Tarah Johnson, Account Executive at Highwire PR and contributing member of Highwire PR's DIBs Council and co-lead of the affinity group, Have Several Seats, reflects on the key takeaways from a recent Juneteenth DIBs Media Roundtable conversation with Jeneé Osterheldt, culture columnist with the Boston Globe.
As part of Highwire’s DIBS Media Roundtable series, we had the pleasure of welcoming in Boston Globe's Jeneé Osterheldt for an invigorating and inspiring conversation. Held during the entwinement of Juneteenth and LGBTQ+ Pride month, Jeneé’s perspective of intersectionality, empowerment, liberation, allyship, and disruption couldn’t have been more timely.
Jeneé’s words proved to be very prescient, as news of the Supreme Court rulings on the reversal of affirmative action and the limiting of LGBTQ+ protections erupted just days after our conversation. As we process and face the repercussions of the rulings impacting millions, the question that Jeneé posed during our conversation was - “Are you listening more than talking?” This is especially poignant during this pivotal time of conflicting ideas, conversations and perspectives –when it’s easy to feel helpless. To be a true ally means to listen and hear the unique lived experiences of our historically marginalized counterparts in order to pave a path forward.
As an early career PR pro and Black woman, Jeneé’s conversation truly resonated with me. From her background and to the current work she’s doing, including her platform for amplifying Black voices, Black joy and Black lives through A Beautiful Resistance, she shared amazing perspectives on the core issues and pillars surrounding us today - including how to celebrate inclusivity and how to authentically represent a brand. We so appreciated her vulnerability and transparency.
Here are my 3 top takeaways:
“You can’t be one foot in, one foot out of the revolution. Our liberation is bound up in each other.” In her conversation, Jeneé emphasized the urgency in understanding that allyship needs to be done collectively in order to achieve true equity and inclusion. She stressed that while she’s fighting for the liberation of Black folks, she’s equally fired up about the liberation and protection of the LGBTQ+ community. We are, as she noted, united in our quest for freedom.
In this pivotal time of brands questioning how to authentically present themselves in terms of showing allyship and solidarity rather than “ambulance chasing” certain social justice trends, Jeneé encourages staff to hold employers and beloved brands accountable. Given how many companies made promises in the wake of the “racial reckoning of 2020” - pledging to donate funds, support BIPOC businesses, transform their corporate boards and workforces, etc. - it's vital that we hold them accountable. As an activist and journalist, Jeneé assured us that she hasn’t forgotten about these promises and pledges. She encouraged our audience to be vigilant about ensuring that the brands we care about are making meaningful progress toward their DEIB goals.
“Journalism has always existed to hold truth to power.”
Jeneé shared her perspective on the trend of rebranding journalists as activists and advocates as opposed to impartial and neutral members of the media. She stressed that to say anyone is without bias is wildly inaccurate and too high of an expectation, even if their writing does not reflect it. Her assessment is that “journalism has always existed to hold truth to power as an accountability tool - it’s been manipulated to hurt people, and also liberate people. Regardless, it’s always been a political tool.” As our agency and industry peers continue to communicate and collaborate with journalists to tell important narratives and stories, it’s important that we keep this context front and center.
Jeneé shared so many gems that resonated with me and my lived experience. Here are two more hot takes that are at the top of mind:
As a co-lead of Highwire’s sister circle for Black women, Have Several Seats, one of our agency’s five employee-led affinity groups (and an active member of others), I have been so grateful to have this space for community-building. Jeneé shared her thoughts on today’s ERGs (employee resource groups), and her feeling that companies need to invest in and support these efforts. For ERG leaders, Jeneé also shared this call to action: “If you’re involved in an affinity group giving the power, consider how else can you share this space…think about how you can make sure that you can represent this group in all aspects.” I thought of how at Highwire last year, we launched the BIPOC Collective to ensure that we could come together with the key learnings from our lived experiences and rally around the issues that impact us as storytellers and creatives who identify as people of color.
As PR professionals, there are days when it feels like we will never tick off all of the tasks on our to-do list - this industry is popping! Jeneé knows this deadline-oriented pace all too well, however, she offered this sage advice: Although we tend to be obsessed with grind culture, we need to prioritize having grace with ourselves and others.
We’re so grateful for our time with Jeneé, who brought joy, realness and passion to our DIBs Media Roundtable series. Be sure to follow Jeneé on LinkedIn and check out the latest season of her series, A Beautiful Resistance.