With 500 communicators of color at this week’s ColorComm in Key Biscayne and 4,000 black journalists heading to Aventura in August, Miami’s inglorious history of discounting black business would seem well past. But the city still has a long way to go, said local attendees at this week’s conference.
“We’re still not there. It’s very discouraging, to say the least,” said Jessica Garrett Modkins, executive director of the Miami chapter of ColorComm, a business community for female communications professionals.
Modkins, who runs Hip Rock Star Advertising, said she often sees workers of color paid “substantially less.” Black business owners still often win fewer contracts than residents of other races, she said.
This month marks 29 years since attorney H.T. Smith called on black businesses nationwide to boycott Miami following the city’s decision to rescind a proclamation honoring South African leader Nelson Mandela. The civil rights leader visited Miami in 1990, shortly after his release from prison, but angered the Cuban-American community by voicing support for Mohammar Gadhafi, Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro on national TV.
The boycott ended after 1,000 days, costing Miami millions of dollars in convention and tourism business. The ban was lifted after local civic and government leaders agreed to better government representation for minorities, expanded participation in the county’s tourism industry and the opening of a black-owned, convention-quality hotel in Miami Beach.
When the National Association of Black Journalists convenes in Aventura in August, it will be its first visit to the city since 1987. This summer marks ColorComm’s fifth Miami convention.
For attendees at this week’s conference, the knowledge and connections that come from ColorComm build bridges and confidence that help them fight discrimination.
Marquesteea Murphy, a Boca Raton-based digital marketer, said she’s inspired by the professional women around her. “To see how far they’ve gotten — it’s like, I know I can get that far as well,” she said.
Networking is a key to the ColorComm gathering, said ColorComm Associate Marketing Manager, Ebony Jones. This year’s program — including speeches by TV journalist Ann Curry and executives from Johnson Publishing, MTV, BET Networks, Burger King, Telemundo and Univision — was designed to help attendees set them themselves up for future career success.
Sessions included strategies for cultivating new business, storytelling, negotiation, media pitching and dealing with the pay gap. For women of color who have to work “twice as hard” to get to the same place as their white male peers, “equal pay is not enough,” said Twitter executive Dalana Brand during a Wednesday session. “It’s not enough to ask for equal pay for somebody who didn’t have to work as hard as you. You need to ask for commensurate pay, commensurate to your skills, your backgrounds, your experience and your education.”
Such active approaches square with Modkins’ own view.
“We can’t be discouraged,” she said. “We have to continue to press ahead because at the end of the day, if you’re not pressing ahead, what does that mean? Nothing is going to get done if you’re not going to continue to fight it.”