We made it.
We celebrated 10 years in business earlier this month – on June 7 to be exact. While I made sure to acknowledge the anniversary to those closest to me, celebrating the milestone during a worldwide racial reckoning set against the backdrop of a global pandemic felt unnatural. Although I am champion of joy and all things joyful, this particular anniversary didn’t feel like one to commemorate with cake and punch like we did when turned six or with ice cream like we did when we turned seven or a zoom party, which is the latest responsible way to socialize while social distancing. Instead, I felt like it was more important to recommit to the work of justice, which, if you look closely, is really the centerpiece of DENOR.
For me, as the leader of the agency, recommitting to the work looks like continuing to pursue the projects that allow us to focus on civic engagement or political action or public education or economic inclusion or uplifting the voices of the seemingly voiceless or finding ways to right historic wrongs. The manifestation of that, at least for DENOR, looked like silence – but, not complicity.
We’re already doing the work.
For us, ‘the work’ doesn’t show up like protesting in the streets or social media activism. We’re not necessarily pumping our fists in the air while chanting about a lack of justice leading to a lack of peace. Instead, right now, in this moment, we’re doing exactly what we’ve done for 10 years. We:
- Partner with a public school that serves a majority of Black students who come from underserved neighborhoods.
- Got our start by helping a national event producer create safe entertainment for professional Black people in South Louisiana at a time when very little opportunities were targeted to that specific niche audience.
- Partner with a minority business center to advocate for public policy reforms to ensure contracting equity and economic inclusion.
- Work with a nonprofit focused on ensuring more teachers of color are hired, promoted, and valued across Tennessee.
- Partnered with one of the nation’s only working Black baritones and followed him to Los Angeles as he was nominated for a GRAMMY Award.
- Partnered with a publishing company on projects designed to diversify bookshelves. One of the projects was designed to change the narrative about Black fatherhood.
- Developed the visual and messaging brand identities, among a host of other marketing activities, for a national museum. The museum’s goal is to tell the untold story of the American soundtrack, highlighting the contributions of Black people.
- Helped tell the story of the 37th and 38th Black women to raise $1 million in capital to launch a tech company.
- Partner with a nonprofit to produce a guide to inform voters so that they can make informed decisions in the voting booth.
- Went on the Abyssinian Mass tour with Wynton Marsalis and Damien Sneed to assist with publicity. The tour was the first of its kind of the Abyssinian Mass is featured at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
- Helped to open two new schools in rural Arkansas to provide new educational options and hope for underserved communities.
- Partnered with a nonprofit focused on building confidence in girls so that it could shift the way it messaged to its audience.
… and the list goes on and on. That’s why we’re not sharing a steady drip of posts about diversity or equity or privilege or racism. That’s why you didn’t see a statement about how we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement or even that we believe Black lives matter. That’s why we didn’t make any overtures about being against racial injustice or police brutality. We didn’t even put up a black square to show solidarity with whatever was happening on that day. At DENOR, those beliefs are already baked in.
I also avoided a public celebration this year because I felt it was incredibly important that we were able survive this moment. Our economy has been in retraction since February. The coronavirus has ravaged businesses. Many businesses owned by ethnic and gender minorities (just like DENOR), are struggling to stay alive. And, when seemingly widely available government support is apparently not in reach for business owners who look like me, a celebration seemed trivial.
In light of everything that is happening in our world, I am incredibly grateful for every client who chose to believe in us and in me over these past 10 years. I am even more grateful that I still have clients who help us pay our bills and help me create a living for myself – even during an economic downturn. I am happy that for 10 years I have been able to create job opportunities that have exposed scores of young people to my special, crazy blend of communications. I am thankful for Calendra, Makala, Ebony, Lindsey, Dana, Shamece, Danielle, Rochelle, Elizabeth, Suenalie, Beth, Monica, Nicole, Kristian, Tereva, Tonisha, Raven, Erika, Kristin, Mitchell, and Keturah – DENOR would not be what it is without your contributions and the many, many lessons each of you have taught me.
This moment of upheaval has forced me to live in a state of gratitude and reflection. Because of this, I firmly believe a stronger statement about who we are, what we do, why we do it, and what we stand for can be made if we are able to outlast the chaos and the sorrow of today.
Earlier this month, one of my clients asked me to write a statement to explicitly state that the organization was against police brutality and racial injustice. I told him that it would be redundant to do so, especially if there’s no new commitment or new partnership or approach to share. This particular organization is Black led. All of its board members are Black. About 99 percent of the people it serves are Black. And the focus of the organization is to help those people unlock their potential, build their resilience, and find a pathway to future success. The organization is the essence of liberation – it’s existence and the fact that it thrives despite the challenges, is the antithesis to injustice. The work speaks far greater than any statement or black square posted to Instagram ever could.
So, that’s why WE didn’t say anything. (Of course, I am not lost on the irony of writing a blog about not writing a statement.) Our mere existence – for 10 long years – is statement enough. That IS the celebration.