Legacy of Activism

Concerned Black Students’ 50-year history at Grinnell College

Last fall, black students at dozens of colleges across the country protested against racial discrimination on their campuses, including demonstrations at Yale University, Claremont McKenna College, and Ithaca College. The most high-profile protests were held at the University of Missouri, which led to the ousting of Tim Wolfe, president of the University of Missouri system.

As black youth organize via Black Lives Matter to speak out against police brutality, our nation finds itself amid a new civil rights movement. As it spreads, black student organizations have become lightning rods for controversy on college campuses, and Grinnell College has been no different.

In early 2015, racist slurs were posted anonymously on the social media app Yik Yak, specifically targeting black students on campus. In addition to calling for the disbanding of Grinnell College’s black student organization Concerned Black Students (CBS), messages harassed black student leaders by name. One post called a black student a “spear chucker”; another accused “blacks” of “ruining Grinnell.”

“The dominant narrative is that Grinnell is this great liberal place, that we’re all into social justice, that we’re a post-racial society,” says Alexandra Odom ’16, house monitor for the Conney M. Kimbo Black Cultural Center this past year. “But black students see the opposite side of this; we are often confronted with really conservative racist ideas projected on us. The school is radical until it comes to issues of race and black people.”

She adds: “I’ve had some of the best times in my life on this campus, but also some of the worst.”

As it has for almost 50 years, CBS serves as a home for black students during controversies big and small. It has also been a powerful vehicle for getting the administration and the Grinnell College community at large to consider a black perspective.

Origin story

Black students at Grinnell formed CBS in the fall of 1967 after hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the college.

“We were just so inspired by Dr. King,” says Frank Thomas ’71, an administrator at the College for many years. “Plus, in ’67 there were a lot of things going on nationally — black student unions were forming in various colleges around the country, and there was a lot of unrest in various cities. So, the students at Grinnell, though not particularly ‘militant,’ still had concerns. We felt we needed to do something.”

Not much happened that fall, but the need to “do something” intensified in the spring of ’68 when King was assassinated in April. Before his assassination, multiple black students and faculty reported being verbally harassed and threatened with physical harm in town, according to The Scarlet & Black. Town-gown relations got so bad that a Grinnell College student, Lou Kelley ’68, was attacked and beaten up in his dorm room by a Grinnell townsperson. “The baddest black guy on campus was harassed and beaten up, so that was the impetus for us to decide, look, we’re really not safe around here,” Thomas says. King’s murder was the final straw, and black students got serious about organizing.

But things were relatively quiet until 1971, when black students chained the doors to Burling Library and locked themselves inside. The S&B reported that during the takeover, which lasted from 7:15 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., no white people, with the exception of a few administrators, including then-President Glenn Leggett, were admitted to the library. The chained doors were adorned with posters featuring such slogans as “Do You Deny Us As Black People The Right To Be Free?” and “We Are An American People Proud Of Our Blackness: We Want To Express Ourselves And Our Blackness In Our Academic Life On This Campus.”

Leggett met with a group of about 10 black CBS members in the president’s office, which was inside Burling at that time. CBS presented him with its “black manifesto,” a list of 10 demands designed to improve campus life for black students and faculty. Demands included boosting black student enrollment to “no less than 200” and establishing a larger black cultural center, a black library in Burling, and a black studies major.

“Campus opinion was widely split on the issue, ranging from full support to unspeakable bitterness and a parody ‘manifesto,’” stated the May 15, 1973, special commencement issue of The S&B. “CBS held meetings with students and trustees clarifying its position and undertook extensive negotiating sessions with the administration.”

Many goals of CBS’s “black manifesto” have not been realized — there still aren’t 200 black students on campus. Current students still contend the campus sees its share of racial unrest. So the question remains: What has been gained through CBS’s efforts?

Recruiting black students

Following the Burling takeover, Leggett, along with the trustees, agreed to establish a black studies major and an admissions board for black students. They also agreed to give black students space in the form of the Conney M. Kimbo Black Cultural Center, which has been affectionately called “The House” over the years.

However, the Black Admissions Board was doomed from the start. The faculty dissolved it in 1976 after the College received a letter from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare indicating that a separate black admissions board was “unacceptable.” Students were promised that the general admissions board would be sensitive to black needs, according to TheS&B.

Over the years, Grinnell College has had varying levels of success in recruiting black students to campus, but it still isn’t known as a destination school. For example, it failed to rank on Essencemagazine’s recent list of the 50 best colleges for African Americans, while similar private liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Wellesley, and Williams (all in Massachusetts) made the cut. According to Amherst, for example, black students composed 10 percent of first-year students this past year, the lowest it has been in the past few years. In comparison at Grinnell, average black enrollment has hovered at about 6 percent since 2003.

According to the latest figures from Grinnell’s Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research, during the 2015–16 academic year there were 96 African American students at Grinnell, who overall made up 5.6 percent of the student body. In 2014, the College for the first time reached a 100-student milestone. That may not seem like much, but Grinnell has never had a big black student population — in 1998, which had the lowest population of African American students in the past 25 years, there were only 35 black students.

“There were fewer than 30 of us when we formed CBS,” Thomas recalls. “As an organization, it was really important for us to be there to support current black students, but also to call for increased enrollment of black students.”

According to Joe Bagnoli, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission and financial aid, the College has made great strides toward increasing those numbers. On staff is a coordinator of multicultural recruitment, and each year the admission office revisits its goals and strategies for the enrollment of underrepresented students.

“We have a nationwide recruitment strategy with a special focus on [African American and Latino] populations,” he says. “Our outreach efforts include targeted school visits and building relationships with CBOs [community-based organizations]. And we underwrite the costs associated with trips to campus for underrepresented students to ensure that cost is not an impediment to the campus visit for domestic students of color who may be living in lower-income households.”

