I write these words from Chicago following the conclusion of PRWeek’s incredibly successful PR Decoded: Purpose Principles conference and our inaugural Purpose Awards.
It has been a tremendous few days in the Windy City, which for me actually started with the most inspirational part of the week early Wednesday morning when Team PR Week headed out to DuSable and Bronzeville Scholastic Institute high schools in the South Side of Chicago.
When we devised our Purpose Principles event and Purpose Awards, it was important for us to walk the walk as well as talk the talk on the subject of purpose. Hence, PRWeek teamed up with GENYOUth as our purpose partner to put something back in an area we feel aligns with our brand values.
GENYOUth works with Fuel Up to Play 60 and Midwest Dairy to increase access to school breakfasts in areas where the kids don’t always have that luxury. We gathered with students, school administrators and former Chicago Bear Anthony Morgan for a special ribbon-cutting ceremony and breakfast cart unveiling.
Our donation of the cart will help serve almost 100,000 meals annually to students and is just the start of something we would like to grow into a bigger and longer-lasting initiative.
Former wide receiver Morgan, who is an inspirational communicator and now a pastor at Christian Valley Missionary Baptist Church, spoke to the students about the importance of putting fuel in the body to set them up for the day and help them concentrate on their studies.
He spoke about respect and believing in the power of "you". As the youth listened intently, many wearing Bears shirts, I was struck by the talent and potential in the room of an impressive group that could add so much value to businesses and communities if they just had access to the same opportunities as those more fortunate than themselves.
Speaking to the schools’ principals Jullanar Naselli and Demetra Richardson-Starks, it was clear the idea of doing an internship or work experience in a PR firm or brand just wasn’t on these kids’ radar. Yet they are exactly the generation with which brands want to engage and I believe they have so much potential if given the chance.
The initiative underscores PRWeek’s commitment to community service and youth empowerment and if anyone would like to find out more, be connected or help in any way, please contact me here.
We were supposed to be joined at the ribbon-cutting by Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but the impending teachers’ strike in Chicago, which kicked in Thursday, would have made the optics of that particular picture opportunity a little awkward.
However, we were lucky to have Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor economic & neighborhood development, at our PR Decoded conference as part of a ‘Business, Government and the Neighborhood’ session moderated by Richard Edelman that also included Pastor Corey Brooks, head of Project H.O.O.D., and Latanya Bluitt-Wells, a volunteer counselor at Project H.O.O.D.
Project H.O.O.D. uses entrepreneurship, vocational training and community-based actions in Chicago’s Englewood and Woodlawn districts to reduce violence, break the poverty cycle and rebuild south side neighborhoods.
Bluitt-Wells received a spontaneous ovation when she described the story of how she raised five daughters following the fatal shooting of her husband 12 years ago and sent them to grammar school. They all graduated from high school and two went to college.
She always aspired to be a nurse and likened the experiences she had been through as dealing with trauma in the way a nurse would - she is now a full-time student herself and graduates next May with a BSN. As she said: "I didn’t allow what I went through to stop me from being that team leader, that person who my kids had left to look up to. I speak to other women to try to give them hope and seek empowerment."
Pastor Brooks is trying to stimulate economic revitalization in deprived areas and took over a former Walgreen’s building to provide vocational training and help people start businesses, with support from Chicago-HQed Mars Wrigley.
"I want business to step forward and fill a void left by Government," said Edelman. "There’s a time and place for companies to help bring a greater sense of equality in Chicago between the wealth and the poor."
When you consider that, according to The Urban Institute, majority-white neighborhoods receive 4.6 times as much market investment per household as majority-black neighborhoods and 2.6 times as much as majority-Latino neighborhoods, you start to see the scale of the problem and the way some parts of our communities are being let down.
This is a hole that business can definitely help to fill. Indeed, they have a moral obligation to help fill.
And, as was demonstrated by the 30-plus brands we heard from during the conference and all the inspiring case study winners of our inaugural Purpose Awards, business is starting to step up to the plate. But there is still a long way to go and there is still no playbook for infusing authentic purpose in your enterprise.
If you weren’t able to join us in Chicago (you missed a treat by the way), a close study of all the content and presentations from the two days is well worth the effort - you can check it out here. There will also be an ebook and more content to come as we process it.
Communicators – because that’s what they are – such as Bluitt-Wells, Pastors Brooks and Morgan and principals Naselli and Richardson-Starks are great role models for young people, but also for PR professionals, brands and corporations.