Corean Reynold was recently appointed the Director of Nightlife Economy for the City of Boston, where she brings a wealth of experience and a passion for fostering an equitable and thriving nightlife ecosystem.
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The conversations and commitments at FUN 2020 show that the fight for equality is top of mind now. But what happens now? This must be a movement, not a moment. More diverse participation is still required, and we need more focus on the emotional tolls of living this fight every day.
While the events at Boston Chamber’s Fierce Urgency of Now 2020 festival were virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I found this gave an opportunity to engage in many more of the events and freely discuss the racial pandemic that so many are also experiencing.
As a millennial living and working in Boston, and trapped at home, I greatly appreciated the offerings from City Awake. The event provoked thought and encouraged reflection. It inspired ideas. It gave me hope. Yet, it also reinforced the scale of the challenges ahead, how far we still must travel in this journey, and the toll this is taking on our mental health.
The festival kicked off with Morgan Debaun, CEO and Founder of Blavity, Inc., discussing the new generation of leadership. In this conversation, Debaun emphasized the importance of ‘finding your tribe’ and how, during the toughest and most successful moments of her life, she has leaned on her tribe. This is something I found myself coming back to and discussing broadly, as it deeply resonated with me.
‘Making Equity a Reality in Boston’, a discussion with Mayor Marty Walsh, allowed millennials of all backgrounds to discuss their concerns on whether ‘Boston is right for me.’
How can one consider staying here and investing in this community when most cannot even afford to live here? As Boston ranks as the third most expensive city in the nation, young professionals are forced to consider other options, since most have been priced out of the housing market. As much as Boston has to offer, there are some real opportunity areas in context of the wealth gap, housing, transportation, and the overall quality of life experienced by those wanting to make Boston home. I appreciated the Mayor’s willingness to listen to this honest feedback and to learn about how he’s committing to change.
As an employee of P&G Gillette – a presenting partner of the festival – I co-created the “Blue Table Talk: Unlocking the Mystery of Black Hair. With over 150 attendees, we were reminded that something so simple as caring for your own hair is both deeply rooted and complicated in the Black community. Even the simple experience of going to a store to purchase hair care products can leave you feeling confused, uninformed, and overwhelmed when it comes to developing your hair care routine. P&G has heard this and is invested in making products for this consumer—for us, a welcomed step in the forward direction.
During the week, I also got a glimpse into what other companies are doing to let young professionals, millennials, and people of color know that they hear us, they see us, and they are not ignoring us. I repeatedly heard that not only is it a social responsibility, but a personal mission to ensure that their employees and the people in their communities feel supported. It was great to hear.
My hope is that this remains authentic and not just trendy.
Meaningful and lasting change requires a sustained commitment to action. I hope next year we can celebrate the progress realized from the conversations happening today, and not reflect on what might have been.
These days I feel like I have lost control of all my boundaries and routine. Breakfast is not always in the morning, workdays blur into worknights, and there is no reason to reserve laundry for the weekends. This FUN festival gave me a reason to incorporate bumpers in my life. The Comedy Night and Jam Session, made me feel like I had plans and was out in the city again, hanging out and enjoying life. For two nights, I protected my time and allowed myself to relax and appreciate the creativity on display. Honestly, if you think about it, one of the hardest things to do is stand-up comedy. Imagine doing this on a virtual platform, where you can’t feed off the energy of the audience. You don’t really know if your joke landed or failed. Kudos to these comedians, they were amazing and the love that they received in the virtual chatroom showed they nailed it! The ‘impromptuness’ of the Jam Session made me appreciate the talent that exists in Boston, but it also made me yearn for the day that I am physically free and able to enjoy those talents in person.
Oftentimes I hear the complaint, there’s nothing for us to do in Boston. City Awake reminded me that We’ve got you – we’re here for you!
So, I made it to the weekend, the defining moment being no early morning meeting. This used to be Orange Theory Fitness for my weekend training. Well, the FUN agenda was there with a schedule that said, “Don’t worry, we have an event for that!” I started Saturday and Sunday morning with an Afro Beats Sweat Session and a HIIT workout, respectively. Due to the virtual platform, I was able to share the event with friends and family across the globe, and for a couple of hours I was able to laugh, sweat, have community, and forget that my normal life and routine had been flipped upside down.
After the Sunday HIIT session there was a very engaging conversation on “Fitness in Color” where Black Fitness instructors and trainers discussed the challenges, racism, and disparity that exists in the fitness and wellness community. While it was a very interesting dialogue, I’ll admit that I was surprised and then became quickly frustrated that even in physical health we must deal with systemic racism, and how mentally exhausting this is.
However, this was far from a venting session.
The conversation focused on what is happening here in Boston (a city which declared racism a public health crisis), and fitness centers and training camps that are being developed to drive inclusivity. While most of these teams comfortably originate in Dorchester, Roxbury, and JP, there is a very intentional expansion plan into other neighborhoods such as South Boston, Chestnut Hill, and West Roxbury. This conversation reminded me that it is my choice where I spend my money, and this extends to who I let guide me in my fitness journey. It is no longer enough to target Minorities yet have no representation of diverse instructors at your facility.
I ended my FUN festival experience with some heavy topics. ‘Mental Health in the Black Community’ and ‘How to Be Anti-Racist’ with Professor Ibram X. Kendi. The state of mental health in America right now is extremely fragile.
We are all being placed under pressures and dealing with uncertainties that we are not equipped to handle. We have essentially been sent to war unprepared to fight.
We have two options; lay down and surrender or stand up and learn to defend ourselves. If you choose to fight you are carrying the extra baggage from dealing with systemic and overt racism, and not feeling protected, which is not only traumatizing, but an extremely heavy load. Many of us have been living with undiagnosed and untreated trauma for years. Fortunately, there is help, however, we cannot do it on our own.
As Professor Kendi highlighted, it is “racist ideas stemming racist policies.” The oppressed cannot be solely responsible for changing the narrative, especially ones that we did not create. It has not been an easy battle, and I anticipate that hurdles will continue to present themselves. We must take care of our mental health and we need our Allies and privileged friends, coworkers, and community members to stand with us.
At the end of the five-day Fierce Urgency of Now festival, I appreciated that City Awake, the Boston Chamber of Commerce, sponsors, local businesses, community leaders, and Mayor Walsh are actively on a journey to make Boston a place that young professionals and people of color can not only work, but live, play and thrive.
This is important and gives me hope because real progress and real change will only happen if we are all involved, and we care for each other throughout the process.
Dr. Shameika Wilmington is Senior Scientist, Regulatory Affairs Manager in Research & Development at Procter & Gamble / The Gillette Company. Shameika is a 2016 graduate of The Partnership, Inc. – The BioDiversity Fellow Program and holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Cell Biology from Northwestern University and The University of Texas at Austin.