Those efforts have recently yielded an unprecedented number of applicants, Bagnoli says. This year almost 50 percent of the College’s domestic applicants identified as students of color. Additionally, domestic students of color currently make up almost 25 percent of the student body.

But Bagnoli admits that because of federal mandates that would discourage the College from identifying quotas, they address recruitment in terms of promoting broader diversity rather than focusing on how to specifically increase numbers of black students.

“We’re not just talking about [black students] as a group,” he said. “We’re talking about them as representative of various underrepresented students within that broader category. So, black students are often a part of our conversation. Latino students are often a part of our conversation, as well as first-generation college students and Pell-eligible students.”

Posse impact

Recently, Grinnell College President Raynard S. Kington announced that the College was severing ties with the Posse Foundation. Grinnell had partnered with Posse since 2003, and it has been a significant source of black students for the College. In 2015, there were a total of 33 black Posse Scholars, making up 27 percent of black domestic students.

The Posse Foundation works to discover public high school students across racial groups with extraordinary academic and leadership potential, many of whom might be overlooked in a traditional college selection process. Once those Posse Scholars have been identified, they receive four-year, full-tuition scholarships to one of the organization’s partner schools.

“Posse has helped us to pursue our goals for diversity and student success and grow as a diverse institution,” Kington said in a statement. “Posse Scholars have brought great energy and student leadership to campus and given us a good sense of what close faculty-student mentoring can achieve. As we plan for the future we will seek to incorporate those ideas into our planning and engage Posse scholars and alumni in it.”

The decision caused a furor both on campus and in the alumni community. A letter signed by hundreds was sent to the administration asking for clarity on the memo announcing the decision.

“More troublingly for us, the memo provides very little insight into how the College will continue to recruit excellent students from urban areas and support these students. The memo alludes to a ‘more comprehensive approach to achieving our goals for diversity,’ but it fails to explain what this approach entails and does not specify the nature of the goals,” the letter read.

Bagnoli says he understands the frustration, but that the College is moving in the right direction in terms of getting more students of color on campus.

“When we entered into a relationship with the Posse Foundation, we were having a much more difficult time trying to attract the attention of underrepresented populations of all kinds,” he says. “Fast-forward to an applicant pool of over 7,300 students in 2016, when almost half of those domestic applicants are from students of color.”

He adds: “The Posse Foundation has provided Grinnell access to 20 finalists in two cities. We have loved getting to know the Posse finalists. They’re great people. But they now represent a small fraction of the total pool of underrepresented students who apply for admission. So, by virtue of an agreement that we reached over a decade ago, the seats we reserve for them are off-limits to a growing population of other talented applicants who don’t have the same opportunity to be considered for admission. Eventually, it leads to the question: Is there equity in the admission process? And it is increasingly difficult to answer that in the affirmative.”

Helping black students succeed

CBS has also done its share in helping to keep black students on campus once they’ve arrived. Grinnell formally tracks first- and second-year retention, which was 100 percent for black students in 2014. The most recent four-year graduation rates are 81 percent for black students, compared with 84 percent for white students.

For many of the more than 30 alumni interviewed for this story, being a member of CBS was key to thriving at Grinnell — and beyond.

“I joined CBS to expand my support network within the black community to better position myself for success in the classroom, in a predominately white community, [in] my profession of choice, and life after Grinnell,” says Darryl Dejuan Roberts ’98. “Being in CBS also provided a support system, which was essential to my survival at Grinnell, and it provided me with leadership opportunities, which gave me the confidence to participate in other campus organizations.”

For many students of color on campus, daily macro- and micro-aggressions can be an additional burden. These range from big assumptions that black students are only accepted to Grinnell because of affirmative action to smaller slights like comments about the texture of African American hair.

“If I listed all the micro- and macro-aggressions that I endured as a student, it’d be a long list,” says April Dobbins ’99. “It got to a point where it was literally making me crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I do have fond Grinnell memories, but to say that I fought to get to the other side of all the negative would be an accurate description.”

Dobbins did not originally join CBS. But being a black kid on a predominantly white campus took its toll.

“Honestly, I avoided CBS like the plague my first two years at Grinnell. It seemed like a really tight-knit group, and I didn’t want to try to get into their circle,” she says. “I came to Grinnell pretty exhausted from being bullied by other black kids all through high school for not being black enough. I was naive and I underestimated the need for CBS on campus. After being at Grinnell for two years, I came back from study abroad in London, and I just needed CBS. I needed a place where I didn’t have to explain my hair or certain struggles on campus. I needed a place [like The House] where I could watch Poetic Justice or something and not have to have a big dialogue. I found my spot there.”

Multiculturalism debates

For black students used to being both invisible and hypervisible on campus, becoming a part of CBS was a way to get their distinct voices heard. Over the years, black students tried to become a part of the conversation by advocating for a black perspective in the curriculum.

Starting in 1980, Grinnell began to offer “a special nonmajor program” in Afro-American studies. By the time the ’90s rolled around, though, the concentration suffered due to a lack of classes, faculty, and enrollment. At the same time, racial tension was ratcheted up on campus. It was then that students demanded that an African American Studies concentration be launched and a black faculty member be hired to helm it.

In 1995 student organizations of color, including Asian Students in Alliance (ASIA) and Student Organization of Latinas/os (SOL), lobbied the College for physical space in which to hold meetings and cultural events. While black students already had The House, CBS decided to lend its support to these groups.

Some white students were very unhappy about it. In 1995 The S&B published a column written by a student, a senior editor, claiming minority faculty were unqualified and that the College’s efforts to promote multiculturalism fostered reverse racism and segregation. “The College also pursues an ambitious affirmative action employment program at all levels of hiring with little regard to the quality of the candidate or actual cultural contributions he or she might make,” the column said, concluding: “Grinnell is degrading into a racial battleground. Minorities are arguing over who deserves houses and departments while the administration points pridefully at the number of colored sanitation workers and calls the school multicultural.”

