Diversity and Inclusion in a Pandemic | Part Three

The Public Relations Society of America Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter (PRSA SE WI) is excited to share a series of blog posts from its Diversity & Inclusion Committee. This blog series features stories about how diverse communities have experienced and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the inclusive communications efforts they employed.

 

Something positive that has arisen out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the emergence of new, bold leaders working on the frontlines. But does bias tend to frame what traits those leaders may possess and, therefore, which leaders receive acknowledgement?

Take a moment and think of a leader, making a note of the image you form. What is that leader’s race or ethnicity? What is their gender? What language do they speak? Do they have a disability? Are they younger or more advanced in their years? Is there a particular faith they follow? Would they consider themselves a member of the LGBTQ community?

As the pandemic has drawn on in Southeastern Wisconsin, there have been many examples of diverse leadership from individuals and organizations. Let’s take a look at a few of those leaders and how they expand the idea of what “typical” leadership might be.

Diversity on the Frontlines

If you did not know Dr. Jeanette Kowalik before, you may know her now from the televised Milwaukee Health Department coronavirus briefings. The health commissioner recently spoke with Bloomberg opening up about the health disparities facing Milwaukeeans, her struggles being a Black woman in a position of power, and her own personal battle with autoimmune conditions.

Last year, Milwaukee’s health department declared racism a public health crisis. This year, the Black community has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Dr. Kowalik and her team led initiatives that produced culturally relevant messages to Black communities, and later to Latinx individuals, rather than general messaging that did not address communities’ specific needs and understandings.

The health department will soon provide free reusable masks to Milwaukeeans with multicultural phrases and designs such as “Living Your Best Life” messaging and a city logo in rainbow colors. Additionally, the Milwaukee Health Department is the community engagement partner for the You Matter campaign – a social initiative keeping people of color informed and hopeful during this pandemic.

Another face you may recognize from the health department briefings is Milwaukee Health Services (MHS) Executive Director Dr. Tito Izard. He leads MHS as a Black male doctor with locations in predominantly African-American communities. Even before COVID-19, Dr. Izard and the MHS staff were addressing the health disparities Black people face through targeted community outreach and sponsorship.

During the pandemic, MHS began offering appointment-only coronavirus testing at its facilities with no out-of-pocket expense, hosted a COVID-19 Safety Kit giveaway on Juneteenth Day, and recorded messages from popular Black actor and comedian Cedric The Entertainer talking about how to conquer the virus. MHS’s Conquering COVID-19 Collaborative even enlists the help of community contributors such as Green Bay Packers Give Back, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Rescue Mission, and Herb Kohl Philanthropies.

African-Americans were not the only ones topping the list for coronavirus cases. The Latinx community soon surpassed all other groups to become the most affected by COVID-19. That effect took even greater hold for many when Hispanic community leader and advocate Dr. Leonardo Aponte died from coronavirus complications. Aponte was celebrating his medical practice’s 45th anniversary of bringing affordable health care to the Latinx community. According to Hispanic News Network USA, the 86-year-old served more than 225,000 patients over the years that hailed from across the globe including South America, Asia, and Europe.

His legacy lives on at his Clinica Latina on Cesar E Chavez Drive in Milwaukee’s predominantly Latinx South Side. The clinic still has testimonials on its website commending Aponte’s mission and medical care. And Clinica Latina is not alone. Local medical facilities located in Latinx communities as well as serving predominantly Latinx individuals have been on the frontlines of providing health care as well as health education, especially during this pandemic.

Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers (SSCHC) is one such example. Under the leadership of President and CEO Dr. Julie Schuller, SSCHC created an entire COVID-19 Community Toolkit sharing bilingual resources and data. Dr. Nicole Fortuna wrote an informative article for the SSCHC blog offering guidance on when to get tested for COVID-19. And Dr. Jorge Ramallo followed up with a SSCHC post sharing what happens after a coronavirus test. Both stories appeared in local Latinx publication El Conquistador, further spreading the word to a key audience.

