Written by LeShaundra Cordier and Maya DeJoie
In February, we took the time and opportunity to understand Black histories and give visibility to the people in our organization creating change. For us, that starts with listening and amplifying the voices of those impacted by numerous challenges such as systemic racism and oppression. To better contribute to the dialogue around equity, inclusion, and racial injustice, we are launching a new blog series focused on discussions within our agency about who we are as humans and how that impacts the spaces we work in. The first of this series centers around Black History Month and what it means to be Black, encompassing the following themes:
More than just a national observance. Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate Black people, culture, excellence, and voices every day. It is a reminder that the moments in our collective history transcend into the Black experience we know right here, right now while remembering the legacy and contributions of Black leaders, activists, civil rights pioneers, scientists, artists, teachers, and more who have paved the way for us. It’s an opportunity to recognize that, while our experiences differ, we are often united by the challenges of how our skin color is perceived in America.
Deeper conversations lead to impact and change. Being Black is not a monolith. The Black community represents a diverse array of ethnic backgrounds, expectations, music, culinary taste, perspectives, and lived experiences. In the spirit of embracing Black culture and identity, it was important to have a conversation with members of our agency about our individual experiences as Black human beings to continue conversations beyond Black History Month. We hope our communication around this creates pathways that change narratives and restore hope — both in our work and everyday lives.
Our discussion below reflects the diversity of experiences shared by B|G staff members LeShaundra Cordier (Director, Communications Strategy), Maya DeJoie (Social Media Manager), Sandra Lias (Accounting & HR Assistant), Everett Long (Director, Health Marketing Strategy), Eugenia Johnson (Senior Public Relations Strategist), and Petalia Johnson (Account Coordinator).
“We are all different, and like anybody else, we have good and bad…but the default shouldn’t be that we are a threat or dangerous.” – LeShaundra Cordier
What do you love most about being Black?
Petalia: I think it’s really cool how Black people are so beautifully diverse, but we always find ways to come together.
Sandra: I love my brown skin, my heritage, and where I come from. Knowing that my mom used to pick in cotton fields, and then I still see those cotton fields…things like that make me reminisce and love my heritage. Seeing that land and hearing my history makes me proud.
Everett: I love our complexity and resilience and how, in losing some of our original culture, we’ve developed this whole new culture that is on fire and touches everything from music to sports. It sets the tone for so much culture globally.
Eugenia: Our compassion, which is prevalent through multi-generations. I love the affinity of wanting to help, see others thrive, and be a support in different capacities.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to face or overcome as a Black individual?
Sandra: Some people have assumptions about Black people. I’ve always told people in my past “Don’t judge me. Get to know me.” In today’s society, that’s really hard on our Black men. Being a mother of two Black men, I keep them in constant prayer. With George Floyd and everything that has transpired over the last couple of years against our culture, it has been a heartbreaking time, and Black women are praying for Black men. We can give them all the tools in the world, but they can still be seen as a threat.
Petalia: I think the experience of being perceived as a threat makes just existing as a Black person almost exhausting. Within the neighborhood I live in, it’s more on the racist side with a lot of confederate flags and white folk with a lot of strong opinions. At the height of all that was happening in 2020, going outside or going to the grocery store and having to look around and be aware of how people are reacting to you was overwhelming — just existing was a lot to deal with.
Eugenia: Growing up I’ve always been around predominantly Black communities with Black teachers from elementary school through high school. It feels normal to me because Atlanta is already this Black mecca. We’re seeing Black people in positions of excellence who are thriving and it’s normal, so my challenge was recognizing that that wasn’t everybody’s narrative or experience.
While the Black community was still wounded from the death and outcome of the Trayvon Martin case in 2012, the Michael Brown shooting only two years later was a tipping point. I viewed the live broadcast capturing the on-the-ground footage and the city was on fire. There was literal chaos, and I asked myself, “am I in the United States?” I knew I was witnessing a moment that would change the trajectory of history. It was also a moment I realized some people in the world really do not see me as [what I saw in the world I grew up in]. A lot of people see Black people as a threat.
What challenges have you encountered as a Black individual in previous workspaces?
LeShaundra: Descriptors that get put on a lot of us are “difficult,” ”aggressive,” and “angry.” Being confident in our positions and expressing our opinions does not make us angry. It’s very fascinating and also upsetting how often women of color are labeled in that way because [being who we are] can be uncomfortable for people around us. Inclusion and respect at work, while being in a leadership role, was a big challenge for me because while I was invited to the table, I felt like I was at a kids’ table at the dinner party. I was invited because I was a leader, but I wasn’t respected as one because my voice was dismissed and my ideas were brushed aside.
