By Stefanie Tomlin and Eboni Wilson
2020 has been a year of landmines. In February, a young Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was murdered while jogging in Georgia. We watched him get shot over and over on the news. Next, a worldwide pandemic hit. So, in March, we braced for what some thought would be a short shutdown of our businesses and social lives due to a novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. That same month, we heard about a young Black woman who was killed in her home by police. Though, the story of Breonna Taylor’s murder was given very little credence or attention by those outside of the Black community until May when we watched the life drain from George Floyd’s body for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as he called out for his mother, who had already preceded him in death. Next, we watched strangers, friends, our companies, and other corporations nation-wide stumble through recognizing the value of Black lives publicly for the first time. We were called upon to use our Black voices as shields, as resources, as tools, and as currency. 2020 has been a year of landmines.
So, when we reached out to our IAVM family in May, we were overwhelmed and looking for community and support as we navigated through the minefield. We were looking for information and different perspectives on shared experiences. We were looking for solutions. We were looking for a safe harbor. At a time when we were being asked to be a resource, we were looking for resources at IAVM, and there were none that were tailored for us. So, we did what we always do, we made one for ourselves.
Community matters. We know that because we feel it at every conference, on every zoom call, at every VMS. We say to ourselves, “These are my people. My venue people. My Ops people. My (insert industry sector) people!” We celebrate when we get together. We feel understood. But, underrepresented populations within IAVM have to put in an extra layer of effort in these rooms. Sometimes, that effort is working to offset conscious or unconscious biases that we experience or that we have with non-BIPOC counterparts. Sometimes, it’s dealing with micro-aggressions. Sometimes, it’s navigating patriarchy and sexism. Sometimes it’s the simple fact that our traumas are not taken into account in the workplace. To that end, there’s a lack of formalized communities within which we can commiserate with people who have had proximity to things we’ve been through. Beyond representation, it’s about having a group of people that understand what it’s like to be on the outskirts. It’s important to have a space where you don’t have to code-switch, you can let your guard down, you can be raw and not feel judged. It’s a space where you can talk about your specific intersectionality. We are building a space where we can lay our armor down at the door and get to the business of how we show up as our best selves and do our best work.
Right now, it’s more important than ever to perform at a high level professionally. Community helps to facilitate that effort. To that end, reached out to the Diversity and Inclusive Leadership Committee regarding the creation of a Resource Group. Today we are speaking as Black women and venue professionals, so we started with the Black Resource Group. We know that there are other communities that are underserved in IAVM for whom we cannot speak, so we thought it prudent to expand our scope and co-found the Minority Resources Group as an umbrella for any group that self-identifies as underserved. Some cannot choose how they show up in the world, and that is why it’s important to empower people to find community themselves within the IAVM ecosystem.
The purpose of this group is to be a catalyst within IAVM and the industry at large. Our goal is to replace barriers with bridges and break glass ceilings by gathering and discussing the ways in which we can empower the underrepresented groups within the industry. We will utilize the insights from this group to become change agents for ourselves and create needed change throughout our industry. It is also our sincere desire to create a safe space for these groups and create a community that will lend its voice within the entertainment industry. This Friday, July 31 at 4:30 pm eastern, we will be holding our first-ever Black Resource Group meeting via Zoom. If you identify as BIPOC, we hope you will join us. If you have any questions, we hope you will reach out to us directly. We love questions.
We’re very grateful for all of the support we’ve received so far from our allies within IAVM. We hope that others are inspired to let their voices be heard and will consider joining the Minority Resources Group to found a safe space of your own. We’ll be here to let you know what we learn as we navigate this new venture.
Stefanie Tomlin is General Manager of Kings Theatre, an Ambassador Theatre Group venue, in Brooklyn, New York, and Eboni Wilson is Director, Guest Services, MGM Resorts, in Las Vegas, Nevada.