Thought Leadership

The Case for Public Affairs Allyship

January 15, 2021
Sam Myers, Jr.

As we approach Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, one of his quotes has been on the forefront of my mind. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” For me, this encompasses much of what it means to be an ally, especially over the past year.

Early in 2020, I was asked to be the executive sponsor of BCW’s African American Employee Resource (AAER) Group. I was relatively new to BCW at that point and a few employees thought my professional background in advocacy and policy would add value.

As someone who has strived to be an ally my whole life, I was humbled. And I don’t think my colleagues knew just how much it meant to me to be asked or how anxious I was to take on the role. I was excited to meet new people and hopefully create better outcomes together, but I was also keenly worried about coming across as a white savior.

My wife is biracial and I’ve always tried to gain a better understanding of lived experience through her eyes and through those of my friends and trusted colleagues. Hearing their stories reminded me that an ally’s greatest asset is to listen. Advocating for equity and better outcomes is something I care deeply about. But lived experience is just that. And the more I’ve listened and reflected over the years, the more I’ve realized just how biased the system is against people who don’t look like me.

Little did I know when I accepted the role how pivotal the coming months would be – a global pandemic, combined with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders, removed the veil on inequity for many, forcing us to confront the structural and institutional racism that existed far prior to 2020.

Now, two days after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a President with high corporate purpose expectations and a Vice President of color will be sworn in, joined in their new government by a bevy of equity champions. The AFL-CIO, a trade association of 12.5 million members, is calling on President-Elect Biden to appoint a racial equity czar. And there is growing data that investments in black owned businesses will expand the economy.

We, as public affairs professionals, need to embrace this movement as colleagues and friends, but also as client leads. Indeed, most Americans expect brands to take a stand on racism and consumers are four to six times more likely to champion a purpose-driven brand. We have a fiduciary duty to advise our clients how they can be allies for the Black community and to explain the financial and brand reputational risks that not moving people toward allyship could bring.

Our AAER group has strived to live this truth. I’m deeply proud that we’ve been able to take the ideas we developed around fostering greater equity and a culture of belonging within BCW and use them to counsel our clients. More simply put, the improved outcomes we’ve found for our colleagues have provided a guidepost for clients to improve the lives of many more human beings. I am proud of our BCW clients that have embraced this mandate and I am hearted that so many organizations across the U.S. have done so as well. But much more needs to be done.

Next month is Black History Month and BCW will be celebrating Black heritage and conducting dialogues around diversity, equity, inclusion and allyship. I’m grateful to work for a company that encourages me to be a part of this even though I don’t have the lived experience. I’ve learned more than I could have imagined from my AAER colleagues. To them, I hope they know that I am an ally who will always listen and a friend who will not stay silent.

Sam Myers, Jr. is the President of Direct Impact, the nation’s leading grassroots public affairs agency and a part of the BCW Group. He has built coalitions all across the US around the policies and ideals of six presidential campaigns, two presidential administrations and advocacy organizations. He credits meeting people where they live their lives, armed with a deep understanding of the factors that define who they are, as central to every winning campaign.

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