honoring DE+I Beyond Black History Month

By Matt Mendolera-Schamann

As February comes to a close, so too does Black History Month – an important and annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. For the past four weeks, we’ve seen organizations of all shapes and sizes recognize this observance with social media content, company-wide activities and other commitments. Our approach at Matter has always been to take the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate Black History and Black culture, while continuing to renew and expand our commitments to elevating Black voices and prioritizing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) all year long.

We celebrated the month with a series of lunches agencywide that featured a local Black-owned restaurant, courtesy of our Diversity Committee. While just one gesture, it’s our belief that one of the simple powerful acts we can do is to continue to support and promote Black-owned businesses, to help invest in communities and people disproportionately affected by systemic racism. Restaurants highlighted ranged from Chef Ernie Campbell’s Jamaica Mi Hungry in Boston and Elsa and Berhane Kiflom’s Queen of Sheba Restaurant in Greater Dallas, to Elijah Allen’s Mississippi Boy in Denver, to name just a few of the delicious and inspiring chefs whose cuisines our various offices enjoyed.

However, our biggest sources of pride are the things we have been doing and will continue to prioritize that go beyond Black History Month and make our commitment to DEI impactful and actionable day-in and day-out.

Last year, we rolled out mandatory DEI training for all employees, after a years-long collaboration with Brave Trainings, a Black-owned and led consultancy that has been a key partner in helping us navigate the nuances of being truly inclusive as an organization. Brave’s founder, Cornell Verdeja-Woodson, and his fellow consultant TK Huff were instrumental in helping us audit internal and external communications materials and create a customized, interactive video training program that covers a variety of important and sensitive topics, better arming our team with the tools and language to confront uncomfortable situations and be a supportive champion for those around them.

While launching any training program at a company with hundreds of employees is no small or smooth feat, the feedback we’ve gotten from staff is thought-provoking and exceedingly positive, particularly from folks on both ends of the spectrum – those to whom all of this is very new and those who have come from larger organizations and been through iterations of DEI training before.

Beyond our new training program, we also successfully executed a steady stream of DEI programming over the past 12 months as well. We had educational trivia games, live performances, dance classes, drag shows and other small workshops to expose more of our team to experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to take part in. These activities help expand all of our knowledge about topics and communities that help us be more considerate and inclusive in our work and communications with one another and our clients and partners. We are infusing this year’s calendar with similar events and planning additional trainings that will help equip our staff with tools for difficult conversations and greater sensitivity. We also have an ongoing “book club” that spotlights Black creators, stories and topics each month via books, movies, podcasts and other multimedia that we discuss together, which will continue throughout 2023.

We still have a lot of work to do, and as we look ahead not only to the rest of 2023 but to the next five and 10 years, we will continue to hold ourselves accountable and rely on outside resources as well to continue this important work. So, as we close the books on another Black History Month, my challenge to all of us is to honor and recognize Black voices and Black culture in an ongoing way, not just during February, and to elevate DEI efforts beyond simply celebrating the months and days that commemorate a specific community or milestone. Those things are important, but the bigger picture and our continued commitment is what’s truly crucial.