Kesho Scottassociate professor of American studies and sociology, took issue with being called unqualified and wrote a letter to the editor in response: “I take your insults personally, for while I uphold freedom of speech, it becomes problematic when it is used to slander, especially when such slander is not based on any factual information; for example, there are no ‘colored sanitation workers’ employed by this institution, unless of course you were reducing those of us who teach here to sanitation workers.”

Racial tensions continued to escalate. First there was an incident at a basketball game where students used racial slurs and then, separately, two disc jockeys from KDIC were suspended after they used the n-word on the air. In response to these events, CBS staged a demonstration. Black students wore all black, taped their mouths shut, and stood in the back of their morning class with signs explaining they were protesting racial tension on campus. “Many [white] students were both shocked and offended by the demonstration, which was not widely understood,” according to The S&B.

But for black and other students of color, the protest was seen as an effort to talk about racial issues on campus that they dealt with on a daily basis. “That article kind of had like a Trump effect. It set off a lot of stuff that was simmering beneath the surface,” says Roberts. “Then we had the KDIC DJ using the n-word over the air. All these little incidents began to add up. It was almost like they ignited a fire and pulled the covers back to expose some things that had been going on on campus. Some white students felt it was acceptable to say things that were very hurtful and racially motivated, and we wanted to challenge that.”

After the protest was staged, CBS led campuswide discussions, as well as discussions with the administration. As a result, the College established an Africana studies concentration and hired Katya Gibel Mevorachprofessor of anthropology, to head the now-defunct program, which lasted six years.

Black studies history

Grinnell first began its foray into black studies in 1969 when it introduced “a special upper-class general education program” called African and Afro-American studies, similar to concentrations today, but with a much lower credit requirement (16). The program ended in 1971, according to Jason Maher, registrar of the College.

Members of CBS lobbied for the creation of a black studies major in the “black manifesto,” and College administrators responded by establishing an interdisciplinary major in black studies in 1972. It was a 36-credit major and included courses in anthropology, economics, English, history, music, political science, and sociology. The major was discontinued in 1979 due to lack of interest. At the time, The S&B reported that just 10 students graduated with majors in black studies from 1972 to 1979.

After the protest in 1995, Grinnell introduced an interdisciplinary concentration in Africana studies in 1997, replacing the largely ignored Afro-American studies program that was launched in 1980. For the first time, the program had dedicated introductory and seminar-level coursework, Maher says.

But despite bringing on board Gibel Mevorach, who created a nationwide conference and brought numerous and varied speakers to campus, the concentration was never very popular with students and was discontinued in 2005. From 1999 to 2005, there were a total of 20 students who graduated with an Africana studies concentration. In comparison, the very popular gender, women’s, and sexuality studies (GWSS) concentration had 124 concentrators from 2000 to 2012. The program was so popular that it was turned into a major in 2010 that has since seen 87 majors graduate.

Africana studies wasn’t so fortunate. After seeing zero interest in upper-level Africana courses and limited interest in introductory classes, the faculty, including Gibel Mevorach and Scott, suggested dissolving Africana studies as an interim move toward something more comprehensive.

“The administration had nothing to do with this decision. This was not a problem of not enough faculty to teach a course — there were no students,” Gibel Mevorach says. “GWSS absorbed most students of color interested in diversity who were interested, as well, in gender studies; and more than a few potential recruits were sociology majors.”

Following last year’s Yik Yak incidents, black students in CBS once again began advocating for the establishment of an Africana studies concentration, despite the tumultuous history of black studies at Grinnell. “This is an issue of institutional amnesia,” Gibel Mevorach says.

In light of this history, some students are unsure if a new major is the best way to proceed. Some alumni say advocating for more black faculty might be a better way forward.

“There have been huge things we’ve accomplished since ’67. CBS’s activism has profoundly influenced campus,” says Dixon Romeo ’16, one of CBS’s leader’s last year, “Ultimately, though, I would much rather have a positive, healthy, and safe space for black students to support them academically and mentally until they graduate. Right now we’re trying to find balance between these two things.”

CBS today

Shortly after the racist Yik Yak posts appeared last year, members of CBS met with President Kington and presented a list of demands, including the creation of a mentorship program with minority alumni and a hate crime/bias-motivated incident team, increased diversity training during New Student Orientation, and improvements to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Romeo says, “No one that we were meeting with in the administration had any issues with supporting us. They were ready and willing to help.”

Since then, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been restructured. Lakesia Johnson, associate professor of gender, women’s and sexuality studies, was tapped as chief diversity officer to address diversity within the curriculum and help recruit and retain a diverse faculty. Leslie Turner Bleichner ’07 was hired as director of intercultural affairs and works directly with students on the cocurricular side. Yik Yak was also ultimately banned from campus.

Since Johnson and Bleichner were hired, the two have invigorated the Diversity Council, a board of students, faculty, and administrators. The Office of Intercultural Affairs is also developing a “diversity plan” to address some of these issues on campus. An early draft of the plan was released recently for feedback. It includes expanding the preorientation program for underrepresented students into a full first-year program; developing a local-host program to promote connections and ameliorate feelings of isolation for students; and increasing the number of staff who provide support for student success and diversity issues.

“I’m excited about the new structure because people are finally thinking strategically about the student-of-color experience at Grinnell,” Bleichner says. “We are finally getting the right combination of folks with the right skill sets who can help students really address what it means to be a student of color in the middle of Iowa.”

Following the Yik Yak incidents, CBS also helped to foster campuswide discussions to address what they feel is a hostile and unwelcoming climate, including an event last fall designed to show solidarity with students at the University of Missouri.

