Let’s be honest, COVID has crushed our industry and stretched us to the limits of our creativity and “pivot-ability.” We are all universally going through something that at its root is just terribly difficult. I had hoped that like another tragedy—9/11—going through COVID together (separately) would universally bring us together as humans. I wanted there to be one good silver lining to all of this. However, all that down time also had another unintentional consequence. It allowed us to focus on the systemic racism that has affected our country for hundreds of years. The topic took on a central position in the media and our social feeds about two months back as we stayed at home and ceased travel, events and our daily routines.
We all watched in horror as George Floyd had his life ended by someone that was meant to protect us. It was very confusing, and we were being told by our Black colleagues that this was something that happened more than most of us had realized. I personally was shaken to the core to do something to bring about change in our events community.
I reached out to Derrick Johnson, CMP, director of virtual events at Talley Management Group. He is a PCMA board member and was eager to talk about how best we could take immediate action. We both felt that a platform where we could have consistent conversation that was unscripted, raw and unfiltered was the right direction. The Events: From Black to White talk-cast was born.
This weekly online show is an interactive discussion on varying topics on inequality through the lens of the events industry. These 30-minute, bite-sized lunch sessions are bringing together colleagues of all races and normalizing the topic through frank, real-talk.
What I’ve learned over the past 8 weeks:
1. Being a good ally isn’t what you expect.
It isn’t about putting up a single black square one day on your social media feeds. It isn’t about joining a single discussion and then moving on with your life. It is about speaking up during uncomfortable situations, it is about truly wanting to learn about how your colleagues are affected daily. It is about standing by their side to push for real systemic change. It is about education and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone at times.
2. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Again, there is no single thing we can do to make racism go away. This is an ongoing conversation with our peers, ongoing learning, ongoing action by each of us.
3. Racism is complex and complicated.
Racism is layered and complex. Gay Black men experience completely different racism than black women. Trans-people of color go through entirely different scenarios. Intersectionality is crucial to the conversation.
4. We can all do something.
I’ve talked with a lot of white colleagues who have felt helpless. I have talked to a lot of Black colleagues who have felt hopeless. People are struggling to believe that their actions as one person can affect real change. I am here to tell you that they can. I didn’t necessarily believe I was the right person to put together the Association for Women in Events and yet my single action changed the lives of many women in the industry. You don’t have to start an organization to be a game changer. You can sign petitions, listen to podcasts, continue to educate yourself, your colleagues your families. One actionable item is taking a look at the panels that you see in the industry. If they aren’t showcasing diverse voices, reach out to the producer of the event and ask them to consider diverse voices immediately or in the near future. It may just be the small steps that will ultimately lead to change.
5. Education is a must.
Each week, at the end of the show, we provide at least one actionable item or website/link/article to visit so that you can put in additional work and learn even more. We find it most beneficial for attendees when they can walk away from the show and do something during the downtime before the next show. We want people to be actively learning and doing throughout the week!
I know I have a lot to learn and look forward to growing the conversation week-by-week. It is time to have difficult conversations and confronting hard topics.
Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, CSEP, is co-founder of Association for Women in Events and developed the Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force. She works full time as a meeting planner for Altria Group Distribution Company. In her spare time, she runs the blog awomanwithdrive.com. For Black to White archives and registration for upcoming events, click here.