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‘Hidden Figures’ of Public Relations Honored at Black History Exhibit and Panel Discussion

February 20th, 2017 · No Comments

  • “It’s too bad we never learned about her [Inez Kaiser] in school.”  Sad emoji

  • “Really though.  I guess I’ll have to do my own research especially if I want to learn about someone in my field that looks like me.”  Questioning Emoji

By Kevin O. Agyakwa

It was those comments above by two African-American young women from a college in Pennsylvania, both PR majors, that prompted Baruch College professor and the founder of the Museum of Public Relations Shelley Spector to do something about it.

“That just blew me away because that was just the kind of peephole into these students lives and that’s how they feel. I am also a professor of history and I know that these textbooks don’t include any African-American PR professionals. I had to do something about it,” said Spector.

The event was both historic and powerful. When we think of Black History we often forget the communications field and in particular, the public relations profession. As an aspiring PR pro, I often wondered where our place was in the history of this profession. In our classes and in our textbooks, we often learn about Bernays, Lee and not about Inez Kaiser, Ofield Dukes, and Pat Tobin.

These three individuals thrived in an era where they were segregated due to the color of their skin and had to be three times better than their counterparts just to get half of what they got.

For Burson-Marsteller Worldwide Vice Chair & Chief Client Officer Patrick Ford the event was bigger than just PR. “When I think about great communicators and great persuaders in American history, its way beyond just one industry. I think of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Mya Angelou and Barack Obama,” said Ford.

During the event, some of PR’s “Hidden Figures” Ms. Inez Kaizer and Mr. Ofield Dukes were honored. For Rick Kaizer, the son of Inez Kaizer, the night was special.

“Being a woman and being a woman of color, she faced a lot of obstacles, but she was the kind of person that never took no for an answer. That was always a beginning point for her to make something happen. The fact that she is being honored tonight is very special to me and the family,” said Kaizer.

For Roxy Victorian, the daughter of Ofield Dukes, the night was inspiring. “My dad loved unconditionally. He was passionate about Public Relations, social justice, Civil Rights, academics and providing an alternative to negative stereotypes and images presented within the African-American community,” Said Victorian.

Roxy Victorian speaking to the attendees at the Black PR History Panel at Edelman New York.  Photo credit: Kevin O. Agyakwa

Roxy Victorian speaking at the Black PR History Panel at Edelman NY.
Photo/story credit: Kevin O. Agyakwa/S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

If anything, the evening was a reminder that we belong and we are just as valuable to the profession just like our counterparts. We matter.

To say that this was overdue is an understatement, however, I am thankful that The Museum of Public Relations brought to light for all Black & Brown kids studying PR, our Heroes.

If anything, the event in the midst of the snowstorm, metaphorically represents the ability that we as African-Americans have to continuously overcome any obstacles thrown our way.

Some may worry that this is a “One & Done” However, the museum has since decided to make this an annual event.

In summary, after hearing the panel, I know we are in great hands and it’s on us to keep the legacy of these “Hidden Figures” alive and well.

Dr. Rochelle L. Ford and Shelley Spector (center) with several students, both past and present, from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University at PR Museum event. Photo credit: Barry Spector/Museum of Public Relations

Dr. Rochelle L. Ford and Shelley Spector (center) with several students, both past and present, from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University at PR Museum event.
Photo credit: Barry Spector/Museum of Public Relations

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Tags: Advice from a Pro · Future Leaders · Guest Post

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