Many people fight COVID-19 alongside Black and Latinx communities, and members of Milwaukee’s Muslim community recently shared their efforts in the Wisconsin Muslim Journal. Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist Dr. Abbas Ali works at a hospital in the Sherman Park neighborhood, a predominantly African-American community hit especially hard by the virus early on. Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine Physician Dr. Dima Adl also works on the frontlines of health care during the pandemic, which has been difficult for this mother working night shifts while her family worries about her. Pulmonologist and ICU Director Dr. Raed Hamed works at a hospital in Milwaukee’s downtown area, another part of the city that saw a high number of cases.

Takeaways for Communicators

Representation matters. Communicators have the opportunity to ensure diverse representation in its company’s words and images as well as in the individuals, groups, and community organizations they choose to spotlight. And by no means does this article fully cover the many diverse communities and individuals battling the pandemic.

When telling your company’s stories, determine if there are diverse voices who can speak on your behalf and speak to a group that may have been underrepresented in the past. As you plan your communications, ask yourself whether what you have written or spoken provides a true example of the communities you currently serve or are seeking to serve. And recognize that different audiences have different experiences, wants, and needs that require your special consideration.

This article concludes our Diversity and Inclusion in a Pandemic series. We hope that you have learned something new about the many people, companies, and communities doing their part to make a difference even in the most challenging of times. And we hope that you will have a new perspective when planning your communications as well as determining where and how to provide your support.

 

WRITER

 Lindsey McKee
D&I Committee Chair
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Communications Manager
VISIT Milwaukee

 

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS

 Tammy Belton-Davis
D&I Committee Member
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Founder & Principal
Athena Communications

 

Kim Schultz
D&I Committee Member
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Interim Executive Director
Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee

 

Janan Najeeb
D&I Committee Member
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

President
Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition

Diversity and Inclusion in a Pandemic | Part Two

The Public Relations Society of America Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter (PRSA SE WI) is excited to share a series of blog posts from its Diversity & Inclusion Committee. This blog series features stories about how diverse communities have experienced and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the inclusive communications efforts they employed.

 

The novel coronavirus pandemic has flipped paradigms on much of modern society. For faith-based communities, the pandemic has shaken individuals and organizations to their core. Public religious services, rites, and activities in various places of worship ceased. Events celebrating holy observances such as Easter, Passover, and Ramadan were cancelled. Not to mention the weddings, baptisms, funerals, and many more practices disrupted.

In Southeastern Wisconsin, many spiritual groups and organizations have found incredible ways to reach out to parishioners as well as give back to communities in need. These are just a few stories from those diverse faith-based communities.

Making Their Online Presence Known

One of the more visible local initiatives has been The Catholic Comeback by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Masses have been locally televised and streamed from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, recently allowing a very limited number of in-person guests. Those masses are archived on The Catholic Comeback webpage, adding to the online spiritual repository that includes devotions, reflections, and guides on returning to mass. Several pieces of content are also provided in Spanish. Site visitors may also donate to the Archdiocese’s Coronavirus Emergency Fund to help communities in need during the pandemic.

The Milwaukee Shambhala Center closed its doors as COVID-19 spread, but its Shambhala Buddhism teachings remain open through its robust online offerings. Meditation sessions, courses, trainings, and open houses occur virtually. The center even provides virtual Café Shambhala on Saturday mornings that include group meditation, a reading, and group discussion. Following recent instances of police brutality and racism, the center gave words of encouragement on its website to the Black community and has an online Racial Justice Group Meeting every second Sunday.

Bringing the Spirit to Social Media

Christ The King Baptist Church in Milwaukee has used its Facebook page to keep in contact with its congregation and share vital information. Church services are streamed live and posted for worshippers every Sunday, and posts share when take-home communion sets are available through its socially distant drive-thru. Church leaders share bible passages, prayer calls, and praise dances on the Facebook group in addition to non-spiritual information such as COVID-19 infographics, voting site guidance, job postings, and congratulatory messages to the congregation’s 2020 college and high school graduates.

The church has also found ways to mark special days and anniversaries using the social media platform. Throughout the month of June, Christ The King’s Youth Ministry presented prayer vigils, movie nights, and snack deliveries. A Youth Day post on Facebook featured submitted video from young church members in their homes and an on-screen message from its youth director. Celebration of Christ the King Baptist Church’s 35th annual Founder’s Day came to Facebook as well. Church leaders tuned in virtually from each of their homes to share stories of the church’s founding and continued growth in a posted video.