“The biggest issue we have is with white students who didn’t think the racist attacks were a big deal or who were defending what took place on Yik Yak,” Romeo says. “Our dialogue was not directed at the administration, but to white students on campus.”

Just like at Missouri, Romeo claimed the Yik Yak attacks were not isolated, but part of a larger pattern of racially charged incidents on campus.

“The Yik Yak incident was just the biggest one,” Romeo says. “Whenever people talk about this, they talk about it like it was just one incident. There were multiple incidents. Students were saying hateful things about CBS.”

For black students dealing with racist incidents like Yik Yak, joining CBS can be like grabbing a lifeline. In addition to providing them with the support to help them address the special challenges that go along with attending a predominantly white college, it also gives black students a unique and powerful voice on campus.

“After the Yik Yak scandal, we were in a room discussing our concerns with the president of the College and various deans within a week or two,” says Odom. “Whether or not people are satisfied with the outcomes, it is huge to know that we can begin these conversations. My hope is that CBS has helped to promote a campus culture that encourages transparency and honest communication between the students and the administration.”

 

Can brands stay out of it?

What brands can do to stand up against divisive rhetoric following the US election

Last month, I moderated a panel for the Northern California chapter of the Business Marketing Association, and one of the panelists, Tom Stein, chairman and chief client officer of B2B agency Stein IAS, said something that stuck with me. I asked panelists, when it comes to moment marketing, whether brands should stay neutral and avoid tough social issues. Tom’s response: No way. “Brands need to take a stand.” Even B2B ones.

After the recent US presidential election, the comment rings even truer and is even more important. Brands can take a stand by focusing on inclusive messaging that appeals to the kinds of customers you have – and want to attract. Ditch the divisive rhetoric and spotlight the diversity of both your employees and your clients. You will be rewarded.

People are angry. What does this mean for brands?

The election was polarizing, and there are some realities we have to face: Hate crimes have surged in recent days. Demonstrations are exploding across the country. Influencers like activist and journalist Shaun King, who has been documenting via Twitter the hate crimes that have taken place since the election, have called for a boycott of brands based on their political connections.

https://twitter.com/ShaunKing/status/798220001538932736?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

One thing that this election has made crystal clear is that our nation is more diverse than ever before. Brands that embrace that now win new friends and nurture relationships with old ones. Our customers hail from all walks of life and have a multitude of different experiences – whether they live in NYC or Des Moines – and we have to reach them.

A close friend who was recently a part of an agency review board said it was a real concern that the mostly white, mostly male representatives of agencies competing for the company’s business weren’t diverse enough to connect with its customer base. The company ended up choosing the agency that looked the most like its employees and its customers.

So how do we let our audiences know where we stand?

One great way to signal that we don’t stand for divisive rhetoric and bigotry, as well as demonstrate our commitment to our customers, is to continue to call for more diversity and gender equality in our companies and in our industries. And not just call for it – because talk is cheap; we need to mean it and work hard toward making those goals a reality.

Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney netted the wrong kind of attention after he sent an email to employees suggesting that workers who supported Donald Trump were not welcome at the company. The message went viral, was a huge marketing fail and the fallout continues. We’re Americans, after all, and we rightfully chafe at the idea of being punished at our place of employment for our political views.

However, we can look to CEOs at tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, who all emphasized the diversity policies at their organizations after Trump was elected. In a blog post, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote:

“Over a third of our engineers have come from other countries – 157 countries, in fact. We have employees from every race, ethnic background and religion. If there’s a language spoken on the planet, there’s a good chance that it’s spoken by an employee at Microsoft. And we’re committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but the type of inclusive culture that will enable people to do their best work and pursue rewarding careers.”

Making public commitments to fostering diverse workforces is the very least we could do. We can go even further in our activism and emulate leaders like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

Last year he pulled his very popular trade show Dreamforce from the state of Indiana over its “religious freedom” law, which permitted discrimination against gay and transgender customers. After Indiana caved to pressure from multiple tech brands and modified the controversial law, Salesforce resumed business in Indiana and issued a thank-you video to the state.

This week, while speaking at the Code Enterprise conference in San Francisco, Benioff emphasized that diversity and inclusion were top issues in Silicon Valley and something that the Trump administration should promote.

Trust me when I say that your sincere efforts will be noticed by your customers. Making your missions public, demonstrating that not only are all kinds of voices welcome, but actively sought out, will only reflect positively on your brand.

Originally published at B2B Marketing on Nov. 17, 2016

Want to grow your event? Amplify underrepresented voices

Tequia Burt explores how increasing diversity at events can also boost the success of an event

It all started with a tweet.

After delivering a keynote at Content Marketing World in September, Moz CEO Rand Fishkin also delivered stinging criticism of the trade show via Twitter:

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and lead organizer of CMWorld since its inception in 2011, disputed Fishkin’s numbers.

“This was our best year [in terms of diversity], which is why Rand’s tweet hit me a little hard,” he said. “We tried so hard, we did our best, we really came through this year, and now somebody is tweeting about how we’re not doing our job.”

According to Content Marketing Institute, men made up 55% of its speakers this year, women represented 45%, while 9% were people of color. For those that frequent marketing conferences, those don’t sound like such bad stats. And it was a marked improvement over the previous year (men 63%, women 37%, POC 6%).

Ann Handley
Ann Handley on stage at CMWorld 2016. Credit: Wetzler Studios/Content Marketing Institute

But when all was said and done, Pulizzi admitted CMI still has work to do – he pointed to the fact that he and his organizers hadn’t managed to land a female feature keynote in the past couple of years. “I know that we have an issue; that’s why I’m completely open. We’re trying to figure it out,” he said. “At the beginning of every year in planning, we know we need to have diverse points of view and people coming from all different backgrounds and ethnicities to make sure the show gives a real representation of what’s going on in marketing.”

