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.



 Lindsey McKee
D&I Committee Chair
PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin

Communications Manager
VISIT Milwaukee



 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

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition

2021 Programming Survey

PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin wants to hear from you. We are working to put together a fresh lineup of programming and content and we want to know what topics interest you the most. Please fill out this survey or email prsasewi@gmail.com with your ideas.

PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin Elects 2021 Leaders

Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Southeastern Wisconsin confirmed its 2021 board appointments at its December meeting and elected Christine Dunbeck, Marketing Manager at MARS Solutions Group as chapter president and Katrina Schwarz, Associate Director of Marketing & Communications at National Fluid Power Association as chapter president-elect. PRSA SE WI is the local chapter of PRSA, the world’s largest organization of public relations professionals, founded in 1947.

“I’m honored to serve as the PRSA SE WI president alongside our dedicated and talented board members,” said Dunbeck. “After an extremely challenging year for our industry, I look forward to continuing to adjust our approach to provide relevant and timely benefits and resources for our members and community.”

PRSA SE WI is comprised of approximately 300 members representing public relations and communications professionals from across the region, ranging from recent college graduates to mid-level professionals to leaders in agency, corporate and nonprofit settings. The local chapter was founded in 1951 by Greta W. Murphy, who served as vice president of public relations and development at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).

The 2021 board is comprised of 12 local PR and communications professionals and includes:

  • President – Christine Dunbeck, MARS Solutions Group
  • President-elect – Katrina Schwarz, National Fluid Power Association
  • Immediate Past President – Katharine Foley, Kane Communications Group
  • Treasurer – Katrina Schwarz, National Fluid Power Association
  • Secretary – Ryan Amundson, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino
  • Membership Chair – Allison Kucek, Trefoil Group
  • Director-at-Large – Community Service – Claire Koenig, VISIT Milwaukee
  • Director-at-Large – PR Palooza – Emily Tau, VISIT Milwaukee
  • Director-at-Large – Marketing – Don Klein, Bethesda Lutheran Communities
  • Director-at-Large Midwest District Liaison – Patrick McSweeney, APR, Fellow PRSA
  • Director-at-Large Ethics Officer – Patrick McSweeney, APR, Fellow PRSA
  • Accreditation Committee Chair – Annie Gentil, APR, Harley-Davidson Motor Company
  • Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair – Lindsey McKee, VISIT Milwaukee
  • PRSSA Liaison – Heidi Fendos, Fendos Public Relations

About PRSA

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the nation’s leading professional organization serving the communications community. With more than 30,000 professional and student members, PRSA is collectively represented in all 50 states by 110 Chapters and 14 Professional Interest Sections, and on nearly 375 college and university campuses through its student organization, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). The Southeastern Wisconsin chapter sponsors student chapters at Carthage College, Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee, and UW-Whitewater.


Proposed 2021 PRSA SE Wisconsin Board

Members of the Southeastern Wisconsin chapter of PRSA will have the chance to vote at 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, for its slate of officers proposed for 2021.

Those up for consideration include:

President: Christine Dunbeck, MARS Solutions Group

VP/Treasurer: Katrina Schwarz, National Fluid Power Association

Immediate Past President: Katharine Foley, Kane Communications

Secretary: Ryan Amundson, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino

Membership Chair: Alison Kucek, Trefoil

Director at Large – Marketing: TBD

Director at Large – Community Service: Claire Koenig, VISIT Milwaukee

Director at Large – PR Palooza: Emily Tau, VISIT Milwaukee

Director at Large – Midwest District Liaison/Ethics: Patrick McSweeney, APR, Fellow PRSA

Director at Large – Diversity and Inclusion: Lindsey McKee, VISIT Milwaukee

Accreditation Committee Chair – Annie Gentil, APR, Harley-Davidson Motor Company

PRSSA Liaison – Heidi Fendos, Fendos Public Relations

About PRSA

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is the nation’s leading professional organization serving the communications community. With more than 30,000 professional and student members, PRSA is collectively represented in all 50 states by 110 Chapters and 14 Professional Interest Sections, and on nearly 375 college and university campuses through its student organization, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). The Southeastern Wisconsin chapter sponsors student chapters at Carthage College, Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee, and UW-Whitewater.

What Does Diversity & Inclusion Really Look Like in 21st Century America?

Admittedly, a 60-year old white man is probably not the poster child to represent diversity and inclusion. Nonetheless, I have seen and experienced the stares, the finger-pointing, the hushed conversations and condescending treatment of bias towards “different” people.

My father was born with achondroplasia and was only 54 inches tall (we used to call people with this condition “dwarfs”). My mother was only a few inches taller. Complications during birth resulted in an intellectual disability for my youngest brother (we used to call people like this “mentally retarded”).

My parents taught us how to adapt and overcome limitations and that others’ biases were “their problem.”

