July 7, 2020
Much like May’s tribute to now retiree and long-time United Way champion Angela Dabney, our feature for July is also the first of its kind: a dual ‘journal’ entry from two teammates who identify as racially Black and ethnically African American, but represent two different generations and journeys we can all take a lesson from. Charlicia (Lisa) Talley, Marketing’s executive assistant and Allen Bell, Community Impact’s visual storyteller, gave us a glimpse of how they ended up at United Way, to what they hope others take from their lived experiences.
As for us, we hope Lisa and Allen’s voices reverberate throughout your personal equity journey as powerfully as they’ve done for ours. Because while this year could be coined many tragic, devastating things, it also carries capacity for people everywhere to address, acknowledge, and act.
The Strength of Black Woman
My name is Charlicia Talley. I landed in Indianapolis 30 years ago from Gary, Indiana. That was also around the time I changed my name from Charlicia to Lisa because most people couldn’t pronounce my name – and I was tired of people constantly mispronouncing it. But people mispronouncing my name was just the beginning of many things that I was tired of.
In 2014, my son and I were devasted and traumatized after losing almost everything in a house fire. Imagine while having a conversation with your teenage son you begin smelling smoke, then scrambling to put out a sporadic fire that started in the sofa only to run out of your apartment with minimal belongings and clothing in the middle of a midwestern winter.
Even though this experience set us back, it also set us up…for a comeback. We were not left alone to endure such a tragedy. In fact, the American Red Cross and our community showed up for us by providing shoes and clothing to wear and offered us a place to live. After getting back on my feet, I wanted to work for an organization where I could give back to the community. Three years later, I joined United Way of Central Indiana and this year will mark three years with the organization.
Recently, United Way began conversations surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. For me, these conversations have been beneficial. Many of my white colleagues have reached out to support me. While I appreciate the calls, concerns, and efforts being made, I must admit I am exhausted. I have had conversations about racial inequity more than I’ve wanted to, because I don’t get the option to stop thinking or talking about racism.
As a Black woman in her late 40’s in 2020, I struggle with trying to fit into a pre-judged society. As a parent of a young Black male in today’s times, I must remain strong for him as we both carry the burden of possible daily encounters of racism. I wonder where we would be if there were not cell phones to capture the experiences some of us witness regularly.
My race and culture embrace triumphs. Despite the struggles that come with being a Black woman, I recognize I am also fearfully and wonderfully made. People of color have made lasting contributions on the lives of various other cultures and industries, from music and entertainment to sports and intellectual design as creators and inventors.
Being a Black woman is beautiful. I love the skin I’m in and I love the way my Black looks on me.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint!
My name is Allen Bell. I’ve been with United Way for almost a full year and I joined the organization to make content that shines a light on the work that United Way is doing in hopes to increase awareness and accessibility for folks in the community to receive services.
My journey begins and ends with identity. Who am I? Am I comfortable being me? Where can I be me? These questions not only represent who I am, but it will also signify the legacy of who I was. That said, when I think about my equity journey, I break it down into three categories: parenthood, personal life, and professional life. I think about how my upbringing and my race intersects, blends and bleeds in between those three phases of my life.
At the end of last year, I went to see the Broadway musical, Hamilton. The musical was amazing, but what I noticed after the performance was life changing. If you pay attention during the musical, you become more aware of the history of this country and its founding fathers.
If you’re not familiar with Hamilton, the play depicts life in times of Alexander Hamilton and some of the other forefathers of our country, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Sam Adams to name a few. What makes Hamilton unique is it takes a story from our history books and tells it through the sonics of hip hop, with each of the characters being played by a person of color. It sounds like it wouldn’t work – but it does. The musical was so captivating, that I came home and shared it with my nine-year-old son. We began to listen to the soundtrack over and over and looked up performances on YouTube. In doing so, my son for the first time realized that these historical figures were being played by people of color.
Not before long, my son paused the video, grabbed the sides of his head, looked at me and said:
“Wait a minute…are you telling me George Washington was Black?” with the proudest, most confused look on his face.
I froze for a split second and responded with, “No, he wasn’t.”
“What about Thomas Jefferson?” he inquired further.
“Well no, he wasn’t either,” I responded once again. When I reaffirmed for him almost everyone in play was white in real life but played people of color, he followed up once more.
“Then where were all the Black people?”
And when I had to respond with yet another painful truth, I was reminded of how tough these conversations are as parent and realized they are unavoidable even in moments that are supposed to be cheerful.
“Most of the Black people at that time in America were slaves,” I said, watching the little bit of pride he felt when he thought George Washington might have been Black slip away. Despite the difficulty of these critical moments, I have to make sure he understands history without leaving these conversations feeling inferior. Because the reality is these moments don’t stop and they can potentially happen to him throughout his life, similar to how they reoccur for me.
Like for instance, when I was in the sixth grade, and a lady called the police on me for walking around one of my friends’ neighborhoods with a disposable camera, thinking I was canvasing the area. Or when I realized my home state of Florida houses Florida State University, a predominantly white institution and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a historically Black college. Or going to play football at Iowa State University and realizing why the stadium was named after Jack Trice, its first African-American football player. Jack Trice died after his first game against the University of Minnesota because he was being targeted during the entire game, and was so badly injured he died once the game was over.
In these moments, I find the essence of what it means to be Black in America. It’s finding pride in being a part of a legacy that has had to overcome slavery. It’s being proud every time I have a birthday I was able to avoid death or jail. It’s the sadness of knowing what folks had to go through in this country to obtain freedom, civil rights, and to matter.