Invest in diversity

Pulizzi is not alone in his efforts to open up the marketing events industry to a more diverse speaker field. Fishkin is also the organizer of his own very popular trade show MozCon. And he holds himself to the same standards when it comes to putting together diverse events in terms of gender, race and even sexuality.

In 2012 Moz decided to focus on gender equity in terms of its speaker roster, Fishkin said, and soon after the group broadened its search for even more underrepresented individuals. This year, 61% of MozCon’s speakers self-identify as female, up from 46% in 2015.

The organization has also taken the 50/50 Pledge, which is designed to promote equal gender balance at tech events.

Tara Reed
AppsWithoutCode’s Tara Reed on stage at MozCon 2016.

“We’re looking for people who add unique perspectives, people who are going to introduce our audience to ideas that they haven’t heard before, ideas that they haven’t seen or thought of before, and we’re looking for people who help us represent the marketing world that we want to live in,” Fishkin said.

“Here’s some people of color, here’s some people who are able and disabled, here’s some folks who are men and women, here’s some folks who are straight and here’s some folks who are on the GBLTQ spectrum. And that is going to help us give a terrific, diverse set of ideas,” he continued.

Fishkin said the best part is that amplifying the voices of those diverse speakers has led to increased growth and diversity at the event itself. In 2012, only 10% of MozCon attendees were women; this year that number increased to 43%.

“Every year we have sold more tickets, every year our speaker scores and event ratings have gone up and every year we have improved the diversity of our audience as well,” Fishkin said. “And those are all of the results that you want to see. The crap reasoning I always hear is ‘I don’t want diversity at my event; I want the best speakers.’ And the counterpoint to that is those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same.”

But Pulizzi said one of his challenges is simply that more men want to speak. “We had 500, 600 people submit to speak for Content Marketing World. It was [easily] 80% men,” he said. Because of that fact, Pulizzi said CMI needs to work harder in its outreach. “We can’t say this is just who we have to choose from. We can’t just rest on that and say that’s good enough.”

“The crap reasoning I always hear is ‘I don’t want diversity at my event; I want the best speakers.’ And the counterpoint to that is those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same.”

Rand Fishkin, CEO & founder, Moz

Create inclusive environments

Microsoft Search Evangelist Christi Olson, who has spoken at numerous digital marketing events, including AdWeek, and is slated to be a keynote at our USA tech show in March, said one piece of the puzzle is to create environments that are friendly to women. She is part of Janes of Digital, which was started in June 2014 by Microsoft Senior Marketing Manager Frances Donegan-Ryan. The panel events piggyback on the Search Marketing Expo’s main conferences and aim to give women a safe and inclusive place to have frank conversations about the digital marketing conference industry.

“There were so few women speaking at these search conferences, Bing decided to host a full separate event that allowed women to get together and talk about what was important to us in this industry and space,” she said. “Even though we invite our male counterparts to attend, the panels are mostly women who talk about what it means to work in a male-dominated workforce and what it takes to get out there and talk at different events.”

Most of all, Olson said, the most important factor for encouraging more diversity at events is attendees asking for more diversity – and then holding conferences to it.

“Both men and women alike need to hold the conferences accountable for their diversification of speaker. They need to be reporting back on [how many] men versus women are speaking, how many minorities versus white individuals are speaking,” she said.

“It’s holding the conference accountable and saying we want to see more than just white men.”

Originally published at B2B Marketing on Nov. 4, 2016

Prince Dead at 57

Dearly beloved

We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own
And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy

2016 continues to be a brutal year. First it was Lemmy. Then it was Bowie. Now the news that Prince has passed away at age 57 from unknown causes is breaking hearts across the country. According to multiple sources, and confirmed by the Associated Press, his body was discovered this morning in his Paisley Park home.

“It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence this morning at the age of 57,” the pop pioneer’s publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, said in a statement to the press. “There are no further details as to the cause of death at this time.”

Last Friday, Prince’s private plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Illinois as he was returning to the Twin Cities from two shows in Atlanta. Reportedly just sick from the flu, Prince showed off a new purple piano at a dance party at his home the following Saturday. He told the Star Tribune: “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.”

“From the beginning, Prince and his music were androgynous, sly, sexy and provocative.”

One of the most iconic and influential musicians in pop, Prince produced 39 studio albums and sold more than 100 million copies, making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. He won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.

“He rewrote the rulebook, forging a synthesis of black funk and white rock that served as a blueprint for cutting-edge music in the Eighties. Prince made dance music that rocked and rock music that had a bristling, funky backbone. From the beginning, Prince and his music were androgynous, sly, sexy and provocative. His colorful image and revolutionary music made Prince a figure comparable in paradigm-shifting impact to Little Richard, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and George Clinton,” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2004.

Since the news broke of his passing, there has been an outpouring of love and grief. Minnesota Public Radio reporter Andrea Swensson, who was among dozens who gathered at Prince’s estate after hearing of a death, remarked that “even the journalists are hugging each other,” and President Obama also weighed in.

“Today, the world lost a creative icon.,” the President said. “Michelle and I join millions of fans from around the world in mourning the sudden death of Prince. Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly or touched quite so many people with their talent. As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock ‘n’ roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer. ‘A strong spirit transcends rules,’ Prince once said — and nobody’s spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his band, and all who loved him.”

After his sudden passing, fellow musicians have taken to Twitter to collectively mourn.

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Prince Rogers Nelson was born and raised in Minneapolis. While he was just 19 when he released his first album For You in 1978, it was the release of 1999 in 1982 that made him a superstar.

But it was Purple Rain, along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, that defined a generation in the ‘80s.

