Do the widespread Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests calling for an end to racial bias in all its forms leave you wondering how meeting planners can join the struggle against the long history of discrimination? Now is the best time since the epic efforts of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to take action, say industry leaders like Faith Morris, chief marketing and external affairs officer with National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Powerful statements from Jason Dunn, chair of National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals, and Elliot Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, also highlight the need for planners to play a role in the shift to gatherings that are more inclusive, diverse and part of the solution.
Amplify Black Voices
When speaking about racism, race matters. This is the time for black voices to be heard, social commentators say. Meeting professionals have the opportunity to amplify historically marginalized voices by selecting them as speakers for events, and including them and the issues that address minority challenges on panels. Company owners and managers can also be intentional about giving them visible platforms.
Support Black Businesses
Another way to use your professional influence to aid black lives is by supporting black-owned businesses. From venue choice to swag bags and floral arrangements, there are countless opportunities to support black businesses when planning an event.
According to Forbes, minority-owned firms are much less likely to be approved for small business loans than white-owned firms, and if they are granted loans, they are often at higher interest rates. This is just one of the many things that make black-owned businesses more financially vulnerable, which is even more threatening during COVID-19-induced economic troubles that disproportionately affect the black community.
Directories of black-owned businesses based on location or industry can make the search easier.
Behaviorial psychologists and other experts say one of the most important steps of antiracism work is the process of unlearning unconscious stereotypes and adopting a mindset that is more open and free of these. By educating yourself on issues of racism through books, social media and conversations with friends and colleagues, you can help move toward a new vision of the industry that is less monochromatic and more vibrant.
Don’t Ignore Race
In a message to Destination DC’s members following BLM protests in Washington, D.C., Elliot Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, said, “As the leader of Destination DC, I recognize that first and foremost it’s all about hospitality and economic development, but as a black man leading an organization that’s truly diverse, this is an opportunity for us all to reflect on what’s right, what’s good and make a difference.”
When industry leaders take the problem seriously and commit to uncomfortable changes where necessary, real change can start to happen.
Chair of National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals Jason Dunn also spoke up last week. On June 1 he released a video message to NCBMP members on behalf of the association’s board of directors, in which he observed, “History has an unsettling way of repeating itself, particularly if one chooses to turn a blind eye.” Meeting professionals are positioned to start conversations about recognizing racially based behaviors in the workplace, however difficult they may be.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Issues of race have an all too common history of entering mainstream media and consciousness for a short period of time before society returns to “normal,” sociologists and other commentators point out. Although the Black Lives Movement has gained significant traction in the last two weeks, if real change is to be found, the conversation about rooting out systemic bias needs to continue.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955, lasted for 381 days. The buses that carried Freedom Riders across the South in 1961 ran for seven months, and the Civil Rights Movement spanned over 15 years. The fight for equality and justice is a marathon, not a sprint. While action is important today, many activists point out it is even more important to continue to fight for diversity in the industry when the buzz of the protests has died down and #blacklivesmatter is no longer trending on social media.