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28.02.2022 By Rebecca K. Roussell, SVP, DEI Communications

My Ancestors Dreamed Big.

Powerful smiling Black woman stood in front of mural of Ruby Bridges.

I’m often humbled every time the calendars flip to February. For some, it’s just another month, but for me it’s personal. Very personal.

I’ve learned about the importance and significance of Black History Month my entire life. I chose to honor Harriet Tubman in the first grade, by dressing up as her and presenting about her life for a school program. As a Black girl attending a high school where myself and others were the minority (in numbers, but not spirit), we celebrated as my friend was elected the first Black Senior Class President in the school’s history. It was 2002. I then went on to graduate from Dillard University, an HBCU, where Black History Month wasn’t just celebrated during February, but year-round.

But after graduating from the comfortable security of my experience at an HBCU, I must admit that I was concerned about how I should and could show-up in the ‘real world.’ I have always been a vibrant, excited extrovert … a people person. An extremely confident go-getter, and if told ‘no,’ driven to prove whoever didn’t believe in me wrong. So, when I landed my first corporate job and was again the ‘minority’ like I had been in high school, it was a bit jarring.

I found myself holding back. I was 25 years old, a Black woman, and held a director-level communications role. If you ask the hiring manager, she knows I was hesitant to take on the role because I wasn’t sure if I could do this job, fresh out of graduate school. But I did. And did it well. And for the first time, I learned the term diversity, equity, and inclusion. I thought to myself, ‘Wow! I knew that I was different from others because of the color of my skin, but I didn’t know there was a term for that in corporate America.’

I remember having a chat with a former colleague, who wanted to know more about DEI. He explained to me that he did not see color. I gently pushed back and said to him, ‘But if you don’t see my color, you are not seeing me. In fact, you are refusing to acknowledge a very important part of my story and who I am.’

From then on, I made it a point to make sure people knew that I was, indeed, a Black woman. I have been unapologetic about it ever since. It’s how I show up. And I am good at my job, and my being Black and a woman is not a hinderance but a superpower.

Today, I am grateful for a workplace who sees me and understands my value. And one that appreciates who I show up as. One that is inclusive. And continues to work daily on getting better.

Growing up in New Orleans meant that I not only had a rich cultural upbringing, but also exposure to some of the most important moments in our nation’s Black History. In the photo above, I am standing in front of a mural painted in honor of Ruby Bridges. At 6 years old, she became the first African American to integrate a school in 1960. I’m wearing a shirt that reads ‘As Strong as The Woman Next to Me’ which is by Kalilah Wright, the Black woman business owner behind Mess In a Bottle (Mess is short for ‘message’), a t-shirt brand based in Baltimore. And my photo was taken by my college friend Calvin Gavion, who is now a nationally known Black wedding photographer. This is one of my favorite photos. I was very intentional about celebrating Black history and creatives – even to the makeup! Look at that smile!!

I have another t-shirt purchased from Studio BE, an art Gallery in New Orleans, that says ‘I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams.’ This is one of my favorite shirts because it reminds me of the insurmountable sacrifices and relentless determination of people who came before me. My ancestors endured so much so that you can see this Rebecca today. I am so happy they dreamed so big. I take those dreams with me with every step I take, every story I tell, and every day I take a breath. Their hopes, aspirations, and perseverance constantly light a fire in me. And for that, I am grateful.

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