ANNOUNCING OBERCHANGE: Centering #BlackLivesMatter within Diversity Initiatives.

December 17, 2020

ANNOUNCING OBERCHANGE: Centering #BlackLivesMatter within Diversity Initiatives.

Coco Brown

The civic unrest in 2020 brought to light a global discourse on the brutalization of Black people and Communities of Color in the U.S. These issues are buried much deeper than any hour-long, workplace DEI curriculum could hope to impact. As such, industry leaders and their agencies must dedicate themselves to the long-term study of systematic oppressions, class, power and privilege in the U.S.. 

So, as a majority white company founded by two cishetero white men, how do we reframe how we, as an agency, think, act, speak and react to issues of racism and equality, as well as other causes that matter to us? How do we build a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program that is current and relevant? And, what does Accountability really look like for a corporation?  

Our approach: We created OBERCHANGE, an employee-led DEI program fully funded by the agency and designed to educate employees, create greater awareness, and drive action in an effort to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive agency environment. We center initiatives around the voices and experiences of Black folx. We emphasize political education. We pay activists working on the ground for their hard fought wisdom. We listen to Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous People of Color (QTBIPOC) and honor them for their labor- we do not take anyone for granted.

Let’s get clear about our process: 

  • Most DEI programs are treated as infotainment. This is not that. As an agency, we are designing a political education curriculum with local activists, scholars and mutual aid leaders working on the ground here in NYC. There is homework and the expectation to show up prepared for our workshops so that our team leaves each workshop with new knowledge and new perspective. 
  • We are not hiring “consultants.” We are building relationships with experts working in our community to impact change. We are working with those most affected, folx who continue to take the very real risks of organizing our world towards social justice. We work with people that we know and we are forging long-term relationships with them. This is essential and means that our curriculum is custom for our OBERLAND team. It is important that our facilitators and experts know us and that we know them. We are then accountable in the long-run for honoring our commitment in doing this work together. 
  • None of this work is about pardoning anyone for their individual acts of racism. Nor can any of it make up for the daily experiences of BIPOC folx. We must move beyond the question of IF we participate in racism and rather consider HOW we participate (and benefit) from racism. We must decenter whiteness and instead center Black Liberation within this work known as DEI.

We are lucky that OBERLAND is a small agency of twenty-six, purpose minded creatives. We are lucky because our team is big enough to hold a multiplicity of experiences, intersecting across geographies and languages, class, gender and power. Yet, we are small enough that we can actually know each other in meaningful ways. 

You see, DEI work is incredibly personal and, I would argue, it is essential not just to surviving as a company, but also to the survival of real human lives.  It is the minimum that corporations can do to show up for their workers, consumers, and the communities who make the things that we use in our daily lives. Our work is both individual and collective, our fates interwoven, even when our shackles are very different.

OBERCHANGE is not a program created for optics. We are being intentional about how we share our process. We are not here to virtue signal and we are sharing with you here mostly for accountability purposes. Our team is planning our program curriculum for 2021 and we are excited to deepen our connection and accountability to this work.

If you want to learn more about this work, who we are working with and how we are doing it, please reach out to us! 

The 2021 program leads are Coco Brown (Operations), Davianne Harris (Strategy), Deb Wolf (Account) and Emily Templeton (HR). 

Photo by Elsa Dorfman

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. [...] And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained.” -Audre Lorde, On the Uses of Anger (1981)

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