Community Spotlight: Black History Quarter
Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and shape how others see the world. Here at Hearts, we use these stories to build community.
This is one of many posts in our Community Spotlight Series, where we feature Hearts who identify with a group and have important conversations about how we can support one another.
Throughout the series, we will work closely with these individuals to create an experience to share their culture with fellow Hearts. We’ll hear directly from them about their lives, the safe spaces they’ve created to live their truth and how we can be better allies.
And then we listen.
Because more than ever, stories that honor our differences need to be heard.
Celebrating the rise of Black history
The roots of Black History Month go all the way back to 1926, where just a single week in February was designated to acknowledge the contributions of Black Americans. Since 1976, every president has made February a nationally recognized month to celebrate the contributions and indelible impact Black Americans have in our country.
Of course, one month isn’t enough. Black History Quarter is about bringing awareness to and amplifying all Black voices. It’s time to be heard and for all of us to listen.
Throughout the quarter, Hearts & Science and OMG’s Black Leadership Network (led by Hearts’ own Andriena Coleman, co-chair of the BLN East, and Jasmin Davis, co-chair of the BLN West) will be hosting events to focus on recognizing the contributions of Black Americans and honoring their diversity of culture.
We recently held a fireside chat with Carol Bush, a producer on the documentary “Tell Them We Are Rising” and discussed the significance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). If you missed it, watch it here.
OMG’s Black Leadership Network also put together a short spotlight on famous HBCU graduates. Did you know Kamala Harris and Samuel Jackson are alumni? Read the highlights here.
Here are three more insightful discussions from February you can watch if you missed them:
- A lecture by Professor Jason Chambers on “How 2020’s Diversity and Attention Extended (and Repeated the Past)”
- A fireside chat exploring how African Americans have influenced almost every genre of music
- A discussion panel exploring the book Uncommon Sense by George Wolfe of Kern and its parallels between the American Revolution and politics in 2020
These are only some of the many celebrations we’ve had so far for Black History Quarter, so stay tuned for more in March.
Safe spaces to share
Jasmin’s journey to a strong self-identity
Jasmin Davis grew up in Pasadena, California, in a culturally diverse neighborhood with friends of different races and ethnicities.
One of her fondest memories growing up was being invited to a friend’s house for dinner. “The first time I had authentic Mexican food was a big bowl of Menudo (a traditional Mexican soup) at the Acosta family’s dinner table.”
Experiences like this helped Jasmin understand what it means to have a strong sense of self-identity. “If a Mexican family was proud to share their heritage through food with me, then I decided that I’ll be just as proud of who I am as a Black person and share my heritage with others,” says Jasmin.
Early exposure to different cultures helped her see diversity not as something that divides but as something that lets us shine and express who we are. Jasmin reflects,
“I was taught to show up in whatever space I’m in and own it. Not in the spirit of taking over, but in showing up and being my authentic self. In this time that we’re in with Black Lives Matter, now is the time to show up in spaces as our authentic selves.”
Later in life, when Jasmin left home to live in Atlanta, she embraced its rich culture. “Atlanta is like a second home for me. It’s a place that represents Black excellence because it holds so much Black history—which is American history. It’s a place that represents Black people on every level.” From those working blue-collar jobs to C-suite executives, Black Americans were present wherever she went.
One of her favorite paintings by Jacob Lawrence, Street to Mbari (1964), reflects her feelings on how Atlanta made her feel like she was in a “safe space” within its majority Black population.
Jasmin says that it felt like “finally exhaling” when she arrived there. In Atlanta, she could be who she was, remarking, “I could be a nerd, I could be smart, and I could put my Blackness on display without fear of judgment.”
Atlanta represented Black multiculturalism, which Jasmin was able to internalize while in Atlanta and bring back to Los Angeles to share with others.
Pro tip: If others are uncomfortable with who you are, let them adjust. That’s their issue, not yours. Embrace who you are.
How Mel-Lisa navigated immigration to find community
Mel-Lisa was born in Jamaica but grew up in the Bronx with her family, who immigrated early in her life. In the Bronx, she was surrounded by Jamaican and Caribbean influences and always felt connected to her heritage. Her neighborhood constantly buzzed with the energy of the people, music and food of the different cultures who lived there together.
“It’s loud. The Jamaican culture is so extra. You love to love it. Music is always playing, and the food and energy are always on a thousand.”
Even though she came to the country legally, she faced many complexities in navigating the immigration system. She recently became an official citizen and knows first-hand the struggles that it takes to accomplish that.
Through this journey, she has come to value opportunities to get involved in building community. One safe place that has come to have great meaning in her life is the Black Leadership Network (BLN) at OMG, the parent company of Hearts & Science.
It’s an opportunity for her to see Black women and men in positions she doesn’t see on the day-to-day (though she is happy to see the leadership of Kevin McGovern, Kate Boatti and Zach Shaub on her team looking to elevate people of color and their approach to recruitment).
