising awareness and educating others, volunteering or giving to organizations like Black Lives Matter, NAACP and others focused on fighting against racial injustices.

In the workplace, encourage and actively recruit diverse candidates, coach, mentor and sponsor diverse high-performing talent, push for anti-racist workspaces and inclusive writing practices, serve as the conscience of your organization and use your voice as a communicator to influence your leaders.

And within our chapter, our Board has made this a priority and continues to identify and address potential bias in our processes and further embed diversity and inclusion into our organization. As a member, become more involved by serving on a PRSA NCC committee or in a leadership role. Support the next generation of diverse PR practitioners through our PRSA Foundation or help accelerate diversity, equity and inclusion in the profession by donating to the Diversity Action Alliance. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee is committed to serving as thought partners with the chapter but cannot shoulder the responsibility alone. This is an all-in moment.

These are just a few ways to get involved. Keep in mind, this one blog post is not enough though. It’s only a starting point to a conversation that deserves to be had over time. I encourage active engagement in the comments and welcome different perspectives and resources that our members can take advantage of along their journey to be anti-racist. The D&I Committee will collect and curate these resources to share with the chapter along the way.

2020 is a defining year for a multitude of reasons. Let’s ensure we define what it means to our chapter to truly embed diversity and inclusion into who we are as an organization.

Author Bio

Joseph Dawson is the co-chair of PRSA NCC’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. He serves as a Strategic Communications Director at a Fortune 50 financial services firm focused on HR, inclusion and diversity messaging.