Continuing to Serve the Community

The Milwaukee Jewish Federation has been part of the city for more than a century, and that community participation has not been slowed by the pandemic. One look at the federation’s Jewish Community COVID-19 Resources page demonstrates its continued service. A searchable directory allows worshipers to find Milwaukee area synagogues that are Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, and unaffiliated. In addition to virtual spiritual education and Shabbat services, site visitors may enjoy online social gatherings as well as virtual exhibits from Jewish Museum Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Jewish Federation also provides information for those who need assistance with rent/mortgage, food, mental health, kids wellness, and much more.

The Muslim community in Milwaukee has nine Mosques, the largest being the Islamic Society of Milwaukee (ISM). ISM’s mission is to “serve all of God’s creation with mercy, justice and respect for human dignity,” and that service continues through these difficult times. During the pandemic, ISM raised tens of thousands of dollars from its members to assist those suffering financially. The ISM also provided free lunches to hundreds of children every day with the Salam School drive-thru lunch program, that serves all faiths.

Business members of the Muslim community also found ways to assist. Hayat Pharmacy distributed 3,200 free masks and gloves in early April and Aladdin’s MKE provided regular breakfast and lunches to health care workers at various medical campuses. Hanan Refugee Group assisted refugee families who lost their jobs and many of the area’s Muslim-owned restaurants offered free meals. The Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition – which operates Our Peaceful Home, a family strengthening program considered a vital service – remained open to assist individuals and families in distress, as well as offering webinars on self-care and stress relief.

Takeaways for Communicators

Though the pandemic has shaken us, it has not broken us. That unbreakable spirit can be seen by these and many other religious communities. A Pew Research study shows that one-quarter of U.S. adults say their religious faith has strengthened as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Americans in historically Black Protestant churches and those who describe themselves as very religious are particularly likely to say their faith has strengthened. How religious communities found ways to keep the faith during the pandemic offers a number of lessons for communicators.

Websites are a crucial part to any organization, and providing meaningful content and resources allows organizations yet another platform to stay in touch with audiences. A wealth of information is important, but communicators must ensure the information is clear and organized. Regular updating and pivoting to meet new demands will be necessary, especially in uncertain times, but the payoff will be meaningful connections with your audiences.

Nothing replaces in-person services and events. But using virtual platforms and social media allows for messages to be disseminated and fellowships to gather from a safe distance. And if you’re creative in those virtual offerings, your audience will feel just as, if not more, engaged with your communications.

Finally, while our heads may be spinning, our hearts remain in the right place. Organizations can take this opportunity to review and enhance their existing business social responsibility initiatives as well as offer new initiatives to meet the needs of those trying to live in this new world.

 

Lindsey McKee
D&I Committee Chair
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Communications Manager
VISIT Milwaukee

 

Patrick McSweeney, APR, Fellow PRSA
Midwest District Liaison
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Managing Director
McSweeney Public Relations

 

Janan Najeeb
D&I Committee Member
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

President
Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition


Jeff Jones
D&I Committee Member

PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Director of Marketing and Communications
Milwaukee Jewish Federation

Diversity and Inclusion in a Pandemic | Part One

The Public Relations Society of America Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter (PRSA SE WI) is excited to share a series of blog posts from its Diversity & Inclusion Committee. This blog series features stories about how diverse communities have experienced and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the inclusive communications efforts they employed.

 

A pandemic is horrible for anyone, but imagine what the pandemic has been like for individuals not commonly considered during difficult times. The Latinx man watching COVID-19 ravage his community as well as his predominantly Black neighbors. The Asian individuals under attack by ignorance and prejudice due to their presumed links to the virus’s country of origin. The woman and her children forced to quarantine with her abusive husband. The blind man struggling to receive info on how to stay safe from infection. The hearing-impaired woman with coronavirus symptoms who cannot read the lips of her first responders behind their masks.

For many there is no need to imagine, because these scenarios are their reality. However, there are organizations using broader approaches, being more culturally aware, offering a better variety of options, and helping to ensure information as well as assistance reaches ALL people.

Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities

There is an old saying that states, “when America catches a cold, Black people catch the flu.” The sentiment being that what affects the majority of Americans, can have even harsher effects on Black communities. COVID-19 has made this sentiment an actuality with African American as well as Latinx communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Out of the nearly 14,200 confirmed coronavirus cases in Milwaukee County as of July 13, Latinx and Black individuals had the most cases with nearly 4,800 and 4,100 cases respectively.

