Lift Every Voice: Why Now Is Not The Time To Be Quiet

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Many years ago, my parents enrolled me in a camp near my childhood home. The children that attended the camp were mostly black with a sprinkling of Latinos. Besides the usual water gun fights, outdoor sports and movies – I learned something that summer. It was the goal of the camp organizers that every one of us campers learned the black national anthem. If you are African-American and you grew up in the states, you have probably heard or know by heart the black national anthem: Lift Every Voice.  The camp counselors said it was important that we knew it because we come from greatness and should be proud of who we are.

All I knew back then was it was a beautiful song and it made me proud of my heritage. What I didn’t know is this song I hold dear is really a poem by James Weldon Johnson that was set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson in 1899. I, also learned that the very first performance was on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1900 sung by 500 children who attended the segregated Stanton School where James Weldon Johnson was Principal.

I found myself thinking of this song recently – as I took stock of the massacres of black men and cops that have marred almost every shred of optimism and hope I have for the people of the U.S. at the moment. It got me to thinking that while it is the official black national anthem; it is a song that every citizen of this country needs to hear and embrace.

The lyrics of the anthem goes as follows (note: this is the short version):

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.

I won’t rehash what has gone on in this country in past two weeks, because I am not yet in an emotional place where it would be received well. Instead, I will draw everyone’s attention to the importance of speaking up when things have gone terribly wrong in the world. For as vocal as we have all become about everything from why the baristas at Starbucks can’t get your name right to the terrible service you’ve received at a restaurant – we are incredibly quiet and inconsistent on standing up for one another when injustice is plaguing one of our fellow citizens.

We raise hell if we sit on the tarmac for longer than five minutes during a flight takeoff. In some cases we take to airing our dirty, frivolous laundry out in hopes that onlookers will take pity and support us in our narcissistic moments of needing to be right in the court of “Facebook Friends” ( I really witnessed this recently). Insert hashtags, creative graphics and filters for an extra show of support for some of the world’s tragedies and you have in me a woman who is thoroughly fed up with the phenomenon of “social media activism”.

What is “Social Media Activism”?

It is when you meander from tragedy to tragedy (which often conveniently excludes tragic events that affect people of color) online with no real purpose. You will throw up a Facebook filter in support of a recent tragedy, because everyone else in your timeline did – yet you say nothing of value about the subject. It is creating a hashtag in outrage of a world event or tragedy, but the movement lives and dies on social media and never gets traction in real life. Moreover, it is when you lurk looking for opportunities online to force your political agenda, views and/or hatred for others, but you stand for nothing in real life.

None of this helps anyone if you don’t say something or even better do something when tragedy faces us as a society. I was asked in a recent interview if I worry about tackling controversial topics and whether or not it will impact business. I replied with a smile and said the following: “I am at a point in my business where I am happy to work with businesses with whom I have synergy. I don’t say anything that isn’t rooted in fact, so if they aren’t pleased with my approach they can always hire the next gal.”

While I have no desire to live in the pits of controversy day in and day out, I know that I have a following and influence. I also know that having influence puts you in a unique space to educate people and raise awareness. To be in that unique space, you need to have the courage to speak up for those who cannot or who would be otherwise ignored.

There are plenty other instances when we can laugh at absurd videos, marvel at babies and kittens and have fun while being social beings. 2016 is calling us to be more than the latest viral video or business tip we are discussing for the thousandth time. Speak up, add value, educate, collaborate with a social organization to raise awareness. Do something, but do not be silent.

Some more perspective…

I have two Caucasian friends who have been in communication with me since the killing ensued in early July and if I’m honest every killing of a black person prior to as well. Their words were kind, loving and supportive. When I say “lift every voice”, say something or do something, it doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor. It can be a simple text, email or phone call to show support or merely to listen and better understand why many of us are fed up. Just don’t be silent.

My way of doing something is to educate and speak out. I will be doing just that when I return to my Periscope.tv show Ask Czarina Live this Thursday night. I will be hosting “The Black Out” Show. It will be a show to educate and to have a civil conversation about what’s going on in this country. If you are up at 11pm EST and want to join in follow the instructions in my promo graphic. Let’s be better than what I see playing out online, in real life and in the news.

Ask Czarina Live- The Black Out Show

 

 

Three Tips For Implementing Real-Time Diversity Conversations

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Diversity is on the tip of everyone’s tongues right now. The interesting thing about diversity is people generally give it attention at the 11th hour when missteps and poor practices have already done damage. If some new regulation calls for diversity and inclusion training , diversity mascots  experts are dusted off and asked to provide just-in-time training to show compliance.

As HR practitioners and more importantly business owners, we must all agree that a just-in-time or post-incident training is not a solution to ensuring that we foster inclusive workplaces. Whereas we have been trying to mitigate the instances of intolerance, harassment and exclusion in the workplace – we now have events and circumstances outside of the organization forcing us to have more timely discussions with staff.

The volume is turned up on racial and bigoted rhetoric. Politics are all the buzz as we move towards nominating candidates for the presidential race in the U.S. Through it all, tensions are high online and off. Do you think for a second none of this has the potential of spilling into your workplace?

If you think not, you’re not watching closely enough. More than ever, your employees need to know where you stand and how you expect them to conduct themselves. Times of controversy call for compassion, understanding and real-time diversity conversations.

Here are some tips for implementing these conversations:

1) Be timely and consistent in communicating. It doesn’t matter whether you are addressing concerns internally or externally- you will need to be timely and consistent. Waiting too long to address diversity issues of the moment- can elicit trust issues and undermine your ability to authentically connect with your staff.

2) Make it clear where you stand and what you expect of your employees. I once worked for an organization that allowed the confederate flag to be hung in the offices of leaders. Just a short twenty years ago, this same organization had employees hanging nooses in the offices of African-American employees. To date, it isn’t abundantly clear that they support a diverse workforce and it isn’t implied because it says so on their webpage.  I share this to drive home the fact that you have to walk the talk. Diversity and Inclusion is not just a policy or beautifully-written EEO statement. Diversity should be a part of your organization’s moral fiber. Your employees deserve to know where you stand and what will and will not be tolerated.

3) Keep it simple. Keep it real. Have you ever taken stock of the gestures and faces your employees make before you or any other leader starts speaking in a training or meeting? Employees are like your customers in many ways. They hate contrived messages. It pains them to watch you squirm through a conversation on race knowing that you don’t even believe the words coming out of your own mouth. Keep your message simple and be real. You have to trust that you have fully-grown adults working for you- that are capable of engaging in open dialogue on diversity, inclusion and other difficult topics.

It is our legacy in HR to create policy, procedure and programs. With pressures for businesses to show and prove their dedication to social causes – it is very clear that HR and the business have stock in managing the moral reputation of the company. Using these tips are just the beginning to the effort you need to put into a sound diversity and inclusion strategy.

In my latest “Ask Czarina Live”, I talked about what happened to MAC Cosmetics when they let a diversity debacle go too far. Check it out below.

Have questions about how to take this one step further? Contact me. I’ll answer you in a future “Ask Czarina” video.

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