As the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other Black men and women sparked nationwide protests against systemic racism this summer, a number of women, White women specifically, began reaching out to Khalilah Burt Gaston to check in on how she was doing.
They were reaching out to apologize for past microaggressions and how to be a better ally, she recalls.
“I was just really conflicted during that time because there were a lot of emotions. And I didn't necessarily know how to have those conversations or what's the best timing was for them,” says Burt Gaston, who lives in Arden Park and is the founder of consulting agency Glidepath Strategies.
Then one night at 4 a.m. she posted on Facebook to see if there were women in Metro Detroit who wanted to have this dialogue and the response was overwhelming. She was hoping for five conversations and ended up with a list of 160 emails of women who were ready to make time and space for these discussions.
Modeled after the national Share the Mic Now campaign that launched in June, the Detroit initiative kicked off Monday, Aug. 17 and runs until Aug. 26, featuring pairs of Black and White women in discussions that center the experiences of Black women in the current moment we're living in as well as explore how race and gender shape personal and professional experiences.
The first talk featured Palencia Mobley, deputy director and chief engineer at the City of Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department, and Amy Jane Sayre, a senior program manager at Amazon. Mobley shared her experiences of not just being a Black woman but a plus-sized Black woman, and the talk between the two focused a lot on body positivity. Mobley also talked about maintaining authenticity in the work environment and showing up as your true self. A colleague recently reached out to comment on how she maintains authenticity at work, and that was “a blessing,” Mobley told Sayre.
“I feel like there's no better time than the present than what we're in right now to truly show all of who we are,” Mobley said. “For me, that has been the blessing that has allowed us to change from a professional standpoint, and how we interact with customers in the city … I can talk to customers about the most complex things related to their water and sewer system and break it down in terms they understand because I understand them, because I am them.”
She added: “I think being able to show up as myself, a proud Detroiter, a proud Black woman, a proud engineer, a University of Michigan graduate, a Wayne State graduate, a DPS graduate — all of that allows me to connect and present my full self and have the connections with customers and with people in the city. That’s what's important about showing up in your authentic self and doing things that are purpose-driven and mission fulfilled.”
The goal of the conversations, Burt Gaston says, is to show that people have a responsibility to the next generation. Parents play a key role in how their children think about race, and in the series of conversations, she says many of the women share stories about how grandparents, parents, and other adults in their lives introduced them to the concept of race, both positive and negative.
“And so I hope that people hear that and then understand their responsibilities a little bit more clearly, and understand the weight of that responsibility as we are raising and shaping and entering the next generation.”
Upcoming speakers include Pamela Hilliard Owens, founder and CEO of Detroit Ink Publishing, and Jill Ferrari, managing partner of Renovare Development; Denitra Gregory, founder of Unforgettable YOU, and Shelley Danner, founding program director of Challenge Detroit; Lauren Hood, program director of New Detroit, and Lisa Nuszkowski, founder and executive director of MoGo Detroit Bike Share; and more.
For more information on upcoming speakers and to listen to the conversations, go to Share the Mic Now Detroit’s Facebook page.