Parker Leads Community Discussion on Communications and Social Justice

Community Engagement; Diversity; Policy; Social Work

On January 20, 2018, Gary Parker, Associate Dean of External Affairs and Director of the Clark-Fox Policy Institute at the Brown School, moderated a panel discussion hosted by the Community Service Public Relations Council (CSPRC) titled Aligning Our Work with Action: Communicating During Times of Unrest and Uncertainty.

The panel, which took place at 6pm at the Missouri History Museum, included:

  • Yemi Akande-Bartsch, President & CEO of FOCUS St. Louis
  • Ernest E. Garrett III, Executive Director of DEAF Inc.
  • Mary Rachel Gould, Associate Professor of Communication at Saint Louis University and Director of the Saint Louis University Prison Program
  • Amy Hunter, Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

Parker led the group through a conversation addressing racial disparities in the region, how nonprofits and other organizations can address these issues and connect with their audiences, and how communications professionals might rethink their roles in light of today’s social justice challenges.

The panelists were direct with the audience, challenging them to bring new ideas back to their organizations. Hunter told the crowd that “We as a community have to decide to do something different,” challenging complacency and calling out the racism and privilege that exist in our region.

Garrett also had some takeaways for the crowd, encouraging them to consider all kinds of diversity when planning “safe spaces” and events, noting that words like “engagement” are empty when not backed up by even simple but important steps, including a budget for interpreters so that deaf attendees can participate.

The panelists also gave some communications-focused advice to the audience during a Q&A session. They suggested tactics such as listening sessions and clear top-down messaging during major events erupt in the external community to help set a tone and expectation.

Parker also advised that, “Discussions on racism should not be solely driven by our colleagues and friends of color. As white people, it is incumbent upon us to use our privilege to advance social justice and racial equity.”

The panel offered some actionable advice to the attendees, recommended building a foundation of trust with their core advocates and audience. They also suggested planning ahead and creating a strategy in advance, so that organizations will be heard, will understand how/whether to participate in these conversations going forward, and can be prepared to do so in a way that not only engages audiences but drives conversations in a productive way.