Further adding to the pandemic’s negative impact, Asian people have been the targets of hate crimes and discrimination due to COVID-19’s origins in Wuhan, China. Within less than three weeks of its launch, STOP AAPI HATE received more than 1,400 reports of coronavirus-related harassment against Asian Americans in 46 states.

Local organizations are looking to face those challenges with greater cultural awareness and community education:

  • Ayuda Mutua MKE provides key pandemic information and assistance taking into consideration that its target community is primarily Spanish-speaking and may be hesitant to trust government agencies.
  • You Matter is a social initiative working to ensure people of color are well-informed as well as hopeful in the face of this pandemic through targeted, culturally aware outreach and communications.
  • Hmong American Friendship Association (HAFA) has been a beacon in Wisconsin, which has the nation’s third largest Hmong population. HAFA’s recent project filled a crucial pandemic information gap for a community whose unique culture and language is rarely considered in communications efforts.
  • Milwaukee’s Equal Rights Commission added “COVID 19 Coronavirus Diagnosis” as an option on its Discrimination Complaint Form in addition to existing options due to race and several other protected classes.

When At-Home is Not Safer

COVID-19 Safer-at-Home orders have unintentionally led to increases in domestic violence nationally and locally. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Milwaukee Police Department saw an 8 percent rise from last year in domestic violence reports between January 1 and April 1. In the first couple of weeks in April, MPD data shows the number of reports was 28 percent higher than April 2019.

Several local and international initiatives offer relief to individuals facing domestic violence:

  • Our Peaceful Home is the first culturally specific domestic violence program for the Muslim community offering advice and resources. Some sessions are even provided in Arabic, Urdu, and Rohingya.
  • SHOFAR is a Milwaukee Jewish Federation initiative addressing domestic violence as well as sexual harassment and child sexual abuse in the Milwaukee Jewish community with awareness, training, and resources.
  • Unsafe at Home is a campaign launched by the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services that brings local agencies, institutions, and community members together to coordinate Milwaukee’s response to victims of abuse and neglect during the pandemic.
  • Signal For Help was launched by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It is a one-handed sign abuse victims can use to silently show people on a video call they need help and want someone to safely check in with them.

Making Information Truly Accessible

In some ways, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are well-suited to face the pandemic due to their existing reliance on technology such as videophones, texting, and emails for communication. However, the growth of online offerings without the accompanying accommodations for disabled individuals has been frustrating. The examples are endless. Websites containing videos without captions and/or descriptive text (alt-text). Online classes and video conferences that don’t consider navigation for screen readers nor do they offer the ability to pin an interpreter to a larger screen, among other accessibility considerations.

This is equally true for those reliant on visual communications. The inability to gather together in person and without a mask in order to fully view and appreciate the nuances of sign language and facial expressions has been extremely challenging.

Statewide and regionally, there are options for disabled people to receive and send important communications:

  • IndependenceFirst’s Assistive Technology Services, Website Accessibility Resources, and Peer Support are just a few of the over 20 programs and services the organization offers to disabled persons.
  • Great Lakes ADA Center provides a number of services and resources including technical support and archived website accessibility webinars.
  • Vision Forward offers a range of education, training, and support programs for visually impaired individuals, such as low vision services and technology demonstrations.
  • HEAR Wisconsin made and donated masks with a transparent mouth for first responders attending to hearing impaired individuals.

Takeaways for Communicators

Nationwide we’re facing compounding health, economic, and racial crises that are forcing us to look at how we operate as a society as well as identify areas for growth and change. The need for effective, intentional, and inclusive communications is critical, creating opportunities for PR practitioners to help organizations through these challenging times.

One word can transform the meaning of a message. One platform adjustment can expand your message’s reach. As you communicate personally and professionally, use person-centered language that makes allowances for varied audiences, keeping different biases and stigmas top of mind when writing and proofreading communications. And be mindful of the environment and experiences in which people will be receiving your communications. All of these factors can change how your messages are perceived and understood. Now is the time for more diverse and inclusive communications. We encourage you to be a part of the transformation.

