Standing in Solidarity with Black Women in the Workplace

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March 21, 2021—This past week, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Standing in Solidarity Series presented a brilliant program titled “She Did That: Black Women in the Workplace.” The event, which was co-sponsored by Women@NJPAC in celebration of Women’s History Month, was based on the PSEG True Diversity Film Series presentation of the inspiring documentary She Did Thatby Renae Bluitt, and it also featured an extraordinary panel of women who are frontline leaders in diverse businesses.

The more than 700 pre-registrants were sent a link to watch Ms. Bluitt’s film, which was an outgrowth of her blog, In Her Shoes. The film features open and illuminating dialogues with four Black female entrepreneurs—Luvvie Ajayi, New York Times best-selling author and speaker; Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter; Melissa Butler, founder of The Lip Bar, and Tonya Rapley, founder, My Fab Finance—along with the comments and experiences of several other Black female entrepreneurs. She Did Thatbrings to light the surge of businesses owned by Black women, which are growing at six times the national average; currently generate $51.4 billion in total revenues, and employ more than 375-thousand people.

The panelists were the filmmaker Ms. Bluitt; Dee C. Marshall, author, coach and speaker; Debbie Dyson, President of ADP National Account Services; and Natasha Rogers, former Chief Operating Officer for the City of Newark. The instructive and insightful conversation was expertly moderated by Faith Taylor, Environmental, Social, Governance Leader at Tesla, and the new president of Women@NJPAC.

The panel discussed the challenges Black women face in the workplace; celebrated their successes, and detailed opportunities for more Black women to rise to the top of their fields. I urge all of the readers of Arts & Culture Connections to check out the film, She Did That, and watch the recording of the panel discussion.

As a Black woman and business owner, some of the points of shared wisdom that stood out to me included:

She Did That: You can overcome limitations. Work hard. There is nothing you can’t do. And this quote attributed to Maya Angelou: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

Debbie Dyson: Find your voice and amplify it. If you are the “only one” in the room, make sure that you are remembered for what you said and how you actually showed up. Find your pace and rhythm and make sure you are noticed not by how you look, but by how you present.

Your responsibility as a leader is to develop people that can sit alongside you, not behind you. The legacy you want to leave behind is that you were able to lift someone up with you and together you move. The room is big enough to win together as a team.

Dee C. Marshall: Learn to say no so that you can say yes to yourself. Make yourself a priority. Protect yourself so that you can effectively manage your life by creating structure and boundaries that will allow you to be productive. Do meaningful work so that you can do better for yourself and our community. 

Invest in yourself; in your growth and development—a book, workshop, course, conference, or even hire a business coach. Make it an annual line-item. Own your genius and have the courage to be who you want to be. Know your strengths. Find your network and be the one that people call and ask for help. Be the one that supports others.

Natasha Rogers: Amplify your voice by connecting with other people. Advice to Black women who are early in their career: find a therapist and make it a routine part of your self-care practice. It is of utmost importance. Find a business coach, and work with a PR firm to start to document your successes towards building your own personal brand.

The panelists also shared a wealth of resources—from podcasts and articles to organizations doing great work—that you can find at this link. Look for the list under the title of the program.

This program was part of NJPAC’s ongoing Standing in Solidarity series, which was launched in June of 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd to offer greater understanding of current racial disparities, as well as a forum for learning about the actions all citizens can take to advance the cause of equality. In response to questions about why a performing arts center is offering programs on racial and social justice, John Schreiber, NJPAC President and CEO, said about the series, “Conversations about justice, equality and access have always been an integral part of NJPAC’s role as an anchor cultural institution. As America’s most diverse performing arts center in terms of programming, staff and audiences, these values are embedded in the Arts Center’s DNA.”

Consider checking out of of the next two Standing in Solidarity events: March 25, 2021, on Jazz Justice, featuring a performance and discussion on artists and activism, and on April 5, 2021, an exploration of the hot topic of race and COVID-19 Vaccine, titled “Healing the Divide: Race, Medicine, and the Covid-19 Vaccine.”  The program will feature a panel of medical experts who will examine the history of racial discrimination in healthcare, and explore how the long shadow of “medical apartheid” and its impact on the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in communities of color.

As always, I’d like to know what you think. Please share your comments below.

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