Having grown up in an all-white suburb, my only interactions with African-Americans and non-Christians were with bus drivers, housekeepers or laborers. It wasn’t until college that I met, worked with and began friendships with people of color. Many of these friendships continue to this day, thanks to social media.

Having “the talk” with my teenage sons was about treating women with respect and being responsible sexually. It didn’t involve responding to others’ comments or what ifs involving the police as illustrated in a video last year by Proctor & Gamble. Nor have I experienced others’ reactions to my physical presence walking down a street or into a store like those in P & G’s follow up video, “The Look.”

As a married Christian man, the issue of equal rights for LBGTQ persons (Queer folk) was strictly an intellectual exercise when Ellen DeGeneres disclosed she is gay. And even when our congregation left the Episcopal Church a few years later, rather than supporting the first openly gay man to lead a mainline denomination, it didn’t affect me.

The issue of workplace protections, equal rights in housing – even the ability to purchase a wedding cake – became real when our younger son came out to me and my wife ten years ago. While my wife had an inkling of this, I was blindsided. Between reading several books on the subject, family counseling, and conversations with my wife and son, it was clear that nothing really had changed – he is my son, whom I love and respect.

What I’ve found is that statements of Queer folk wanting “special treatment” for “a lifestyle choice” ring hollow. Those kinds of statements are a thin veneer covering a hatred of others who are “different.” Substitute the terms “African-American,” “Asian,” “Jew,” “Christian,” “Blonde hair,” “blue-eyed,” or “women” for “gay” or “lesbian” in these kinds of conversations – and if it sounds discriminatory, it is.

About 150 years ago, my great-great grandfather faced ethnic discrimination summed up in signs posted by businesses stating, “No Irish need apply.” A century ago, American women finally won the right to vote. Fifty-five years ago, civil rights laws ensured the rights of African-American voters. Today, it’s Queer folk that is the minority group seeking equality. A common thread is that each marginalized group used or is using public relations tactics to change public opinion and win equal rights and equal protections under the law.

As PR practitioners, our job sometimes involves being the conscience of an organization. We are tasked with identifying and then communicating with a variety of publics. That’s why it’s important that we recognize unconscious bias and proactively work to ensure everyone has an equal place in our community conversations.

Our PRSA chapter has made a conscious decision to seek out speakers and programs that may challenge PR pros’ thinking and help them see and hear different points of view on issues of diversity and inclusion. We’ve done this because diversity is not a black and white issue and much still needs to be done to ensure no group or individuals are marginalized in our society. We are working with a variety of organizations who are dedicated to making Milwaukee and Wisconsin a better place to live and work. We’ve come a long way, but we haven’t completed our journey.

I hope to see you at our after-work social on Wed., August 21 at America’s Black Holocaust Museum at the corner of North Ave. and Vel R. Phillips (formerly North 4th) just north of downtown Milwaukee. You can sign up here.

Patrick McSweeney
Past President of PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter


Top 3 PR Articles of the Week: Friday, April 11, 2014

While watching this year’s March Madness tournament, I heard a number of coaches and players talk about how important it is to do the fundamentals correctly. While the flashy plays are nice to watch, it’s sound fundamental basketball that ultimately wins games. This got me thinking about the fundamentals of PR.

Starting today, I will draft a blog post for each Friday that features three key PR articles from the week. I hope these posts are found to be useful and that is helps everyone sift through the clutter of PR articles that are pushed our way every day.

For the week and in order to stick with my theme, I decided to choose articles that focus on fundamentals that we should all follow to be great PR professionals.

From Ragan’s PR Daily:
Calling a journalist? Avoid making crucial mistakes

From Ragan’s PR Daily:
The evolving distribution and role of press releases

From Ragan’s PR Daily:
The best times to post on social media

Have a great weekend!

Kristin Rabas
Sr. Public Relations Advisor
Aurora Health Care

A Westerner’s Tales of PR in the Wild, Wild East

Ni hao! Fellow Milwaukee Communicator Matt Wisla has written two articles related to his PR experiences in China for the PRSA national publications The Strategist and Tactics. Check them out here (you’ll need your PRSA membership login & password to log into the national site):



Wisla is a Marquette Journalism graduate and spent some of his early career in Milwaukee at Bader Rutter and Nelson & Schmidt. More recently he worked with Fleishman-Hillard as a vice president at that agency’s Beijing office, and has also served as the vice president of Communications at the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese Dragon

Xie xie (pn. “shay-shay”) for the very interesting articles, Matt! We’re betting you’ve got some great cocktail hour anecdotes about your experiences in China beyond what’s in these articles! Looking forward to hearing more when we see you at PR Palooza in a couple of weeks!

You can contact Matt Wisla at matt.wisla@yahoo.com


International Assembly Update

Cohen to lead PRSA in 2014 with new strategic plan

By Assembly Delegate Ann Peru Knabe, APR+M

The Public Relations Society of America held its annual assembly in Philadelphia on Oct. 26. Hundreds of delegates from around the country voted on numerous issues and a slate of officers. The Southeastern Wisconsin PRSA chapter had 3 votes (based on chapter membership numbers).

