Tales of a Black Communicator: Counseling Clients and Encouraging Allyship During Times of Chaos

Josette Thompson,  Jalana Torres

2020 was a year of unrest and as the last few weeks of 2021 have showed us, it is going to take some time before things go back ‘normal’ again – though coming away from the inauguration of now President Joe Biden – there is a glimmer of hope.

As we reflect on the events that occurred just a couple of weeks ago when the country collectively called for a restoration of true democracy and trust in our government, there were the faintest voices of those belonging to communities of color, particularly Black Americans who question the outcome and conversations we would be having today, if those who stormed the Capitol on January 6th were Black or “of color.”

The social justice and racial issues that came into the forefront during the summer of 2020 leading up to today have taken a toll on our country for sure, and for many communicators of color, particularly Black communicators, there’s been a weird dichotomy and bit of a struggle around being authentic to self while providing the best counsel and guidance to clients that is authentic for them – and the two are not always aligned. However, as trusted communicators to our clients, how should we be helping them communicate effectively  about race?

A few guiding steps communicators may want to take to encourage and facilitate effective communication during these confusing and difficult times include:

  • Let’s Learn, Let’s Listen, Let’s Act: Consider having a direct and thought-provoking dialogue with clients that is both impactful, but ultimately business driven. Start with conversation starters including, “what is your comfort level with addressing the topic of race in this statement we’re drafting,” or “while the issues of trust and democracy are of course top of mind, do we also want to discuss our stance on race issues as well?”
  • Bring in Outside Voices: Meaningful conversations don’t always have to happen externally. With employees being an organization’s key stakeholder, it’s important to communicate directly to them. Encourage clients to focus inwards and invite third party speakers to talk with employees about their experiences, partner with BIPOC employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups who can help you facilitate the tough conversations.
  • Act with Purpose: With Black History Month right around the corner, clients will be looking for guidance on what they should and can do to commemorate the month of Februray. This year, all eyes will be on corporations to see what they’re doing, however, we should ask ourselves the following questions before allowing our clients to participate in this moment in time:
    • What is the company’s history when it comes to diversity?
    • Is what they’re doing substantial? (i.e., pledge amount)
    • Is this the first time they’re doing something like this? If so, what are the implications of it potentially coming off as disingenuous?

When navigating the political and social issues that are pervasive across the country, corporations need to remain diligent in making sure they’re effectively communicating with employees, stakeholders and the general public around issues that are prevalent and have lasting impact. Amanda Gorman summed it up perfectly in her poem at the inauguration, “And yes we are far from polished, far from pristine but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge a union with purpose.” Those words are important to keep in mind as we look to sustain momentum and create lasting change.

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