Flash Drive Diversity
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as
though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or
figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.” ― Ralph Ellison, "Invisible Man"
Several years ago, I was attending a Black History month event sponsored by the Jesse Owens Foundation where Ken Burns, the brilliant and
prolific producer of such films as Baseball, Jazz, Prohibition and Civil War was the keynote speaker. Burns is a small, wiry and intense man with a
palpable charm. His speaking style is simple and direct. Nothing he says seems outrageous or contrived. I was riveted by Mr. Burns’ storytelling
and straightforward discussion of the many cultural contributions African Americans have made to this country. And, as Burns put it, recognition of
these amazing contributions is celebrated every year in February—"the shortest and coldest month of the year."
While Black History month has lost a lot of its historical and educational value, it has gained in commercial appeal. Fortune 500 companies
routinely recognize the month in their print, radio and television advertising. ESPN, the giant and ubiquitous sports network, sprinkles its
broadcasts with references and vignettes of Black sports firsts — from grainy old photographs of men in leather helmets to cloudy black and white
film of Jackie Robinson to faded color video of Hank Aaron.
Most predictable are the many corporate entities that transform their workplaces with black art exhibits and alter the menus in the employee
cafeteria to include soul food — usually fried chicken, corn bread, down home macaroni & cheese along with some collard greens and, of course,
the obligatory ‘red velvet cake’ for dessert. The corporate headquarters recognizes, at least for 28 or 29 days, that African Americans are an integral
part of American society. Everybody is asked to be culturally sensitive for a month.
By Kwame Salter
The best description I have ever heard of how corporate America
handles Black History Month came from the brilliant and incisive
Dr. Samuel Betances, a thought leader on diversity in the
workplace. During a Black History Month lecture at my company,
he told the audience how impressed he was with the Afro-centric
artwork that lined the corridors or were arranged on easels in our
corporate headquarters. However, he went on to wager that by the
close of business on the last day of February, the custodial staff
would be busy taking the pictures off easels and posters off the
Betances called the process of sprucing the building up for Black
History Month floppy disk diversity. Today, I would call it flash drive
diversity. Betances felt that how a building was artistically
decorated before and after “Black History Month” represented the
hard drive of the organization. It is easy to take a preloaded flash
drive and put it into the USB port to do a diversity slideshow. What’
s more challenging is to attract, hire and retain employees who
will bring real life diversity to the organization.