Correcting a centuries-old wrong begins with looking in the mirror

Too often, corporations turn to large PR agencies that don't have a single person of color on their executive staff.

Johnny Little, owner of eLittle Communications Group.
Johnny Little, owner of eLittle Communications Group.

It has been nearly six years since a St. Louis suburb captured the national spotlight for the killing of an African American man. The city was Ferguson, Missouri and the young man's name was Michael Brown.

Protests, looting, and rioting ravaged the city, and its streets were filled with chanting for more than two months. The chanting of "Black Lives Matter!" could be heard for miles, and city leaders and officials were looking for answers.

That is when they turned to me and my small minority-owned public relations agency called eLittle Communications Group. My team and I worked for more than three years with the city of Ferguson, assisting with community engagement, town hall meetings, and media management.

Things were very uncomfortable at the time we worked with Ferguson from 2014 to 2018. Tough conversations took place with city officials, as they came to understand that there had to be a commitment to change — from both city officials and residents.

Ferguson, at the time, did not have a communications person which caused a delay in properly communicating with the media and its residents. Press conferences were delayed daily including any updates regarding charges against the Ferguson police officer.

The city did not have a crisis communication plan in place and had never dealt with the media on a large scale. Now, things have changed quite a bit. Cities across the nation are immediately holding press conferences when an incident happens with frequent updates and even using social media to relate their message.

Since the time that I worked with the city of Ferguson, residents have elected two new members to the city council and both are African Americans; Wesley Bell, now the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, and Ella Jones. Jones was elected as the first African American woman mayor of Ferguson on June 2.

Now America is once again facing the same situation as it did in Ferguson. The city and the names have changed — this time it's George Floyd and the city is Minneapolis — but the situation is the same. But why is this situation getting worldwide attention as did Ferguson?

African American's are tired and they're realizing the system is broken and it has to be fixed! Thousands of African American men have been killed by slavery, lynchings and police brutality. But, how do you correct a wrong that's been going on for hundreds of years? It begins with a look in the mirror.

It begins with CEOs, board chairs, chief marketing officers asking the tough questions. Are we truly being fair to the customers we are serving? Are we giving minority companies and employees a true opportunity to succeed?

It is time for Fortune 500 CEOs and board chairs to take a look at their executive staff, peel back the cover and truly ask are we being fair to everyone who depends on our company?

Far too many times, major league sports teams and corporations across the country have turned to larger public relations agencies that do not have even one person of color on their executive staff.

After the protest, after the looting, we've got to continue to have open conversations about diversity and economic equality. Public relations and town hall meetings will play a vital role as our nation moves forward.

Recently, DoorDash stepped up, demonstrating what good corporate citizenship should look like and how to help build stronger African American communities. The company donated $1 million to help bridge the divide in African American communities across the country, earmarking $500,000 for the Black Lives Matter initiatives and $500,000 to fund Black@DoorDash.

This is a very big step toward moving forward. I, and other African American business leaders, would like to see other corporations dedicate their philanthropic dollars to fund minority jobs, as well as solid training and educational resources.

All business organizations should ask: How can we help build an authentically diverse workforce?

Johnny Little is owner of eLittle Communications Group, a public relations and marketing agency located in St. Louis, Missouri and Louisville, Kentucky.

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