Black History Month, traditionally, has been a month full of facts about the accomplishments of Blacks in America, but there are always stories behind those facts. We all know the power of story but, as we tell the stories of Black Americans, it’s critical that we get it right.
False narratives of Black people are not only based on a combination of misinformation and disinformation, but they are also based on a lack of information. The history of Black people has largely been ignored, in the building of this country and in every aspect of life. Ask yourselves: How much did you learn about Black history while growing up?
When I was younger, Black students led a protest in my high school about the lack of Black history in our curriculum. Several decades later, there is still insufficient information about Black history in schoolbooks.
As champions for inclusive communications, PR professionals can make a difference for Black History Month. We can use the power of story to change the narrative of underrepresented communities, spread the word about Black History makers, and build broader and deeper relationships. Here are some things to think about.
- Understand that your story is not the only one. Be careful about thinking you have the only distinctive experience in the room. Diversity is about having different points of view.
- Bring genuine curiosity to conversations. Authenticity always cuts through misunderstandings.
- Do your research and be open to the experience of subject matter experts. Do not underestimate someone’s value because they may not have a bunch of credentials after their name.
- Be courageous in your pursuit of authenticity. This will make you a better practitioner.
The first tenet of the PRSA Member Statement of Professional Values is Advocacy. The second sentence reads like this: “We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.” This practically shows us how we are among the most credible truth-tellers in communications. There are stories all around us. Don’t limit yourselves by existing in a cultural cocoon.
In 2022, as institutions and society work past being woke to keep understanding what it takes to be an ally and an accomplice, PR practitioners can play a part in bringing real stories to life. Black History has shaped our country since 1619 and an accurate accounting will go far in building the nation Dr. King’s dreamed of.
Anita Ford Saunders, APR, is vice chair of the PRSA Diversity & Inclusion Committee. She is the owner of AFS Communication in Middletown, Conn.
[Illustration credit: Melita]