As we transition from winter to spring and the frost yields to warmer temperatures, it can be exciting to experience longer days and see new life emerge.
While I appreciate what warmth and light do for my circadian rhythms, I find myself focusing on other matters during this time.
With Black History Month in the rearview and Women’s History Month upon us, looking at the intersectionality of being a Black woman, I realize that none of what I feel or do could ever be encapsulated within a set time. And while I believe it’s important and laudable to set aside special times to learn about and acknowledge the contributions of Black people and women, it will take generations to understand accurately and appreciate fully, the enduring legacy and value of Black women in this country.
There are so many amazing stories about Black women that it is easy to become fascinated and fixated on the facts without really considering the barriers they had to overcome, and the struggles they were forced to endure, before they realized any achievement. It’s also disheartening in some cases to discover that early strides didn’t always lead to later wins.
Though Black women attended to birthing women as early as the 1600s, when obstetrics and hospital-led medical intervention emerged by the late 19th century, the work of these women was effectively wiped out. Fast forward to the current day and we are in the midst of a maternal health crisis. Though the United States spends more on health care than in any country in the world, U.S. women have a greater lifetime risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than women in 40 other countries. The risk of dying is three times greater for Black women than for white women.
Black women were engaged in the women’s suffrage movement, yet had to wait until 1965 — 40 years later — before there was legislation that granted Black people the right to vote.
The acclaimed movie, “The Help,” was not a documentary, but the novel from which the screenplay was based, did portray realistic situations. Black women supported white families, my great-grandmother among them, by caring for their children and cleaning their houses — houses they would not have otherwise been allowed to step inside. Many places around the country that were subject to redlining remain segregated today.
While we are reconciling the past, I would like us to seek more ways to positively affect the present and future. Instead of only focusing on who to recognize at any given time, my challenge is to not let this month end without making a commitment to find ways to help Black women become more valued and included into the fabric of this country.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
• Identify a passion project and take note of whether there are any Black women enjoying it.
If the answer is “no,” then use your influence to open an avenue for a Black woman to get involved. You may discover that she is standing on the sidelines just waiting to be asked.
• Volunteer at a local nonprofit that serves Black women’s issues.
Small organizations can almost always benefit from strategic communications support.
• Mentor a Black woman at your organization.
Even if your organization does not have a formal mentoring program, reach out to your HR department so that someone is aware of your interest. According to reports from DDI World, only 16% of high-potential leaders are from minority racial/ethnic backgrounds and only 37% of women have had a mentor in their careers. Lift as you climb.
• Sign up to support voter registration efforts.
This is one way to foster justice and equality.
• Support policy initiatives that advance issues related to Black women.
You can use your communication skills to articulate and advocate for a cause that can have a lasting impact. For example, in states without protection by the CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” Black women (and girls) can be subject to discrimination in workplace and educational settings for how they wear their hair.
As PR professionals, our work is about influencing, engaging and building relationships. Let’s use our expertise to become advocates and allies for justice and change this month and every month.
Renea Morris, APR, Fellow PRSA, is vice chancellor for marketing and communications at the University of Denver. She and her husband have four adult children and are enjoying the freedom of being empty nesters and grandparents. Connect with her on LinkedIn.[Art credit: flamingo images]