The 1984 classic featured a string of hit singles including “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” and sold more than 13 million copies, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. It also won Prince an Oscar for Best Soundtrack for the movie “Purple Rain,” which was loosely based on his life in Minneapolis.

Prince played the lead role of “The Kid,” and the movie featured his band the Revolution, which included guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardists Matt Fink and Lisa Coleman, bassist Brown Mark and drummer Bobby Z.

Wendy and Lisa released this statement via Facebook:

“We are completely shocked and devastated by the sudden loss of our brother, artist and friend, Prince. Thank you to all the fans and supporters for your endless love, and for making such big dreams come true. We offer our love, support, and condolences to our extended family, friends and all fans of our sweet Prince.”

In addition to being known as one of the greatest musicians of all time, The Purple One also took on the music industry in the early ’90 during a contract dispute with his label Warner Bros. It was then that he became the “Love Symbol,” or, more commonly, “the artist formerly known as Prince.” Often appearing with the word “slave” written on his cheek, he gave the following statement at the time:

“The first step I have taken toward the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. . . I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros. . . I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about.”

After he was freed from his contract in 1999, he became Prince again in 2000.

Rest in Power, Prince.

Prince Dead at 57 originally published at Reverb on April 21, 2016

The Music of Nina Simone and Her Powerful, Beautiful Blackness

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Everybody is talking about High Priestess of Soul Nina Simone right now, but for all the wrong reasons.

Last month, the trailer for “Nina,” a biopic centered on a difficult part of the legend’s life, was released and all hell broke loose. Instead of honoring one of the most iconic black women musicians in American history, the film is instead mired in controversy over the casting of lightskinned actor Zoe Saldana as Simone.

“There are many Nina Simone fans and critics who have been looking for a public way to affirm her contribution to American culture and to the black freedom struggle because she’s been largely unrecognized,” says Daphne Brooks, a professor of African American Studies at Yale and a Nina Simone scholar. “To finally have that realized through this project seems to really disregard the politics of Nina’s very overt engagement with the politics of race and radical thinking around blackness.”

The trailer, featuring Saldana sporting a bad make-up job and a prosthetic nose, has Simone fans outraged. Not only have the filmmakers been accused of basically putting Saldana in blackface, Nina’s daughter Simone Kelly blames them for several inaccuracies. The biggest one, she says, is the misrepresentation of her mother’s relationship with her manager, Clifton Henderson.

“The project has been tainted from the very beginning,” she told CNN. “Clearly, it is not the truth about my mother’s life, and everyone now knows that.”

However, the fury and frustration around “Nina,” which hits theaters this Friday, throws a spotlight on larger and more uncomfortable questions of race and gender in Hollywood and in American culture. In a way, having these high-profile conversations in the mainstream (even The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates penned a column) is a fitting tribute to a woman whose blackness and preoccupation with racial justice profoundly informed her career in both public and private ways.

Strong Enough to Take the Pain

Simone rose to popularity in the late ‘50s and ‘60s when “girl groups” reigned supreme. Nina Simone didn’t look like Diana Ross, the kind of black female singer white audiences were willing to embrace. Her dark skin, wide nose and full lips were features disparaged everywhere – including the black community.

“We all have a story. My mother suffered. We can go all the way back to when she was a child and people told her her nose was too big, her skin was too dark, her lips were too wide,” Simone Kelly told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s very important the world acknowledges my mother was a classical musician whose dreams were not realized because of racism.”

But Simone’s story does not end there. To fans and black women across generations, she is a hero, a goddess. Her avant-garde elegance and grace defied conventions of beauty and flipped a middle finger to those who didn’t recognize it.

The Education of Nina Simone

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone started playing piano when she was three years old. Her mother was a preacher, so she began to play at church revival meetings at an early age. By the time she was seven, white music teacher Muriel Mazzanovich, who had heard Simone play at church, took a special interest in the little black girl who lived across the tracks. Mazzanovich began giving her classical piano lessons and eventually established a fund, putting together recitals to showcase Simone’s astounding talent.

With money from the Eunice Waymon Fund, Simone attended Juilliard School of Music for a year and a half. When the money ran out, she applied to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. “I knew I was good enough, but they turned me down,” Simone later recalled. “And it took me about six months to realize that it was because I was black.”

It was then that Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone. To earn enough money to continue her classical piano education, she needed a side hustle. So Simone began playing at jazz clubs and changed her name so her pious mother wouldn’t find out.

Simone soon cultivated an impressive fan base and within a few years had a record deal. Her first major hit came in 1958 with an interpretation of “I Loves You Porgy” from George Gershwin’s musical Porgy and Bess. Simone used her voice to convey deep emotions – her distinctive, rich baritone sounded like no other – and her classical musical training was evident in hits like “Trouble in Mind” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”

While she had explicitly avoided addressing the politics of race in her music, by the time the ‘60s rolled around, Simone felt compelled to take a stand. She had befriended members of the black intelligentsia, including Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin and Stokely Carmichael, who weren’t afraid to comment on the deep-rooted racism in Jim Crow-era America.

“Mississippi Goddam” was her response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four black girls. While the Supreme’s Diana Ross was asking “Where Did Our Love Go” in 1964, Simone was boldly telling white audiences “Oh but this whole country is full of lies/ You’re all gonna die and die like flies/ I don’t trust you anymore.” The song was banned in several southern states, and radio stations across the country stopped playing her music, returning boxes of the records cracked in half.

Writer and activist Dick Gregory calls out Simone’s courage in the Netflix documentary “What Happened Miss Simone,” which was released last year. “There’s something about a woman. If you look at all the suffering that black folks went through, not one black man would dare say, ‘Mississippi, Goddam,’ and then to have someone with her stature talking about your problems, you know how happy they had to be,” he said.

