Every October the UK marks Black History Month, a month-long occasion that aims to amplify the contributions of those with African and Caribbean heritage in British society and provide an understanding of Black history.
This year, VMLY&R Roots UK (Racial Equity ERG) hosted 5 internal events that sparked discussion, highlighted pertinent societal issues, and nurtured joy and wellness within our community. We take a look back on what was an impactful month of initiatives, passionately delivered by our Roots community and collaborators to keep driving our mission – to cultivate safe spaces for ethnic minority employees, foster education, and achieve better representation in the advertising industry and beyond – forward.
We kicked off with a sensational Soca’Robics dance class inspired by Carnival, followed a few weeks later by a lunchtime Smile & Wine dance class that lifted many spirits. Both were delivered by the renowned performing arts company, AQ Arts London.
A vulnerable conversation around Black Maternity in the UK was held in collaboration with Embrace ERG for working parents and carers. This centred around the Black Maternity Scandal Dispatches documentary and featured a panel with Black employees from our agency and an NHS midwife from our partner charity, Tommy’s. In our discussion, we recognised the disproportionate outcomes for Black birthers, and the subsequent need for more empathy, targeted policy, and culturally sensitive care.
In a keynote talk on Mental Health in Black Communities delivered by DEI agency, Belovd, antiracism educator Jess Mally delved into how history, lived experiences, and oppressive systems come together to create racial and collective trauma, and what needs to be done to drive change and nurture safer spaces in and around the workplace.
Our final event was Activism in Advertising, an insightful interview with Yasmin Benoit, award-winning asexual activist, model, writer, and speaker. In this lunchtime talk organised in partnership with VMLY&R Plus (LGBTQ+ ERG), agency staff came away with so many learnings around ace people's experiences, and what ace-inclusive collaborations and meaningful representation in advertising should look like.
Our month-long initiatives extended beyond events.
In a mental health-themed newsletter written with our HR team to mark World Mental Health Day, we shared readings, resources, and other recommendations that were by, for, or in service to people from the Black community. We added mental health books to our office library, amplifying the expertise of Black authors and professionals, and hosted a ‘Roots Recommends’ section of our agency newsletter that spotlighted amazing Black businesses and products each Friday of the month.
To date, we continue to raise money for our chosen charity, The Sickle Cell Society, the only national charity in the UK that supports and represents people affected by Sickle Cell Disorder.
“During Black History Month 2022, Roots curated many meaningful moments for us to learn, unlearn, tap into wellness, and spark action in service of Black communities in and around our agency and WPP network. We grappled with pertinent topics through an intersectional lens to bring underrepresented yet important issues to the forefront of debate. We all have a role to play in advocating for transformative change. It is with sincere thanks to the dedication of our chairs, Rinu and Marsha, our Roots community, external guests, partner ERGs, and event facilitators that worked with us so passionately to bring each activation to life with meaning." Debbie Ellison, Executive Sponsor of Roots and Global Chief Digital Officer, VMLY&R COMMERCE
With lots more to come beyond Black History Month, Roots are excited to continue activating around important cultural moments for our communities and driving initiatives that foster racial equity, inclusion, and belonging.