This year’s assembly was a little unusual because there weren’t any highly controversial issues.

On the bright side, PRSA is fiscally healthy. This means no dues increase (yeh!). There were also some new initiatives unveiled, to include free webinars for members and other opportunities.

At the end of the assembly, there was a town-hall meeting where people could say what’s on their minds, but nothing stood out as extraordinary, except the recurring discussion of PR Accreditation. The nominating team’s slate of officers, which go through a thorough vetting and in-person interviews in late summer, was unanimously also approved during the assembly. As part of this slate of board members, Joe Cohen is the new chair-elect for PRSA. He is a senior vice president at MWW, a consumer marketing firm based in the New York City area.

Joe Cohen, PRSA chair-elect

Joe Cohen, PRSA chair-elect

On a personal note, I found Cohen a strong listener and visionary. I have met him twice now (at PRSA and the Universal Accreditation Board), and both times I was impressed with his reflective thought-process and listening skills. 

Cohen will lead us into the new PRSA Strategic Plan which paces great emphasis on two goals: Championing the strategic value of ethical PR and the role of PR as a lead discipline in driving organizational strategy, and creating virtual and face-to-face communities where members build relationships to learn, network, and mentor. These goals were discussed in-depth at the assembly, and delegates were asked to give written feedback after breaking into teams. With these new initiatives, PRSA is working to meet the needs of its members and public relations professionals in the ever-changing industry by delivering relevant, lifelong learning opportunities.

The assembly also received a briefing from a research group called OPG. PRSA hired OPG to evaluate the “APR” brand, and identify its strengths and weaknesses, and offer recommendations to increase the “value of APR” in the years to come. This is particularly timely since Accreditation hits its 50 year anniversary in 2014.

A final conference update, more close to home, is that Brian Lee of our sister chapter in Madison is heading up PRSA’s Midwest District. I have known Brian for years since meeting him at a PRSA leadership rally. The Midwest District is planning a regional PRSA conference in June 2014 in Springfield, Mo. The conference might be a more affordable option for Wisconsin members to attend.

In closing, it’s always interesting to get the view from the top-level leaders in PRSA. I am confident they are steering the profession in the right direction, and eager to see Cohen’s strategic plan implemented in 2014.

Show us your Paragons!

The 2013 Paragon Awards are less than two weeks away! As they approach we thought it would be fun to share some winning entries from previous years.

Here’s where you come in.

If you have an award winning case study from a previous year that you are proud of (and why wouldn’t you be) please send it to us and we will share it with the world!

Show everyone what you’ve got and submit your winning case studies to bryangmichaels@gmail.com now!

The Southeastern Wisconsin chapter of PRSA’s annual Paragon Awards luncheon is at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 21 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

Tebow Time for Jockey

When Kenosha-based underwear brand Jockey signed Tim Tebow to be a brand representative, the act was seen as curious and risky.

The controversial Denver Broncos quarterback came loaded with potential … and a seemingly equal number of fans and critics.

Regardless, he was a magnet for attention and Jockey capitalized on that as one of his earliest sponsors. Through a lackluster benchwarming rookie season and half of the next, Jockey stood by its man, successfully using him to launch an innovative new collection’s campaign.

Suddenly everything changed as Tebow was named his team’s starting QB, and through some rather miraculous and thrilling late-game comebacks, began to win hearts and minds across the country and beyond.

As it appeared Tebow might, against all odds, lead his beleaguered Broncos to the Playoffs, Jockey quickly devised a plan led by PR and social media to leverage the opportunity, a plan that netted 600 million impressions in just four weeks.

Join us on Feb. 22 to learn how Jockey did it, and how you can apply tactics and lessons learned from the program to enhance your own PR and social media program. You’ll also hear about how Milwaukee agency Hanson Dodge Creative used social media & PR to promote client Wilson’s footballs.

Register here.

Meet the speakers: 

Mo Moorman – As Director of Public Relations at Jockey International, Inc., Mo Moorman probably knows more about your underwear than you do! He oversees Jockey’s external and internal communications functions, and his department’s duties include media relations, social media marketing, experiential marketing, sports marketing, reputation management, employee communications, cause marketing and brand sponsorships.

Al Krueger – As Partner/Vice President/Director of Marketing at Hanson Dodge Creative, Al is responsible for the oversight and advancement of strategic marketing of the agency. Al focuses his efforts on providing strategic insights that bring brands, such as Wilson Sporting Goods, to life online in new and exciting ways.

Dave Racine – Dave Racine is the Director of the PR + Social Media practice group at Hanson Dodge Creative. Dave is responsible for the overseeing the growth of the team and driving PR and social media strategy for the agency’s clients including Wilson Sporting Goods, Trek, Wolverine, Ragnar Relay and others.