This article will be the first in a series where we explore important social, political and scientific issues with some of the nation’s leading keynote speakers and trainers who are all acknowledged experts in their field.
A Nation in Change
There can be no doubt that our American society all of us are finally awakening to painfully overdue discussions on inequality in our workplaces and society in general. More importantly, there is the need for impactful solutions and action. The death of George Floyd, though hardly the first incident of its type, has propelled discussions of race to a place where it cannot, will not and should not be ignored.
The term “Black Lives Matter” arouses great passion. No one, it seems, is neutral. Every member of your audiences, whether your future event is planned to be virtual or face-to-face, has now become aware of the term.
The words are a rallying point, a source of fear, and even a term of confusion. What does it mean to say Black Lives Matter? What about it frightens people? And, more broadly where do we all go from here?
One thing is clear: there is a new energy in regard to diversity that now challenges us. It is so palpable that the keynote speakers we are about to introduce agreed, without talking to each other, that “something feels different.” But what is it?
The Keynote Shop recently interviewed three of America’s most dynamic and powerful keynote speakers and trainers on the topic of: “What Black Lives Matter Means to Me as a Black Woman in Corporate America.”
They are in alphabetical order: Risha Grant, Diversity and Inclusion Expert; Alana M. Hill, PMP, Change Expert and Leadership Consultant; and Sarita Maybin, Motivational Speaker and Communication Expert.
The women were funny, insightful, and openhearted. Our only regret is that we quickly realized it would have taken a book and not an article to fully explore the depth of their combined knowledge.
Why do you think that some people are fearful of the term “Black Lives Matter?”
Risha Grant: “When people hear Black Lives Matter, for some reason it makes them believe that their life doesn’t. One of the biggest things I do in my work has to do with fear. People feel a sense of loss. They ask themselves, ‘If we have to be more diverse, what happens to us? If ‘they’ move into our neighborhood, what happens to our neighborhood?’ If we had more equity, we wouldn’t have to worry about ‘If this person got this, what happens to me?’ It leaves somebody out in the cold and that’s where fear comes into play. People say the system is broken. It’s not broken. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do - to keep people of color from social mobility. We all have to come up with a system that works for everybody.”
Alana Hill: “When people read about Black Lives Matter, they read their own intent. They infer that only Black Lives Matter or Black Lives Matter more or Black Lives are superior. The ‘translation’ isn’t the problem, it’s the inference. We need to break what I call ‘The Echo Chamber.’ There is the tendency people have to surround themselves with something that sounds like them. The echo chambers, such as cable news or social media, aren’t teaching listening. If people don’t literally ‘change the channel,’ they’ll be stuck to listening to only the echo.”
Sarita Maybin: “My specialty is ‘Difficult Conversations.’ The question here is how can we better communicate? I have witnessed the unrest and the calls for justice before. I saw this decades ago, and nothing ever changed. In terms of Black Lives Matter, it seems that right now, people of different backgrounds are coming together. I remember hearing the quote ‘Justice will only happen when the least affected people will be willing to be part of the solution.’ This is the first time where there are a ton of people taking action who are not affected by the negativity as it relates to race or bias or the need for justice. They are looking at the situation with empathy.”
OK, what does the term Black Lives Matter mean to you as a Black woman in corporate America? What needs to happen to change?
Alana Hill: “It means the same thing to me outside of corporate America as inside. That we are equal. We should have a seat at the table. As an expert in the field of change, I know that from a corporate initiative there must be intentionality behind ensuring that equality should exist. Everyone in the organization has to model themselves with intention the way they want their leaders to be. This is where the personal integrity of all of us must come into play. But that’s not the only way. Sometimes it takes ‘shaking the shoulders’ of the leaders to get them to see something. And, lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time shaking shoulders!”
Sarita Maybin: “People of color in the workplace, or in society in general, want validation, not more information. So often what people argue about is wanting an acknowledgement, without the other person saying ‘you’re wrong.’ With Black Lives Matter, people want you to hear them. So often what people argue about is their experience. ‘At least say to me that my experience is valid.’ People want you to listen, so that you say, ‘based on your experience and what you’ve been through, I understand why you may feel the way that you do.’ What is needed right now is more understanding, more compassion and more caring. Communicate that you care.”
Risha Grant: “In corporate America, it used to mean that I couldn’t show up fully as myself. It used to mean I needed a ‘supporter’ in order to grow. Even having conversations with people at work, women of color had to talk differently, so they didn’t appear uneducated. Or they had to wear their hair differently to conform to a ‘policy.’ I have been on my own for a while now. I have gotten to a place where I can live authentically and people see that. For me, Black Lives Matter is about empowerment, so I can show another black woman the way. Everyone is in a different place on their diversity and inclusion journey. We can look at all the policies we want, but it has to be addressed on a micro level. We must have a personal responsibility to do better and be better.”
Then what is it we can all start doing in our workplaces on a personal level to reach a point of greater awareness in order to find meaningful solutions?
Sarita Maybin: “Part of the problem of having the difficult conversations is to see ‘the elephant’ in the room. Up until this time the elephant has been hidden; people have denied its existence. We are experiencing an awakening. Instead of asking someone ‘How are you doing?’ Ask them in your own way, ‘What’s giving you hope right now? What positive things have you seen happen today? What experiences would you like to see people take away from all of this?’ The ultimate question for yourself is to ask, ‘What can I do to lessen the load for someone else?’”
Risha Grant: “Ask yourself, what is it about diversity and inclusion that makes you uncomfortable – and why. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I feeling the way I am feeling?’ Get out of your comfort zone. Identify where your personal biases are. If you can do that, the artificial barriers we all put up can come tumbling down. Remember there is no ‘them,’ only us. Diversity is not a problem, we’re the problem. It is incumbent on all of us to fix it.”
Alana Hill: “This is the first time that I feel people are listening, but for things to change, we need real allies and advocates. There is a realization that change is not somebody else’s problem, it’s ours. The fact that we have white people saying Black Lives Matter is HUGE. It’s no longer divisive. It’s an awareness. Therefore, be someone's ally, be someone's advocate. We must have compassion and empathy and respect for everyone’s experiences. It is not a one-way street. When we elevate a co-worker, we can’t help but to elevate ourselves.”
We came away from these interviews with greater understanding, hope, and compassion. We cannot go back to “business as usual.” But we can go forward.
Why The Keynote Shop For Your Next Speaker
At The Keynote Shop, we help meeting planners find talent with the "WOW Factor." These outstanding thought leaders have what it takes to make your upcoming live or virtual event a success in the areas of communication, diversity and inclusion and navigating organizational change. To Secure Alana, Risha or Sarita for your next event, or for information on any speaker in our extensive directory, contact Gina Davilla: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Keynote Shop has earned a national reputation as the go-to talent agent and marketing consultant for professional speakers and meeting planners. Our clients know that every transaction is of utmost importance to us. Our ethical focus is always on ensuring the highest standards of professionalism and trust. We work with hundreds of corporations, educational groups and trade organizations to create successful and memorable face-to-face or virtual events. For more information on The Keynote Shop, call (512) 596-5570 today, or click on the link below: https://www.thekeynoteshop.com/contact.html
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