ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR News) – Roanoke Community leaders hosted a special panel Monday called black faces in white places. It was about helping African Americans create a positive legacy in the workplace.
It was put on by a community organization called, The Bell Effect in partnership with the Grandin Theatre Foundation.
President and CEO of The Bell Effect, Ryan Bell started off the event with a keynote speech about what the experience may be like for an African American in the workplace.
Then it opened up to the panel to discuss their experiences and offer guidance and strategies for navigating the workplace as a person of color. The panelists shared their experiences being people Black faces in White places and they’re hoping to help others to feel more comfortable in places where they may be the minority.
Growing up in Roanoke, Bell says he didn’t come to the Grandin Theatre that often.
“The time we only came over here was if we had a game against P.H. We would come over here for that, but other than that, we didn’t really visit the area and a lot of that was due to what we were told over time,” Bell said.
He says it’s a place black people historically may not have felt comfortable or welcomed coming to.
Executive Director for the theater foundation Ian Fortier says that working to fix that and make the theater a cultural community center.
“It’s important for us not to just be one dimensional in entertainment and showing films, but also to host events that have important conversations about things that are relevant in our community, especially relationship and community building,” said Fortier.
Fortier says it’s their goal to have more inclusion and they are working with Ryan who is now a board member.
“We both come to the same subject matter from different directions which is helpful because that’s how you build bridges in your community,” said Fortier.
Bell wants this program to help show minorities that all places in Roanoke are for everyone.
“My hope with this particular program, and with the mission of the Grandin Theatre to become a cultural community center, is to begin to bridge those gaps, begin to bring people together from all different walks of life, from all different ethnicities, all different backgrounds and from all areas of Roanoke,” said Bell.
Roanoke native Vincent Pierson was on the panel talking about his background and time as a diversity inclusion advocate.
“So it’s great that this is an event happening on this side of town. I think if we can bring more of our community over and see and feel welcome here that can plant a seed for a lot of good things,” said Pierson.
“Just to bring my own experiences and what I’ve seen through my career. But also, advice on things I would have done differently. So for any young people in the audience, when I was 15 or 20 or 25 sitting in your seat getting into these things, what I wish I would have known then.”
It was all knowledge that people like Eboni Harrington were grateful for.
“It not only puts it on our radar of what’s taking place around us, but it also addresses trauma or things that we may have went through or are going through, and to discover possible solutions or ways to cope or work through them,” Harrington said.
Bell says this is their first of these community conversations in Roanoke and they hope to host one every once a quarter.