Maya: I remember being at a job where I was asked to be at the big table amongst executives and key players, and I thought, “Oh, they think I’m really smart. They think I’m capable. This is such a great opportunity,” only to find out that it was all because we needed to “look diverse.” That was the first time that I saw my skin color being used as leverage in a professional setting, and for a while after, it caused me to question so much about my own intelligence and capability to the point where my self-confidence and work ethic started to diminish.
Eugenia: Predominantly Black agencies have to work twice as hard for respect, recognition and opportunities. For example, minority agencies are often only tapped for projects that serve predominantly minority audiences. While the majority of America resembles a myriad of different ethnicities, the industry still considers the “general” audience to be White. This means minority agencies receive a reduced scope of work from the larger projects which equates to smaller contracts and budgets to work from. This is a residual effect that impacts the profitability and scalability of minority agencies in the long-term.
“I start with self love. If I love myself, I can pour more love into others. Share compassion because you never know what someone is going through.” – Sandra Lias
In the face of so much adversity to this day, how do you find solace?
Everett: I’ve been working on supporting and collecting Black art. It’s a very intentional way to support Black artists.
Petalia: I’ve also been supporting small Black artists any chance I can get and reading All About Love by bell hooks. It’s amazing for anyone to read, but since it’s written by a Black woman, the perspective of being Black is already written into the novel. She talks about redefining love and different situations about love and knowing when you deserve better and how we can bring love into our communities and for ourselves.
Maya: What happened in 2020 was still a learning experience for me. Some of us have always fully embraced the Black culture and some of us are still learning how. I had to put myself in check and ask myself: What all am I doing to fully understand and embrace my culture? So, I started by turning to books like Hood Feminism by Nikki Kendall to have a better understanding of what topics, such as feminism in this case, truly mean to our culture and how they’re interpreted across ethnicities. It’s eye-opening, and it’s brought this relatability to my life that’s helped me understand myself more as a Black woman.
LeShaundra: One of my aspirations was to be in spaces as a role model to children in my family where my voice is elevated and I’m helping them elevate their voices. I’ve been trying to write a children’s book with my nieces and nephews that they can contribute to and remember as a time in their life.
“[Brunet-García’s] passion for diversity is really authentic, and their love for people is genuine.” – Eugenia Johnson
How has Brunet-García empowered you in your current role?
Eugenia: This is the first time that I wasn’t at a completely Black-owned and operated agency. People always have their personal workplace horror stories. Friends cautioned me about their experiences navigating on-the-job microaggressions and biases from coworkers and leadership. But, I haven’t had to encounter any of that here. My agency is amazing, and the people are amazing. Their passion for diversity is really authentic, and their love for people is genuine. Being here is special, different, and unique, and a lot of people don’t have that in their workspace.
LeShaundra: I’m impressed with the fact that B|G has created a lot of safe spaces for people to be themselves. Being embraced for who you are is amazing, but I’m also impressed with the level of commitment this agency has to wanting to elevate equity and the voices of the people who work here and the people we serve. They are turning their commitment into action items, and it makes me want to do more for this agency.
Sandra: At B|G, I can be myself and be appreciated. I’m able to have those deep conversations with my supervisor if needed. B|G has care and concern for you as a human being. They show concern for you like they would a family member, and there’s no pressure or stress.
Maya: Something that made a world of difference for me was that I didn’t have to beg for anything coming into this job. I was simply viewed as someone who is capable and deserving of being compensated fairly, someone who was smart and strategic enough to do my work without being micromanaged. What B|G saw in me was what I started to not believe before I took this job. I didn’t have to check myself or my personality as much when I came to B|G. I can stand more firmly in what I believe and be trusted to do my job.
Petalia: My managers treat me like an equal because I’ve proven that I’m capable. It’s really encouraging, especially being the youngest person in the agency, knowing that they have full trust in me. We can run projects together without me feeling like I have to do a million smaller things to prove myself.
Everett: It’s been amazing to be at the helm of projects where equity or health equity are a key focus. We are driving conversations around equity at some of the highest levels in the nation! We are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion internally at B|G. The key is to get people to take the journey in a meaningful way. To that end, I’ve decided that my personal and professional role around equity and inclusion is the provocateur. I want to continually challenge us to keep DEI up front, to ensure we ask and face the big and often scary questions. I imagine already some people at B|G see me about to speak and think —”Oh, here he goes again with this equity stuff.” Or maybe that’s what I hope.
It is our hope that this series sparks further conversations in our agency and beyond. Following Black History Month, we know we must continue to shine a necessary light on issues that affect our culture like health equity, belonging, racism, social injustice, and so much more. We hope you stay tuned and help us keep these conversations going.