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‘You belong wherever your feet are’ is takeaway from open dialogue on workplace racism

April 21, 2021 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose

Photo above: Left, top to bottom: Sharon Clinton, Soneyet Muhammad, Kendra Brooks. Right, top to bottom: Carniesha Kwashie, Nefertiri Sickout, Jamie Gauthier. Center: Uva Coles.

A midweek gathering on Zoom provided an energizing moment of candid conversation around the experiences of Black women in professional settings.

Moderator Uva Coles, president and CEO of Inclusiva, set the overall tone for the evening, saying, “We’re going to try to create brave space, honest space, and listening space that centers Black women unapologetically, respectfully, and honestly.”

At the center of this event, “Black Women Fighting Workplace Racism: An Open Dialogue,” was an opportunity to reveal the resilience needed in carving a path that people try to deter you from. The West Philadelphia Promise Zone‘s Workforce and Economic Opportunity Committee came up with this virtual discussion that allowed for Black women leaders to share experiences and lessons learned in handling racism in their professional work.

The panelists were:

  • Carniesha Kwashie, chief equity and strategy officer, Bicycle Transit Systems
  • Nefertiri Sickout, acting chief diversity equity and inclusion, City of Philadelphia
  • Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, 3rd District, Philadelphia City Council
  • Councilmember Kendra Brooks, At-Large, Philadelphia City Council
  • Soneyet Muhammad, director of workforce and economic inclusion at Drexel University’s Beachelll Center
  • Sharon Clinton, deputy executive director of the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity

They spoke about their experiences and provided encouragement during the event. Attendees were invited to the conversation to ask questions and share personal experiences.

Once attendees were settled, the event began with an audio boost from the 1980s song “I’m coming out” by Diana Ross. A  kind of magic lives within that spontaneous music intro using percussion and horns to illustrate how we can move to our own beat, and feel our way through life. It was a fitting theme to start an evening of empowerment, transparency, and sharing.

From our Partners

Before the conversation started, Coles asked everyone to write one word in the chat to describe their current feeling. People shared that they were: anxious, encouraged, heavy, glad, connected.

The word I chose: curious.

A number of connected topics were unwound throughout the night, including isolating onboarding processes, affirmative action, emotional tax, the positions biracial individuals find themselves in these conversations, and allyship.

There was discussion of microaggressions, like mispronouncing a name, that create a nagging feeling that grows over time if not addressed. Not correcting these microaggressions diminishes the energy and work of minority women — which adds to the emotional tax in professional settings.

Women at the event also mentioned the pressure of getting results and excelling, and despite working harder being taken half as seriously. Black women at the event shared the common story of staying true to their identity, and not allowing the occasional unfavorable outcome, like leaving a company, to silence their voice.

Even with Black women making strides in difficult and draining professional atmospheres, there is room for allyship, the participants agreed.

Allies — white, non-Black people of color and men — participated in the event. All of the attendees shared their views on allyship, ultimately settling to the idea that allyship relates to pushing for a fair outcome that may not be personally beneficial to you or that does not directly impact you.

“I think to be an ally is to see the human in [Black women]. Understand that you don’t always have to be directly impacted by something in order to get it,” Kwashie said.

With this candid conversation, attendees were reminded to take a moment if they felt overwhelmed, since the conversation wass meant to be honest and encouraging more than anything. Panelists made sure to bring an uplifting message to Black women that touched on not allowing the limited imagination of an external opinion to dictate how they carry their power.

Attendees were encouraged to intentionally commit to doing what gives them joy, and to protect and nurture themselves.

Some suggestions from the dialogue:

  • Be kind to yourself. Reserve time to “celebrate you” and bring the “joy.”
  • You can handle how a situation evolves to become an ending that fits you by choosing actions that reflect the value you have for yourself.
  • Protect the “seed” of your work. Don’t let anyone disturb the seeds you plant. Those seeds will be the fruit to nourish yourself, and those around you.
  • When you can, have a conversation with yourself to encourage yourself, empower yourself, comfort yourself, and remind yourself that you how you move in this world is in the way you ground yourself.
  • Connect with, and support, your fellow Black women.

“I hope that your takeaway from here is that you belong wherever your feet are,” Coles said. “You have an opportunity to use your voice in whatever way you decide [or] you desire to do so. Whether it is loud, or whether it is a whisper.”

As the conversation closed, Coles asked everyone to write one word in the chat to describe their current feeling. People shared that they were: grateful, inspired, loved, happy.

The word I chose: stronger.


West Philadelphia Promise Zone

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