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A Moment for Change: Allies Can Make A Difference

June 19 marks a turning point in American history.

It is Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the end of slavery nationwide.

We are at another turning point in our nation’s history, and people of good faith want to be part of that change. This week, the Freedom Forum’s Power Shift Project hosted a webinar titled Do You Qualify As An Ally? (Especially Now). Nearly 400 people, most of them journalists, tuned in.

What was behind that remarkable turnout?

A turning point. A push for change.

Protests are evidence.

So are polls. Monmouth University reported a robust, remarkable jump in the number of people agreeing that racism and ethnic discrimination is a big problem in the United States. From 51 percent five years ago, to 76 percent (including 71 percent of whites) today.

People want to change systems that are inherently biased.

But they also know they have to change themselves, too.

They want to take responsibility for being “a trusted force for good,” which is how The Power Shift Project describes allies.

People want to do the right thing, the right way.

That’s been our goal, too.

From the very first Power Shift Summit in 2018, launched in the wake of the #MeToo scandals in media, we learned that harassment and discrimination are inseparable. So, as we tackled the cultural change needed to produce equitable workplaces for women, we didn’t focus on their challenges alone.

We took on marginalization, discrimination, harassment and bias affecting all who are underrepresented in journalism.

We listened to expert voices, learned from research and bore witness to open wounds.

But even as we developed a curriculum to upgrade workplace cultures, we heard repeatedly from people who wanted to do more – as individuals.

That’s why we launched “Do You Qualify as an Ally?” a year ago.

Before COVID-19 and its disproportionate effect on women and people of color.

Before Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks lost their lives.

Before marches that filled our streets and our screens with clarion calls for change.

We knew it was time to update our Ally teaching; to build on what we started and match this moment.

The news demands it.

And so do people of good will – people who are more ready than ever to learn.

The hundreds who joined us took in 10 (of many) ways to qualify as an ally, with practical of examples of each point:

  1. Understand that power affects our perspectives.
  2. Recognize the realities and risks of unconscious bias.
  3. Be a learner, but don’t expect anyone is obligated to be your teacher.
  4. Recognize, relieve and reward the “invisible work” done by underrepresented employees.
  5. Understand the meaning and impact of microaggressions.
  6. Find a voice for courageous conversations.
  7. Challenge systems, traditions, practices and assumptions that foster inequity.
  8. Measure what matters.
  9. Be more than a mentor; be a sponsor.
  10. Be more than an ally; be an amplifier, an accomplice, an advocate and an ally to other allies when they step up.

And we told them that most of all, to do all of those things without expectation of credit or profit.

Be like the university professor who teaches his students how unconscious bias causes female professors to get lower evaluations from students – on the week they turn in those evaluations.

Be like the TV station group leadership team that sent a memo to employees, stating that as a journalism organization, they’ve traditionally refrained from commenting on political issues – but that racism isn’t political and employees have the right to speak out against it.

Be like the young NFL social media producer who “went rogue,” working behind the scenes with players to create their “Black Lives Matter” video, calling for change in the NFL.

Be like the media organizations that monitor their own progress on diversity – or lack of it, who create databases of diverse sources – and share them.

Be like the newsrooms that listened to the National Association of Black journalists, tossed out the AP Stylebook guidance, and have turned “black Americans” into “Black Americans” out of respect.

That’s a taste of what those 395 participants learned about for one hour on a Monday afternoon, on their journey to qualify as allies.

You’re welcome to take a look at the recorded version here – along with all of our Power Shift resources.

Better yet, join us for the next “Do You Qualify?” webinar on July 15.

Imagine how allies, as trusted forces for good, might be part of positive change.

Jill Geisler is Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership and Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago. She can be reached at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @JillGeisler

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