Simone as Civil Rights Activist

Performing civil rights anthems like “Mississippi Goddam,” “Four Women,” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” gave Simone the reputation as the go-to for protest songs. She crossed police lines with black activists and performed “Mississippi Goddam” in front of 10,000 people at one of the Selma to Montgomery marches.

“It was very exhilarating to be a part of that movement at the time because I was needed,” she said in an interview featured in the Netflix documentary. “I could sing to help my people. And that became the mainstay of my life – not classical piano, not classical music and not even popular music, but civil rights music.”

Lord Have Mercy on this Land of Mine

But the inclusion of racial politics in her music took its toll. Soon Simone had trouble getting gigs in front of white audiences. Disillusioned, she fled to Barbados in 1970. Her career plunged into obscurity. It wasn’t until 1987 that she experienced somewhat of a resurgence with the re-release of her 1958 recording of “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” which was used in a British television commercial for Chanel No. 5 perfume.

What would Nina say about the controversy surrounding her biopic? After all, as Coates points out, “… there is something deeply shameful — and hurtful — in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic.” We don’t know, but her daughter Simone Kelly, who is also an actor and singer, says Saldana shouldn’t be the recipient of disappointed fans’ anger.

“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” she recently told Time. “It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”

She added: “There are many superb actresses of color who could more adequately represent my mother and could bring her to the screen with the proper script, the proper team and a sense of wanting to bring the truth of my mother’s journey to the masses. And ‘Nina,’ in my opinion, doesn’t do any of that.”

Yale’s Brooks says the controversy exemplifies the need to include more diverse perspectives in Hollywood. The team behind “Nina” is almost all white, according to Jezebel.

“We need to demand that filmmakers telling our stories are invested in and really well-versed in black history and black feminist theory,” she says. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a woman of color filmmaker, although that’s absolutely necessary. But at the very least we need filmmakers who understand that study on these topics is necessary before even engaging in such a project.”

The Music of Nina Simone and Her Powerful, Beautiful Blackness was originally published at Reverb on April 18, 2016.

Our New Best Place

Before moving into Matt Carmichael’s former house earlier this month, my husband and I had lived in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood for almost 15 years; it was our perfect place. We bought our Logan Square two-bedroom, one-bath condo in 2006 at the height of the real-estate bubble, unfortunately. Like a lot of young Americans in their early 30s who had just bought their first piece of property, the housing bust caused us to lose the little wealth we had accumulated. But we loved where we lived, and that lessened the sting a great bit.

And what’s not to love? Our adorable condo was a mere three blocks from the Blue Line (public transit) station and just a 15-minute commute into downtown, where we both worked. I love to cook and eat good food, and in recent years, a burgeoning gourmet scene down the street is what Bon Appétit now calls Chicago’s new restaurant row. I value eating locally and organically, and the co-op at the end of my block and the Sunday farmers market made that not only possible but also easy to do. When we first bought our apartment, we weren’t married.

Then life changed. We got married in 2008 and shortly thereafter had a son. While our living quarters were more cramped, we still liked living in our little Logan Square gem. We strolled along the wide and beautiful boulevards with our baby in tow; there were at least three great parks in walking distance. We found a good home day care provider who was already taking care of my 1-year-old niece and was located just a hop, skip and a jump away. But now, when we had only driven our car on the weekends, in the interest of saving time we drove our son to day care every day even though it was only about six blocks away. We didn’t sweat it, though, because the other end of the Blue Line train station was across the street from the babysitter, and it was still a convenient commute.

However, that organic meat-share I picked up from the farmers market every other month just wasn’t cutting it, and the astronomical prices of the co-op were not an option. While the neighborhood had a mix of bodegas and chichi locavore co-ops, it didn’t have a big grocery store. So we drove to one every weekend. But we persevered – we were in our perfect place.   Then life changed again. Our daughter was born and our 3-year-old son was now ready to begin preschool. What’s more, I changed jobs and was now working from home. Our two-bedroom was no longer livable. Even though we loved it, we realized we needed more space.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

So we began the hunt for a house. The first decision we had to make was where to look. Immediately, we narrowed to Logan Square – we wanted to stay in our neighborhood. Like most well-heeled young parents in Chicago, though, the thought of navigating the lottery-based Chicago Public School system had us second-guessing our decision. Logan Square has one decent elementary school, and we did not live in its district. The school across the street from our apartment was rated as below-average, and we didn’t want to send our kids there. So we narrowed further to the area surrounding the one good school in the neighborhood. Only problem was the houses were crazy-expensive there and we just couldn’t afford it. We were being priced out of the neighborhood that we’d helped to gentrify.

We did the unthinkable and started considering the suburbs. We struck out the far-flung ones like Naperville and the like straightaway and landed on Evanston and Oak Park. There are many good reasons to live in those suburbs. They are more city-like and racially diverse than others, they have excellent schools and even the restaurants are pretty good. But as a born-and-bred Chicagoan, I couldn’t do it – those places just aren’t my city. Plus, as city-like as those suburbs are, they are still suburbs.

My husband, who grew up in multiple suburbs, hates them. The one he hates the most is Overland Park, Kan., where he spent his middle and high school years and is incidentally on Livability.com’s list of best places to raise kids. He hated it because it wasn’t diverse – and not just in its racial makeup. It was, according to him, so homogenous that it made it hard for a kid like him who wasn’t a jock, who liked punk and ska, and whose family wasn’t conservative, to thrive.

We greatly value being able to raise our mixed-race kids in a city like Chicago, which has both urban culture AND urban diversity. But was our children’s education more important than our love of Chicago? I attended very good magnet schools here that were located about an hour’s drive away from my home. Would my kids test into schools like that and, most important, did I really want that for them? We thought long and hard and decided we wanted to invest in our city. Most middle-class people with kids our age flee to the suburbs, citing the poor academic performance of CPS.

