I heard about a small bright spot coming out of the Cambridge community this week: Danielle Geathers just became the first black woman to serve as Student Body President at MIT. In the article linked above she reflects on the importance of prospective students seeing their own culture and background reflected in the student and staff community - especially in leadership positions.
The Greater Boston community has a long way to go though. I work in an MIT-owned building in Kendall Square, a Cambridge neighborhood and business community often criticized as an ivory tower exponentially driving up property prices and rent largely due to the presence of Google, Facebook, Amazon, plenty of biopharma companies, and more. My company’s main function is to provide affordable and flexible workspace and accessible networking opportunities for startups and innovators, in an otherwise expensive, exclusive, and densely occupied business neighborhood. But, as the price of rent continues to sky rocket, the company ends up having to charge more per square foot just to cover our own rent, which works in direct opposition to the goal of accessibility and affordability. (Note, we offer free events and donate space to/partner with various community-oriented initiatives and nonprofit orgs, but this is obviously not enough to fix the issue of inaccessibility overall.)
With the current exclusivity in our neighborhood in mind, last year, the Kendall Square Association kicked off a monthly Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion learning community bringing together local KS business leaders. The focus of this discussion group was "Can Kendall Square pilot and scale ways of building inclusive institutions, by applying its [Research & Development] mindset to the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issue?"
Since that group started, it sounds like there has been a lot of openness to accountability and self-criticism and lots of thoughtful ideas for future changes and initiatives to support the goal of making KS a more equitable and inclusive community. But of course there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of those ideas are far from being rolled out. (Read more on the KSA DEIB initiative here.)
Because it’s easy to point to everyone else and whether they are/are not doing enough, I’m trying to turn the mirror on myself as a cog within the greater Kendall Square wheel. My big questions for myself within this context are:
1. What can I do as a member of a Talent Acquisition team in a Kendall Square business to make sure I am helping create a company that provides a welcoming, safe, worthwhile, and engaging community for existing and prospective BIPOC staff?
2. How can I work with my company to bring more BIPOC into positions of leadership and other parts of our work that are not accurately reflecting the community and population within which we operate?
Given that my team works in hiring and HR, DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging) naturally surfaces in our work every day and it's something we always address up front when hiring for the Talent Acquisition department. But I am challenging myself with the questions above because my professional identity has always felt secondary to me; I've often felt like my individual identity is that I like to make art and that my professional day job is a way to pay the bills while I also work on creative things during my free time. But I'm recognizing that with my line of work, that's a place where I can make a tangible impact in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here's some sobering context: Boston was recently voted last in a survey on how welcoming eight major US cities are to people of color. Last. In a region of the world know for being extremely progressive and liberal. On average, I interview anywhere between 5 and 25 people every week, have worked on entry-level to C-level searches, and my team reviews hundreds of resumes and applications from all over the world each month. We are responsible for finding valuable contributors who reflect the fabric of the community around us. And right now, we have a number of ongoing initiatives to keep ourselves accountable... but we are continuing to listen and learn and admit where we can do better.
Layla F. Saad held an Instagram Live lecture on the topic yesterday, titled "The Revolution with not be Colonised... by White Business Leaders" and this has been a nice resource to make sure I am pointing the finger back at myself and my company whenever I think about racism. She reminds me that it is a shield to simply call out others who are not doing enough when the most effective calling out should be happening within myself and my immediate sphere. View Layla's full session here.
Some helpful words written and emphasized by Layla that white business people like myself should keep in mind:
“The revolution will not be businesses, brands, and leaders who have silenced black voices for all these years, only now to post a black square and proclaim “Black Lives Matter”. The revolution will not be white-washed into a movement where people with white privilege get to feel like benevolent white saviors once again. The revolution will not be slotted into capitalism and used to sell white supremacy back to us.”
My plants are doing well, and now that it’s consistently warm, a lot of my indoor plants are living outside. Including my small army of baby aloe. The mama aloe just keeps having babies.
My friend Kara recommended to me an excellent collection of essays by Durga Chew-Bose last year. Her reflections on the dream of having a porch always make me think of the deck I suddenly gained access to when my landlord had it redone (because it was previously condemned and had no railing). I feel like even though I'm renting this deck month by month, I've gained "some semblance" of the mythologized porch, which Chew-Bose supposes is a place for listening to a parent's stories. (Over the last couple years I've been trying to track down family storytelling with a recorder too, even if it's just me hitting record on my phone when stories come up in conversation.)
Here's an excerpt from Too Much and Not the Mood:
“There are nights when I go to bed a little foolish and pretend the world is a disco ball and that the stars are simply reflected dots. That none of this is too dire and how the impossibility of knowing everything is an advantage. Most children grow up and plan to, at some stage, sit with a parents, a pad of paper, a voice recorder, and listen. Most children, despite good intentions, never make it happen.
Perhaps we’re waiting for our porch. We defer, defer, defer, and make excuses until we’ve won life’s ultimate lottery: the porch. The kind that wraps around. There’s something neutral about the conditions of its build: inside’s privacy, but outside, it’s an extension that stipulates the promise of delay. Imagine if our foreheads had porches jutting out from them? Maybe our brains would experience some reprieve.
On porches, conversation flows freely because silences, while weighty, aren’t strained. The faint interruption of a neighbor’s car pulling up the driveway or leaves rustling, or the benefits of a view in August, kink the air pressure that might exist between two people. A breeze jangles wind chimes and gently jolts us from ourselves. It’s harder to speak selfishly on a porch. Even when it’s hot, no one overheats. Picking a fight on a porch means you’ve missed the point entirely.
So, until then -- until the porch or some semblance of it -- we put off the pad of paper, the voice recorder. We are self-centered. We are out with friends, yet curious why. We are running late. Mentioning things in passing. Not picking up our phones. Lying on our stomachs. We are ambitious, only kind of. Obsessed to the point of --not boredom -- but reprise. We are incapable of writing a letter of condolence. We are vulnerable when it suits us. Taking aim when wearied. Clumsily articulate when expressing intense feelings, like subtitles in a foreign film. We are in the midst of, or have just inched past, our stretch. We read a book that alters us but never talk to our parents about the books that change our fabric, so instead, the weather. The rain. The snow in April.”
-Too Much and Not the Mood
It seems that creativity, whether birdsong, painting, or songwriting, is as adaptive as anything else. Genius – the emergence of a truly remarkable and memorable work – seems to appear when a thing is perfectly suited to its context. When something works, it strikes us as not just being a clever adaptation, but as emotionally resonant as well. When the right thing is in the right place, we are moved . . . In my experience, the emotionally charged content always lies there, hidden, waiting to be tapped, and although musicians tailor and mold their work to how and where it will be heard or seen, the agony and the ecstasy can be relied on to fill whatever shape is available. We do express our emotions, our reactions to events, breakups and infatuations, but the way we do that – the art of it – is in putting them into prescribed forms or squeezing them into new forms that perfectly fit some emerging context. That's part of the creative process, and we do it instinctively; we internalize it, like birds do. And it's a joy to sing, like the birds do.
How Music Works, 29-30
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Mansfield, MA.