 

Lindsey McKee
D&I Committee Chair
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Communications Manager
VISIT Milwaukee

 

Katharine Foley
President
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Senior Public Relations Advisor
Kane Communications Group

 

Heather Perkins
D&I Committee Member
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Community Relations & Special Projects Director
Independence First

 

From Message to Movement | Walking the Diversity & Inclusion Walk

The past few months have been devastating to experience, especially for diverse communities. It began with a pandemic disproportionately affecting Black and Brown people as well as leading to hate crimes against Asian individuals.

Soon events turned from the pandemic of coronavirus to the sickness of racism against Black Americans.

  • A Black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery finds himself framed in the windshield of armed racists.
  • Police officers incorrectly raiding a home riddles an innocent Black woman, Breonna Taylor, with bullets.
  • A White woman uses her privilege to falsely report that Christian Cooper, a Black man, is threatening her.
  • Then the world watched a police officer hold his knee on a Black man’s neck until George Floyd’s death 8 minutes and 46 seconds later.

As I watch and read about these as well as several other cases, I begin to think of many whose stories are not known to the public. Including those of us unnamed Black people living – or at least trying to live – in a nation that has traditionally valued us as less than cattle and rarely as human beings.

Like most Black people, I’ve had my own experiences with racism and prejudice.

  • The confederate flag that someone taped to my high school locker.
  • A heckler who started calling me the n-word while I played in my college pep band.
  • The White college student who asked me if I was lost when I entered one of my university’s buildings for class.
  • A clerk who followed my mother and I around the gift shop of an art museum.
  • Constant statements of how “articulate” or “well-spoken” I am from shocked White individuals.
  • Promotions I’ve been denied because I was never as qualified as the White men and women with less experience than mine.

These are just the ones that immediately come to mind. Though none of them cost me my life, they have definitely cost me the security of knowing that I will be treated with respect, understanding, and equality.

2020 Vision

Earlier this year, I was appointed chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee for the Southeastern Wisconsin (SE WI) chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

I took the first half of 2020 to re-organize the committee, bringing in a greater diversity of individuals and organizations covering areas such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. The goal being to give more people more seats at the table in our chapter’s efforts.

Next, I worked with this committee to identify a clearer diversity and inclusion vision. It is 2020 after all. That vision will guide us as we work to become better professionals, better allies, and better advocates. We have also begun work on revising our chapter website to not only house our D&I writings and events, but to also better reflect our diverse membership and communities we serve.

The pandemic has definitely slowed our plans. But the racial disparities and racist practices that have finally come to light remind us why we took on our roles in this committee and what we have to do to improve ourselves as well as our communities.

Looking and Walking Ahead

I’m encouraged by the most recent realizations of what it means to be Black in America and the subsequent actions that have taken place. I see more than just Black individuals crying “Black Lives Matter,” which means more allies and hopefully more mainstream change. I’m saddened that it took video evidence of a Black man dying at the knee of a police officer for more people to understand the struggles of Black and Brown individuals in our country. But I’m happy the knee Colin Kaepernick took is now making more sense.

As public relations practitioners and communicators, we often are the voices of our companies. Though voices are important right now, I’m more interested in feet. I want to see action and true change.

Think beyond skin color-appropriate bandages, removal of racist caricatures from pancake mix boxes, or capitalizing the word “Black” when referring to people (which many of us did anyway). Those are great steps but think broader. Like diversifying boards of directors. Hiring, retaining, and including more people of color in companies. Being as offended by microaggressions as many are about someone badmouthing their favorite sports team. Not mistaking a person of color for being difficult or unapproachable simply because they display authentic anger at the prejudice they experience. Actions such as these are what will change our diversity and inclusion messaging into movement.

For our part, you will continue to see our PRSA SE WI Diversity & Inclusion Committee leading the way in efforts for our profession locally and nationally. Some items immediately on the horizon for our committee include:

  • More writings and programming to shine a light on a greater variety of people, businesses, and communities.
  • Blog series with posts featuring some of the many different communities and individuals fighting the pandemic.
  • Upcoming events addressing Black Lives Matter and its role in the workplace as well as in communications.

The goal for our committee in a nutshell is this. Although we will continue the diversity and inclusion talk, we want to walk the walk, taking steps toward truly diverse and truly inclusive professional and personal lives


Lindsey M. McKee
Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair
Public Relations Society of America Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter