Diversity and inclusion in ‘rainbow America’

Oct 07, 2019

The Claflin University Public Relations Student Society of America held the panel discussion on Sept. 26. (Panther photo by Tariq Edwards)

            A panel of civil rights, business and higher education leaders gathered at Claflin University to discuss “our differences and our strengths when communicating to diverse audiences.”

            The Public Relations Student Society of America celebrates diversity and inclusion in October. Claflin’s newly formed PRSSA chapter began the celebration with the event, to which Public Relations Society of America members from around the state were invited. The panel discussion was held in the Grace Thomas Kennedy building on Sept. 26.

            Panelists were:

--Cleveland Sellers, past president of Voorhees College.

--Cecil Williams, civil rights photo documentarian.

--Shawn Edwards, chief diversity officer for The Citadel.

--Charnita Mack, public relations and social media coordinator for Claflin.

--Jesa Parker, unit marketing specialist for Sodexo Inc.

           All of the panelists addressed inclusion and diversity in the workplace.

“When companies don’t think about diversity they lose out,” Mack said.

She referenced H&M and how it had an African American boy modeling a jacket that said “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.”

            “When companies and organization don’t think about diversity and inclusion, we have situations like H&M and the little boy in the monkey shirt. We have situations like Gucci and the black face,” Mack said.

            “I always say to myself, ‘Who sat in that room and said that’s a great idea?’ There couldn’t have been any black people in there,” she said.

            Mack said the H&M and Gucci examples show a lack of inclusion and diversity in the workplace, and how decisions can lead to backlash and consequences as the companies encountered.

            “When people ignore diversity and inclusion, it makes things awkward. You can’t ignore that there are people in this country that don’t look like you or don’t believe in the same things as you,” she said.

Sellers said African Americans face challenges of inclusion – and racism.

 “When you step inside corporate America as an African American, student or graduate from an HBCU, your blackness walks into the room before you,” Sellers said.

African Americans must work twice as hard at what they do and what they know to diversify themselves within corporate America, he said.

“I remember I was listening to a demographic statistician and he said that in 2050, the minority in America will be become the majority and the majority will become the minority. So everybody will be looking for those doctors, lawyers, nurses, carpenters, all those things,” Sellers said. “So what are we doing to ensure that we have those individuals trained and ready to go?”

Sellers talked about his life growing up, saying some things he went through haven’t changed much now.

“Racism still exists. You have the kind that in your face, and you have the kind that is institutionalized. Schools are teaching African American kids on a lower level than white kids. That is institutionalized racism,” he said.

Williams said diversity is reality and inclusion is essential for progress.

 “We have a rainbow America,” he said. The only way for us to move forward and grow is to be open to the input of people different from ourselves.

“Being a journalist all my life, I met a lot of great people. One of those people was Thurgood Marshall. I remember asking him when you think this country will have full diversity. He said in 2054,” Williams said. “We still have a long way to go”


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