Black History Month is a time of revering past and present trailblazers of the African diaspora in all communities and professional fields. Attending a historically black college or university is like walking in a living textbook where many of these pioneers studied and jump-started their careers. Of the 101 HBCUs in the nation, each rooted in a rich black history with a global legacy contributing to the empowerment of all black people, I am privileged to attend the “Mecca” of HBCUs, Howard University, and matriculate in one of the nation’s leading communications programs, the Cathy Hughes School of Communication. While diversity in the industry does not reflect my university or that of any HBCU, here’s how we all can lead like our pioneers and trailblazers.
- 1. Study the Trailblazers of Our Color, in Our Field
A multitude of “first” black professionals have shifted the paradigm to ensure blacks were not only positively targeted audiences but also influential decision makers. Learning their works will help us appreciate the changes that they made in the industry and inspire us to continue making strides. and advance making strides.
Just to name a few: Cathy Hughes,the first African-American woman to head a publicly traded company, Radio One; D. Parke Gibson authored multiple publications on the black consumer market and is remembered with the D. Parke Gibson Pioneer Award, PRSA’s highest distinction in multicultural affairs; Debra A. Miller,the first African-American woman to serve as the president of PRSA. Thanks to this HBCU alumna, the first PRSSA Chapter at an HBCU (my Chapter) was founded: the D. Parke Gibson Chapter at Howard University!
- Accept It’s Lonely at the Top … for Now
Although Fortune500 companies and the like are seeking diversity from HBCUs, many students of color find they are one of few, if not the only, persons of color in the room. However, do not be discouraged. Experiences like these can later serve as motivation to diversify the fields when we, as aspiring and competent black professionals, are the influential power.
- Representation and Mentors
It is important to see people who look like us doing the things that we want to do. The beauty of attending an HBCU is the visible presence of professionals in leadership positions like the ones that we all aspire to have. Connect with them and seek their counsel and their guidance; and in addition, their relatability will help both personally and professionally!
- The Next Work Is Next to You, so Network
Actress Issa Rae pointed out that people do not typically network laterally but instead are focused on networking up the ladder. Your peers are your first network circle; connect and build relationships with them. These are the people that can help you find or create opportunities in the workforce.
From the current student body shifting the culture to the alumni breaking industry glass ceilings and the professors whose research has helped and changed lives beyond the diaspora, diversity and inclusion are very much part of the HBCU legacy. This Black History Month, let us remember those who have paved the way for us, and let us confidently go forth and blaze our own paths.
Natalie B. Felix is a graduating senior and budding public relations professional studying strategic communications and community development at illustrious Howard University. She is a member of the oldest HBCU PRSSA Chapter, D. Parke Gibson. Connect with Natalie on Twitter @NatalieBe_.