Supporting Black PR Students: Allies’ Role in Fostering Inclusivity

Black History Month serves as a reflective time, where we can look back on the contributions and sacrifices made by Black people. It also serves as a time to call for action, a reminder that there is still much work to be done in the pursuit of true equality and justice for all. In recent years, companies have taken steps to address diversity issues in the workforce. A 2023 Bloomberg report revealed that from the beginning of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to the end of 2021, 94% of new roles in Standard and Poor (S&P) hundreds of jobs were awarded to people of color. Despite this huge feat, challenges persist for Black students and professionals in public relations (PR). According to the 2022 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12.2% of the PR and advertising sector is composed of Black individuals, highlighting the need for increased representation.

Black PR students face a unique set of challenges, necessitating “allyship” from their peers. Allies can play a crucial role in supporting Black PR students and professionals by adopting the following strategies during Black History Month and beyond.

Learn About Black PR Professionals’ Contributions

Allies must familiarize themselves with the struggles and accomplishments of Black individuals in the PR field. The Museum of Public Relations features a page dedicated to Black PR pioneers. The museum offers insights into the earliest Black PR professionals such as Moss Kendrix, who was among the first to educate corporations on the importance of connecting with multicultural audiences. Understanding this history is essential for allies to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing dialogue about diversity in PR.

Embrace the Diversity of Black Students’ Experiences

Recognizing the diversity of experiences among Black PR students is crucial. Discrimination and challenges faced by Black employees in the PR sector are well documented. New diversity, equity and inclusion hiring initiatives can sometimes bring nuanced issues to students such as requiring applicants to be students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Allies should advocate for inclusivity, and respect each Black PR student’s own journey. It is imperative to uphold a culture of inclusivity within the broader PR field and DEI initiatives.

Speak Up Responsibly

Knowing when to speak up on behalf of Black individuals in the PR field is a responsibility in its own right. Allies should always seek consent from Black individuals before addressing bias in the workplace. Providing Black PR students and professionals with the choice to share their experiences fosters an environment for empowerment. Allies can contribute to discussions surrounding Black experiences, but it is essential to respect an individual’s preferences. Understanding when to amplify Black voices and when to allow them agency in sharing their perspectives is key to effective allyship.

Black History Month prompts a renewed commitment to supporting Black PR students and professionals. Allies can make a meaningful impact by educating themselves on the history of Black PR professionals, embracing the diversity of Black experiences and speaking up responsibly. As the industry continues to evolve, allyship becomes instrumental in creating an inclusive and equitable environment for all.

Emma Brennan (she/her) is a student at West Chester University. She serves on the PRoud Council, as she believes in her big duty to help those who may not have as many resources to succeed. She is disabled and loves to help people in her community, and works together with disabled people to broaden the representation of marginalized groups who are as passionate about PR as she is.

Zari Muhammad (she/her), a dedicated member of PRSSA’s PRoud Council, is a rising senior at Kennesaw State University, double majoring in public relations and Black studies. Her involvement with PRSSA initially began as a junior at KSU. So far, she’s had the honor of participating in UGA and KSU’s Southeastern District Conference, and PRSSA and Finn Partners: Partners for Diversity. During her time with FINN Partners, she was able to grow deeper empathy for those from underrepresented communities, and decided to make a change from the inside out by joining PRoud Council. In addition to her commitment to PRSSA and its DEI initiatives, she is also a proud member of National Council of Negro Women, Inc., where she serves as outreach coordinator for the KSU section.

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