For me, it’s more complicated. There are many examples of urban families here banding together to improve neighborhood schools both for their own children and disadvantaged neighborhood children. There are all kinds of communities to be had in a city, and we are in for the long haul. And then we found our perfect house, Matt’s former home. It is perfect for every reason he listed in his blog post. While he didn’t send his daughter to the neighborhood school, it is known for being a very good area school. And it’s in walking distance. And only 12 blocks away from our former hood. But best of all, it’s just a few blocks from my sister and her family. And now my children have a big backyard to play in with their cousins. We couldn’t be happier.

Our New Best Place was originally published at Livability.com on June 24, 2014

B2B Buyer Personas Gain Positive Boost With Technology

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While persona marketing is not a new concept, rapid advances in marketing technology are enabling B2B marketers to breathe new life into their persona marketing initiatives.

“I learned the importance of buyer personas in my career at Caterpillar back 15 years ago, but they were tough to implement,” said Peter Garza, VP of the Demand Generation Center of Excellence at MedAssets, a provider of healthcare services and products. “Back then it was hard to prove that persona marketing was the right thing to do. It was a lot harder to create content specific to your buyer personas, so it was really difficult to deliver a story where the benefit/cost ratio could be justified. With the technology we now have, we can definitely boost conversions and show ROI as a result of those efforts.”

Marketing technology from a variety of vendors gives B2B marketers the tools to make sense out of both internal and third-party data, as well as unite quantitative behavioral data with such qualitative data as first-person customer interviews. As a result, B2B marketers gain much deeper insights into their buyer personas and are able to deliver more personalized and relevant customer experiences.

“A lot of marketers see personas as a way to get a ‘holistic’ view of their customers, but it’s a little bit more discrete than that,” said Adele Revella, founder of the Buyer Persona Institute. “We’re building personas to get new insight into something that matters to the buyers during this buying decision.”

Technology also provides marketers the ability to “operationalize” personas by making it easier to keep them current and embed them into other systems to target the right buyers, according to Jeff Freund, CEO of Akoonu, which provides a platform that helps marketers create and maintain buyer personas, journey maps and content planning.“How do you bring them to life? How do you really activate them across the sales and marketing organization to get the value out of them,” Freund said. “This includes things like integrating your personas into your sales and marketing systems. Going into your CRM and identifying the persona match for the leads and the contacts there, having that be part of how you report on your marketing effectiveness and efficiency. Now, there’s a process around the maintenance of personas, keeping them up-to-date and keeping them current with emerging market trends.”

Bridging The Sales And Marketing Gap

MedAssets’ Garza said before the company decided last year to focus on buyer personas, and overhaul its marketing technology infrastructure, it was “doing everything wrong.” The marketing and sales teams were not aligned, giving MedAssets little visibility into prospects’ progress in their buying journey.

So with the help of The Pedowitz Group, the company took a multichannel approach, cleaned up its data, crafted multiple buyer personas and tapped Marketo to be the central platform hub to help manage its different campaigns and touch points.

The new plan led to the creation of more than 110 pieces of pain-point-driven content — including white papers, case studies, infographics, videos and executive briefs — tailored for targeted personas across three stages of the buyer’s journey.

“We tripled the amount of leads and opportunities because the quality of our content was so much better,” Garza said. “The nice thing about using a buyer persona with the right technology is that you’re not only engaging better, but you’re engaging with the right folks. How do we add value, how do we effectively communicate and how can we, as a company, meet our customers’ needs? That’s really what it boils down to.”

While creating and leveraging buyer personas is just one peg in MedAssets strategy, it has been a critical one. The company has been able to increase its top line revenue from demand generation by almost 700% in less than a year. With personas created, buyer journeys defined and corresponding content aligned, MedAssets went from delivering ongoing reactionary email blasts to a more strategic multichannel inbound/outbound approach.

“We’ve had phenomenal results with persona-based marketing,” Garza said. “Without it, quite frankly, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The persona-based experience is the fuel for our demand-gen engine.”

Realizing Value Beyond The Marketing Department

Stephanie Fox, Senior Director of Marketing at Copyright Clearance Center, a provider of copyright licensing services, said working with persona marketing tech company Cintellenabled her to “break the personas out of the marketing department” with buy-in from top executives.

“Our CEO is really embracing it and saying as we transform our business to a tech company, let’s make sure that every person from top-to-bottom in the company knows and understands these personas,” Fox noted. “So we’re both expanding the number of personas that we need to communicate to as marketers and as sellers, but also we’re undertaking a company-wide transformation to bring personas to everybody.”

Persona marketing was not new at CCC. But previously, Fox said buyer personas “lived in these little Power Points that would get lost on our ancient fileserver,” which meant they were rarely updated and no one ever used them. But now, Cintell has updated those personas and embedded them in the company’s intranet to make them available to all CCC employees — everyone from marketing and sales to operations and engineering.

“While the product managers will continue to be the experts on the market and the customer and the customer needs, engineering is going to gain a better understanding of the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ Why is this a priority feature over that,” Fox said.

Fox is taking a three-phase approach with the Cintell integration. Now that employees have access to the new buyer personas, the next phase is integration with Salesforce and after that comes Pardot integration. While only the first phase is complete, the sales team has already boosted lead-gen efforts and is working much more collaboratively with marketing.

“Sales is providing a lot of really rich feedback and allowing us to update the personas on an ongoing basis,” she said. “Some of our newer sales reps are also much more successful than some traditional salespeople at CCC. Because they’re expanding the number of people they’re reaching with this new persona information, the legacy folks are starting to realize, ‘Huh. These guys might be on to something.’”

B2B Buyer Personas Gain Positive Boost With Technology was originally published at Demand Gen Report on April 13, 2016.