Dr Kerry Mitchell Brown of ‘kmb’: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society
An Interview With Tyler Gallagher
Racial Equality Should Inform Everything That Your Company Does. Whatever the organization or the organization’s leader believes to be the most important thing of focus; racial equality should be just as important. If making money is the company’s top priority, then racial equity needs to be right up there with making money. It should not be secondary to the rest of the work, it should BE the work, centering the experiences of the people that are always the most impacted and we know that black and brown people are the ones that are the most impacted.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown.
In 2018, Cultural Architect Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown, for her clients, created a Racial Equity Sustainability mantra ‘Don’t overestimate your ability to change others and don’t underestimate your ability to change.’
Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown is the Founder/CEO of kmb, but most of all, she is an Equity Strategist and Cultural Architect. Her background in organizational development and social justice advocacy is the foundation for her work with individuals, organizations, and corporations. Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown has specialized expertise in evaluating and executing holistic cultural change in organizations focused on realizing sustainable transformation through strategic interventions. With social justice issues dominating our news feeds and impacting the way individuals and consumers view and engage with organizations, Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown’s strategic skill set and expertise are in great demand. Maintaining a neutral stance on issues of race and equity is no longer an option for organizations focused on optimizing their public image, internal culture, and overall profitability. Get to know kmb and get to work on refining your organization’s social justice lens and optimizing productivity.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up smack in the midwest, Omaha Nebraska, also known as middle country — the daughter of two amazing parents and a slew of extended family. I was fairly sheltered and loved and we had strong values surrounding education. We also lived a short distance from The Malcolm X House site located at 3448 Pinkney Street in North Omaha, Nebraska, which marks the place where Malcolm X first lived with his family. I did not understand the significance of being shaped by this as a youngster, but later, I would come to.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There was a book that I came across when I was completing my dissertation research while at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It served as an important point of reference while on my journey of rediscovering black womanhood. The book was full of images, icons and ideologies about the African woman and the African body, none of which I had ever seen before. It addressed the concept of black womanness, leadership and of the roles that those women played in their communities alongside their success. This book about black women began to reshape my perception of how intricate, queenly and varied black women were and the idea was further consolidated after attending an event hosted by Renee Cox. Cox had just delivered a piece of black feminism and it struck with me as compelling how much she was willing to challenge the conventional tropes about black womanhood which typically positioned black women as mistresses or mammies.
From this conversation, I continued to question stereotypes about black women. Explorations of contemporary art have focused on issues of identity and race for some time. Few, however, have sought to investigate these themes by juxtaposing historical and contemporary frameworks. Black Womanhood examines an especially charged icon―the black female body―and contemporary artists’ interventions upon historical images of black women as exotic Others, erotic fantasies, and supermaternal Mammies. The work provided the fuel I needed to finish my dissertation.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Never underestimate your ability to change and never underestimate your ability to change others. It was a hard lesson that I learned as an adult and especially as a parent, trying desperately to encourage and convince my kids to do things that I wanted them to do. From this, I learned that you cannot force anyone to do anything but you yourself can change. In the work that I do, I encourage people to interrogate who they are and how they interact with others. I challenge them to reexamine their belief systems about who people are and what they believe — also inviting them to change long-held perceptions about black people and particularly about black women.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership for me includes not attaching oneself to the outcome but rather, to enjoy the process of change as it occurs. I have perfected a practice of divesting myself from the outcome so that I can be fully present in the process for the moment. I no longer want to be so attached to the end that I have lost the joy of experiencing the journey. It is better than performative leadership, which favors moving through a set of actions to elicit an outcome, rather than to be present for the moments themselves. The landmark confirmation of Judge Jackson celebrates years of campaigning being done for and by Black women in the fight for racial equity in the nation’s highest court.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I take time out to do meditation and to ground myself. I tell myself that everything I have done, is to prepare me for this moment.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. In the summer of 2020, the United States faced a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on what made the events of 2020 different from racial reckonings in the past?
