A year ago, Downtown, like many companies, issued a formal statement expressing our solidarity with the Black community. We issued that statement as part of our public support for and participation in #TheShowMustBePaused, an initiative led by two young Black music industry executives, Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas. Their efforts were the cornerstone of the broader collective action now referred to as Blackout Tuesday. This public action came about in response to the public demonstrations across the U.S. and the world calling for an end to police violence that has long targeted Black people and Black communities and accountability for not only those responsible for the death of George Floyd, but those responsible for the murders of Breyonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black citizens.
As we collectively mark the first anniversary of #TheShowMustBePaused and Blackout Tuesday, we wanted to discuss publicly for the first time some of the work we have been doing at Downtown to address systemic racism and inequities.
During the last year, we’ve taken on a number of initiatives designed to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) within Downtown. We’ve established internal training programs for all employees and people managers focused on understanding identity, unconscious bias, and inclusive hiring practices, among others. We developed an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program and policies, and now have three very active ERGs with members across all Downtown companies. In partnership with our first ever ERG, Black Power in Music (BPM), we made financial donations to nine different not-for-profit organizations focused on a variety of issues whose work directly impacts Black communities, ranging from U.S. voter equality to youth music education.
We’ve continued our work as one of the founding organizations supporting Sound Thinking NYC, a free program for New York City public high school students designed to address gender and racial equity in the music industry by expanding access to opportunities for the next generation of industry leaders. We created Downtown Summer School, to provide anyone—regardless of geography, background, or experience—an opportunity to learn more about the music business. We welcomed our first ever virtual internship cohort for Fall 2020/Spring 2021, which further opened up internship opportunities to a diverse range of candidates. Additionally, we initiated a full review and analysis of pay equity for our business units. Though that detailed and complex work is still underway, once complete we’ll have comprehensive guidelines to ensure there is standardization of salaries and titles across the entire organization. We also produce and share quarterly updates internally to document our progress on DE&I initiatives and ensure accountability.
As noted above, one of the most important developments following Blackout Tuesday was the formation of Black Power in Music. BPM’s advocacy has been powerful and transformational. With a formal membership now comprising more than 30 employees from across all Downtown-owned companies, BPM has partnered with various internal teams and external organizations to successfully champion a number of important initiatives. Some highlights of BPM’s many contributions include:
Recruitment and Hiring
- Successfully advocated for updates to internship programs to ensure all internships are paid across Downtown companies;
- Initiated and partnered with Downtown’s People Team to establish recruitment outreach to Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU), as well as local and state public universities, and local to ensure a more diverse talent pipeline for both internships and full-time roles;
- Offered and facilitated distribution of laptops when needed for students participating in Downtown’s 2020/2021 virtual internship program;
- Sponsored and produced Downtown’s first-ever Volunteer Week highlighting six non-profit organizations and facilitating volunteer opportunities for employees around the world;
- Organized a volunteer letter writing campaign through Vote by Mail in Jail to help incarcerated eligible voters ahead of the 2020 US general election;
Programming and Events
- Established the BPM speaker series, which have to date featured sessions with Shani Tran and other experts, as well as, music industry executives Melanie Santa-Rosa, and Shani Gonzales;
- Established the BPM Book club, a regular community discussion about books focused on the Black experience;
- Developed and launched a Black Excellence and Wellness initiative with dedicated programming focused on entrepreneurship and mental health issues.
We are grateful and proud of the leadership demonstrated by BPM. We’re also proud of the work we’ve done to date collectively within Downtown, but we know that we still have plenty left to do in 2021 and beyond. As an organization, Downtown must continue to foster a strong pipeline of diverse talent in partnership with BPM and other ERGs. We need to establish better pathways for professional development for Black employees, among others, to help increase diversity within senior roles. Though we have passionate advocates in our ranks along side highly engaged ERGs, we also know that we need to continue to invest in DE&I moving forward, including examining in-house resources and expertise to ensure we can create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace across all of our business units.
The work to dismantle systemic racism is not passive. It is not accomplished with a social media post or a single check. While those actions can be helpful, the work to end systemic racism and all forms of oppression and injustice is an active pursuit. It is our hope that this honest inventory of what Downtown has accomplished so far in our journey and where we’ve fallen short will serve to further hold us accountable as we continue to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive Downtown.