Blog Culture/Agency Life

Never Too Old to Learn: Reflections on Black History Month

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Phil NardonePresident & Chief Executive Officer

I’ve certainly been aware of Black History Month, but never knew how important it was to stop, reflect and honor the impact that Black people have had throughout our country’s existence. We celebrate the prominent figures and unsung heroes who have helped shape who we collectively are today.

As I’ve watched dialogues happen online and across social media, I’ve been inspired by the conversations that have reflected on the past, but also the importance of examining the present and looking ahead towards the future.

As we began Black History Month, I distinctly recall two things: the first was a social media post from United States Army veteran, author, and entrepreneur Wes Moore, which reminded me “Today begins Black History Month. Black history is American history, and our recognition of the stories, perspectives and persisting struggles of the African American experience in America must never be relegated to February alone.” We are trying to keep that top of mind at PAN as well; not just celebrating or recognizing moments in time, but rather raising our collective awareness year-round through ongoing dialogue, trainings, and education.

The other was the unfathomable news that Historically Black institutions were receiving bomb threats; I was saddened but also furious. As we work to take positive steps forward as a country, moments like these are a sad and stark reminder that it is a very long road ahead. For me personally, I worried about how these threats might be impacting the two HBCUs that I provide a four-part guest lecture series at (NC&AT and NCCU). I reached out to both immediately to check in and see how PAN could support them. Neither school was being targeted (thank God) and they appreciated the outreach.

These two moments together were a vivid reminder that there’s more work that must be done to ensure that people of color and their experience(s) are recognized and protected.

At PAN, we have always embraced a people-first culture and are committed to fostering an environment of diversity, inclusivity and belonging. With this approach, I often think about how our employees; especially our employees of color, are navigating their experience within our physical and virtual agency walls. As a company focused on communications, I feel our employees of color have a particularly difficult challenge where there are times, they’re helping advise our agency and our clients, while also processing events or moments in time that impact them personally. That is a heavy weight to carry, and one I worry about as a CEO.

We are trying to keep that top of mind at PAN as well; not just celebrating or recognizing moments in time, but rather raising our collective awareness year-round through ongoing dialogue, trainings, and education.

Like many companies in 2020, we begin reevaluating our commitments and investments to our employees of color as we strive to ensure that every person has a voice, is seen and is embraced equally as a part of our work community. DEI is critically important, and I stand by what I said in 2020 that “I believe DEI is the most important issue facing our industry.” We must prioritize it to get it right. This is a journey, not a race. I’m in it for the long-haul.

I’d be remiss if I did not share how proud I am in the progress that we’ve made so far at PAN. We appointed our first-ever Head of DEI at the beginning of the year, we developed an internal and external strategy for mapping and tracking our 2022 DEI goals, we re-established internal DEI focus areas to drive employee engagement & impact, and in 2021 we created a customized fellowship program for BIPOC college students as an opportunity to help them better understand our B2B tech/healthcare world.

Mostly importantly, I have valued and appreciated hearing from our BIPOC employees during open discussion groups that we’ve hosted internally about their experiences. While our work is not finished, I believe that we are building a strong foundation that will help support sustainable impact in the long-term.

I wouldn’t be the CEO that I am if I didn’t take a minute to uplift the voices of a few of our employees of color who were open in sharing what they’ve reflected on during this month:

Nicole Das, Account Supervisor, New York

These past few years have been difficult, and many minority groups have experienced so much injustice, but it has also given many people the opportunity to stand up for what they believe in. While there has been a lot of sadness in the news, there have also been many instances where people – especially younger generations – have started a revolution, which has been inspiring to me. I feel lucky to have had the chance to do small things, from donating to worthy non-profits, attending a #BLM protest to support the movement, and being a dedicated mentor in our fellowship program for upcoming PR professionals.

Tomisin Fayemi, Assistant Account Executive, London

I think if I had to pick just one thing that time has taught me, it would be that nothing can be done alone. There are so many issues that we face daily that can often feel far too overwhelming to handle on your own. But having people around you can be the real difference in overcoming those problems, or at least reaching a place where you feel at peace with them. Time has taught me to that sometimes you have to be strong for others, and other times you must let them be strong for you. Finding comfort in those around you can help you beat any challenge that comes your way.

Victoria Adebanjo, Assistant Account Executive, New York

This time has taught me to always be genuinely myself. To never give a watered-down version of my personality to make others comfortable. To always embrace my culture the same way the people of color have embraced and showcased themselves throughout history.

Peyton Bell-Hunter, Account Coordinator, PAN Virtual

Black History Month is a celebration of the struggle and accomplishments of Black Americans. It is a time of remembrance, self-reflection, and time to envision what lies ahead. As a proud Black woman, I take every opportunity to acknowledge the many triumphs within my community.

Brandon Bullock, 2022 PAN Fellowship Recipient

Black History Month, on a surface level, is always an annual reminder of the accomplishments African Americans have contributed to the world. From the days of the Civil Rights Movement, led by individuals such as Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and more, to the times of the Harlem Renaissance, where the intellectual and cultural impact African Americans brought to the world has left its print on modern-day society. I believe this month also holds a deeper meaning as well. This month highlights all the amazing things that can be accomplished when we all come together. The fact that this month exists, highlights the progression that has been made towards equality in the world. African Americans of old and new have worked hard for the recognition and support that we receive in this day and age. Sure, there is still room for much improvement, but seeing the progress that has been made already, leaves me to believe we are moving in the right direction of creating something spectacular in the world. Black History Month is a reminder that this world needs and appreciates diversity on all ends of the spectrum.

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