She is an active participant in the engagement committee planning events and felt at home in the R&B yoga class held in February to celebrate the Black History Quarter. Did you miss it? Watch it here and follow along.
Want to get the most out of what’s being offered during Black History Quarter? Mel-Lisa believes that openness and willingness to experience new things go a long way for those who may feel like an outsider to a particular culture.
Pro tip: “Don’t be afraid to be in uncomfortable situations. You might not know the food or what an HBCU is, but you can learn so much by just being present, and that’s enough.”
How Jean carries forward his Haitian heritage
Jean Mathurin works from the New York City Varick office, where he specializes in strategies and activations for HBO’s shows and films. He’s a native New Yorker, born and raised in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, but his parents immigrated to the States from Haiti. Flatbush is rich in West Indian culture, and many people from Jamaica, Trinidad and Haiti settle there after arriving in America.
Growing up in Brooklyn, he never lost touch with his Haitian roots. In their home, his mom spoke to him in her native Creole. He experienced the yearly West Indian festival, where the air was filled with the delicious fragrances of West Indian foods and whose streets were energized with music and dancing.
Jean feels he is his most authentic self at home with his partner, Carla, and their son. He hopes to bring up his son to be aware of his multicultural heritage.
“Culturally, with his mom being a descendent of Honduras and me being of Haitian descent, I want him to grow up learning about both cultures and hopefully becoming trilingual.”
Jean hopes to pass onto his child the same awareness and appreciation for where he came from that his mom shared with him. And if you’re lucky enough to work with Jean in the New York office, you might get to meet his little one after the pandemic is over to see how his Spanish and Creole are coming along.
How Vanessa recharges in high-speed motion
Vanessa Vining is one of the newest additions to the Hearts & Science team and holds the roles of senior director of cross-cultural strategy and head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I). She’s a master communicator who draws upon her life experiences in cultivating culture and widening diversity.
Vanessa was born and bred in Chicago. Growing up, she got to see two very different worlds. When she was young, she lived in a predominantly white neighborhood. Later, at 13, her mom moved back to a more African American community, and her life experiences expanded.
Living in these spaces made her notice the differences between these communities and gave her a chance to see the similarities we share in the human experience. Vanessa shares this insight about her upbringing,
“It wasn’t about if you were Black, White, or Hispanic—they were all people to me. I learned a lot growing up in two diverse communities. It shaped my ability to connect and talk to anyone, no matter their ethnicity.”
Vanessa is a woman of motion. Even in her free time, she finds her safe space in movement. On vacation, she enjoys traveling the world and experiencing new cultures. She also finds her personal safe space on her motorcycle. When riding, the pressures and worries of the outside world disappear. All that matters is her motorcycle and the road ahead.
Vanessa stresses the importance of being true to oneself and being proactive as an advocate. Whether it’s being a part of the DE&I team or helping in some other way, it’s the little things that help build an inclusive company culture and a sense of community.
Pro tip: She wants everyone to “Be true to yourself and be true to your journey.” It might take time to get there, but it is incredibly liberating.
Work should also be a safe space
Hearts & Science values diversity and recognizes the importance of safe spaces. Safe spaces provide a place to be our authentic selves, unbound from the invisible ties of prejudice and systemic racism that still are present today.
We build spaces for those unique perspectives and backgrounds that contribute so much to our collective strength. Here are some ideas we’re implementing that you can use to support the Black community at your company:
- Participate in a network. Hearts & Science invites employees to access the OMG Black Leadership Network and have a voice in how its company supports Black employees and allies. Don’t have one at your company? Contact your human resources department and be the force for change that starts one.
- Attend upcoming company events. Attend every company event that you can. Learn, enjoy, represent your perspective and share feedback on how your company can create truly inclusive programming. If you don’t have any events, start one.
- Show your support. Our Hearts requested custom Black Lives Matter and Pride email signatures, and many now use them. It’s one small gesture you can make to colleagues and partners to show your support for the Black Lives Matter movement and celebrate solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
Meaningful change can also start with your own biases.
- Cultivate self-awareness. Question long-held beliefs and be open to perspectives that are different than your own. We all have unconscious biases. The first step in changing is recognizing what they are. Here are some great resources to educate yourself and support Black Lives Matter.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Read books and watch films written by authors from cultures and backgrounds other than your own. Take in diverse perspectives to help broaden your own. There’s so much out there in the world to take in and help you in understanding different people’s experiences. Here’s a Hearts Spotify playlist for Hearts Black History Quarter Slow Jams and Love Songs. Check it out!
Vanessa Vining, senior director, cross-cultural strategy, and head of DE&I at Hearts & Science, shares, “Unique culture lives and breathes in our people. Our responsibility is to harness that uniqueness and elevate Hearts & Science as a workplace where every voice is heard and contribution, big or small, is celebrated.”
Change can trickle from the top down, but it takes everyone to create meaningful change at every organizational- level. Take a moment to look around and build safe spaces for your friends and colleagues around you.