The global pandemic that felt like it was never going to end. We were receiving constant information, imperfect information, the craziness of the 2020 election and the uncertainty and the racist attacks of that election cycle, were constant. The struggle for dignity and respect and human rights showed up in every aspect of human life. Meanwhile, people have been dying at alarming rates. We were all sitting at home glued to our TVs, taking in the news, and there was so much disruption to normal life. Because of these reasons, people began paying attention in ways that they never had before. This in a way was different from the past. It could no longer be ignored. If you had your head in the sand, it meant something about you. It said something about you that most people would not want to be said. To be called a racist isn’t complimentary. If you sent a signal it meant immediately that you were on a different side. It felt physically uncomfortable for folks at the table and even in families. After doing racial organizational development work for over 20 years, my firm kmb, was ready to leap into action after the civil unrest of George Floyd and Breona Taylor’s death; I set out to help ensure that organizations, who were ready, created sustainable strategies around combating racism inequality, long-term.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
We could actually see the things that people were saying about oppression were real. We could internalize that people were struggling, how hard things were, how brutal things were, we bore witness to that. Everybody could see. It was a Pandora’s Box that could not again be closed. I had been doing this work for a long time, it had not always been DEI (Diversity and Inclusion), but what I can say, is that I have been doing work that promotes full humanity and basic human needs and inspiring attention towards people having a sense of belonging and understanding that regardless of where you fit inside the organization, that your contributions are valued. If you are having a conversation about inclusion, you have to have a discussion about the people who have been excluded and come to terms with why as well talk to the people who have benefited from being included. Thinking about the initiatives, do they take you further away or do they bring you closer to the goal of ensuring everyone belongs? We find that organizations stick around longer term when they monitor and pay more attention to that.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Judge Jackson being nominated and confirmed to this lifetime appointment is just the beginning of how organizations can sustain their support. “Black women have faced — and continue to face — these dual walls at the intersections of race and gender and the related disparities around all aspects of life — opportunity, income, healthcare, education, housing, etc. Yet we continue to move ahead with clarity, conviction, and commitment to the ushering in of a better future. Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historical nomination as the first Black woman Supreme Court justice nomination is inspiring as it signals that we are on the cusp of moving closer to justice yet while we share our pride in this moment, the confirmation hearings were hard to watch. The public dehumanization and harassment on display have become normalized. Everything but the actual requirements to reach this pinnacle of American law; credentials, qualifications, legal acumen; were interrogated. We’ve been glued to our televisions, sitting in solidarity, taking it, being stoic because we know and feel the unspoken nature of what is playing out. The reality is that Black women can’t push back in the way that others can and have. It is important to have diverse teams so that companies do not fall into groupthink and that they do not fall into this stagnant feeling that happens when people are glum and downtrodden. Homogeny is boring and lacks innovation. Racism exists and organizations who espouse to eradicate structural racism, do better overall. They have greater profitability and impact.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Partner with a Professional Oftentimes, organizations will appoint people from within their organization; someone who is passionate with good intentions and ideas but they are not professionals in this racial equality space. Partnering with a racial equity firm or professional requires both intention and attention.
- Racial Equality Should Inform Everything That Your Company Does. Whatever the organization or the organization’s leader believes to be the most important thing of focus; racial equality should be just as important. If making money is the company’s top priority, then racial equity needs to be right up there with making money. It should not be secondary to the rest of the work, it should BE the work, centering the experiences of the people that are always the most impacted and we know that black and brown people are the ones that are the most impacted.
- Disrupt the Process of Belittling and Demeaning Black Women. You cannot be a by-stander, you cannot standby and watch someone cause harm to a Black woman. What we witnessed during the confirmation of Judge Jackson was hard to watch, the dismantling and disrespect of a Black woman at her highest career point before the world to see. When I say “disrupt,’ what I mean in practice is disrupting the belittling and the picking apart of black women. Because this happens in the workplace of all sectors of industry to Black women, the behavior has to be disrupted by white women, by white men and those in leadership positions who normalizes it.
- Embrace full humanity. Love for self and others is the way forward. There is also something to be said around integrity. As I saw how things played out in the Supreme Court nominations, being trusted and reliable became currency even in the face of alternative facts. This culture of repelling facts and people not owning their mistakes is such a degenerate side of society. It is always important to be accountable for our mistakes. This piece around grace and consideration for others, goes better with love and stands in stark opposition to belittling, discounting or demeaning black women.
- Be authentic. The thing about authenticity is not what marketers want to sell you. Authenticity is synonymous when what you think, say and do are cut from the same cloth. This is critical to becoming a viable brand. This thing around integrity still gnaws at me when I see a racist person. As I saw how things played out, being honest, trustworthy and reliable is critical for decency and growth.
We are going through a rough period now. What makes you optimistic about the future of the US? Can you please explain?
I am an optimist by nature and this is my country. I am inspired by the young people who are impatient to achieve change. We have to remain optimistic, otherwise what are we fighting for? Anarchy depends on apathy. This is our future.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
My woman crush right now is Ketanji Brown Jackson, she really is black woman gold right now! Despite the heartbreak that many of us felt surrounding the way she was treated, still does not make the occasion any less sweet. I want my friends and all my allies to recall these memories #blackwomengoals. The future of black girls is here and to the future, I say thank you.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!