Special Message from PRSA-NY President
Thursday, August 23, 2018
Sharon D. Fenster
Dear Friends and Colleagues of PRSA-NY,
Reflecting on the fact that August is Diversity in Public Relations Month brings to mind a flood of memories along with an explanation of why I am such a fierce proponent of diversity and inclusion in the PR world.
One of those memories happened when I went to a nonprofit camp designed for kids from financially stressed homes. It was called Camp Sussex and it was, you guessed it, in Sussex, New Jersey. There I made friends with Becky—a 9-year-old Black girl from Harlem. We bonded immediately and stuck together like glue during our two-week sojourn. She was the only child of color in my bunk and I was the only fat girl. Our differences from the rest of the kids is what brought us together. During that time, we both experienced discrimination—her because of her color and me because of my size.
After camp was over we stayed in touch by writing to each other. Yes, that’s right—we actually wrote letters way back then in ancient history! It became apparent to me that even though I had come from a poor home that Becky had not had my educational advantages. Her letters contained misspelled words with poor grammar. But I didn’t care about that. It just made me sad to know that even in poverty I was still better off than this lovely girl I had become so fond of.
But that was not the first time I learned what it was like to be marginalized. In fact, being the fattest kid in the whole public school that I attended—PS 215 in Brooklyn—made it more than apparent to me what it means to be made to feel less than what you are. Merciless teasing and more. And again, I bonded with the only Black children in the school. They were twins and in my first-grade class and also teased like me.
There were many more situations that I had--both as a Jew and as someone who is bipolar. There was and still is a stigma attached to both—depending on the circles you travel in. That brings us to today and hopefully all this may shed some light on why I am so adamant about the need for diversity in our field.
And with all that, I can still only imagine what it must be like to be a person of color or differently-abled or LGBTQ or some other minority. If nothing else, please try to picture yourself in a situation where your work is exceptional and yet you still find yourself overlooked for job opportunities, promotions, raises and more. Where the words of your colleagues sometimes make you cringe due to a lack of consciousness, ignorance or malice on their part.
So as August draws to a close, I hope you will think about some of my experiences and how they match up to some of yours. Each of us has had the experience of feeling less valued than others. Each of you certainly can relate. Try to walk in the shoes of discrimination and keep it top-of-mind the next time you decide about your office colleagues, when you are interviewing someone or reviewing them. You’ll feel better for it, I promise you.