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Diversity and Inclusion

CEO Kevin Johnson: Black History Month is over, now what?

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Editor's note: For Black History Month, we’re highlighting Black perspectives, and sharing stories from Black Googlers, partners, and culture shapers from across Canada. Kevin Johnson is the CEO of GroupM Canada.

I’m confident that most Black people would agree that their relationship with Black History Month is complicated.

On the one hand, a huge part of me loves Black History Month.

This is a great opportunity to shine a light on the Black community's stories, experiences, and accomplishments that we don’t see or hear enough about.

It’s an opportunity to celebrate internally as a community, embracing our Black identity. But more than that, celebrate externally, beyond the walls of our community - in the media, across corporate Canada, and the greater Canadian population. There is pride and empowerment that comes from that overt, public acknowledgment of the uniqueness of the Black experience.

And importantly, having time dedicated to that celebration and elevating issues related to the Black experience triggers much-needed conversations about racism and equity.

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At the same time, I am cynical about Black History Month.

February is the shortest month of the year, and we fill it with 12 months of material. Every day for 28/29 days, prominent Black executives and personalities are booked solid, organizations lean into their DEI programming and planning, and give space and platforms for critically important conversations and storytelling. This month is filled with talk of much-needed change motivated by good intentions that leave a bubble of hope in their wake. But come March 1st, calendars flip to the next milestone in the queue, and suddenly it feels like everyone was just checking a box.

These are complicated, contradictory feelings to sit with. I often think, "What if we didn't have Black History Month? Would we find the time for these conversations? And would the commitments made during BHM that do come to fruition ever happen otherwise?" and I'm not sure that they would. I don't think we are there yet.

So that is the mission in my eyes. To make the most of every opportunity that Black History Month brings my way and use that to extend the conversation and reach of the message – to new communities and into further months. Until one day, Black History Month becomes a time focussed exclusively on celebrating our identity and stories of our experience and not about the work still needed in our fight for equality, equity and inclusivity because that work will be done.

Between now and then, I implore those organizations who are leaning in to ensure that their planning isn’t just for activation during Black History Month more for a long-term strategy to tackle equity and diversity on an ongoing basis.