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Perspectives Blog

We are the change
By Minnesota PRSA Admin
Posted: 2021-04-08T14:04:00Z

“When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, [D. Parke] Gibson educated executives not only how to be compliant with the law, but how to build a more diverse workplace. Through weekly newsletters (MLK was one of its subscribers, in fact) and his 1969 book, "The $30 Billion Negro," Gibson proved that if companies wanted to tap into the increasingly affluent black market, corporations first needed to win its trust.”
 – Museum of Public Relations, April 16, 2016 Facebook post honoring D. Parke Gibson

With the murder trial of now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin underway, the time is now to revisit the history of Mr. Gibson. 

I recently had the honor of facilitating a Minnesota PRSA panel of distinguished journalists and communications professionals – all members of the National Association of Black Journalists Minnesota chapter (TCBJ) – to delve into planned coverage and communications for the then-impending trial. We received insights from North News Editor-in-Chief Harry Colbert, Jr., Star Tribune reporter Libor Jany, Wisconsin Public Radio’s Robin Washington, and guidance from the University of St. Thomas Director of Communications Sheree Curry. View highlights here.  

The eyes of the world are once again on the Twin Cities – specifically Minneapolis. Emotions that have been running high for weeks in anticipation of the trial can be heard in the calls for justice that reverberate on the street outside of the Hennepin County Courthouse. 

The upcoming Memorial Day marks one year since the horrifying images of Mr. Floyd struggling under the weight of Officer Chauvin’s knee on his neck, and his cries of “I can’t breathe” grew faint. In the days immediately following, I shared my heartbreak over the horror we witnessed from the smartphone video recording by a teen that sparked global outrage. 

Since that day, a surge of calls for reckoning within the halls of corporations – likely many of the same counseled by Mr. Gibson – led to commitments or recommitments to increased hiring of Blacks and placement in executive level roles. People of African descent are more often appearing as spokespersons, there is a plethora of new programming and youth voices are more prominent.

I believe if Mr. Gibson were alive today, he would be pleased to see his counsel applied, as evidenced in representation across multiple media genres, and his strategic advocacy for diversity in the C-suite, for public relations professionals. However, I also believe he would not rest on his laurels but would remain vigilant in his challenging and educating. 

As the trial moves forward, many Blacks and African Americans are living with the reality of emotional trauma of seeing that dreadful video replayed. However, in the months since Mr. Floyd’s death, there has been a societal shift of racial consciousness, and movement from complacency to action. Businesses are no longer resting on the metaphorical laurels of past diversity and inclusion efforts, but rather pulling the activation lever of change. Our collective global consciousness has been awakened. 

However, over the past year it has been critical to increase the focus on ethnicity due to the “double pandemics” of racial injustices combined with COVID impacting communities of color at higher rates. And we must continue speaking out against the escalating racial violence against Asian Americans occurring due to inaccuracy-riddled rhetoric about the origins of COVID.    

I often hear: “What can I do to help or make a difference?” As professional communicators, our counsel can lead a change in narratives in our respective environments, and through collaborations with professional and workplace affinity groups. For example, maintain “diversity and inclusion” as action words. Keep topics of mental health, stress, trauma and inequities front and center as we continue navigating the pandemic, and support the education of future public relations professionals through a donation to the PRSA National Multicultural Endowed Scholarship fund, of which the Minnesota chapter served as the inaugural donor. 

As part of the select group of distinguished honorees of the PRSA D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award, I humbly accept the responsibility of working to carry forward his legacy – for the profession, my community, my family and for helping to empower the voiceless. 

Marsha R. Pitts-Phillips is the Minnesota chapter of PRSA Diversity and Inclusion Officer, a member of the National PRSA Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the 2020 D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award honoree.
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