Black History Month (BHM), also known as African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing their experiences and contributions. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Censys honored the month with events organized by the DandIE Committee, a group of volunteer employees who are champions for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Censys.
The programming included a live listening and discussion of New York Times’ The 1619 Podcast, a film club discussing High On The Hog, a book club around W.E.B DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk, as well as presentations about the life and work of Virgil Abloh and bell hooks.
Before kicking off a Celebration Month, Jasmine Burns, VP of People and Culture, begins by ensuring the organization’s commitment and “making sure we are putting together thoughtful programming that finds a balance between celebrating, honoring, and learning,” Jasmine shared. “Equally important is ensuring we have the sufficient leads for all of the programming — making sure it doesn’t fall on one person, also being mindful of tokenism and activating our employees outside of that identity group to support — including leadership. Studies have shown that’s when the most progress is made and inclusive cultures are built, and we are no exception to that.”
Pivotal to this work is authentic engagement. Jasmine highlighted that “People support a world they create, and as soon as we vote yes on the month or cause – all I have to do is provide the freedom within a framework, and the work and impact that comes out of these is really incredible.”
Within the DandIE committee, Howard Bowens III, Enterprise Account Development Representative, took the lead on organizing the month’s initiatives. The framework and trust Jasmine provided was striking. He shared, “It was a great experience for me to have some decision making ability and learn how to lead an initiative; to work with others to accomplish a common goal. I’ve been at places where you have ideas, and people at the organization try to convince you to water stuff down, but here that hasn’t been the case. It was great for my vision to be fully supported and not modified to make the majority feel more comfortable. It’s empowered me.”
Lorne Groe, CFO/COO, was a key support to Howard as he organized the month. About his experience co-leading the month with Howard, Lorne shared: “I wanted to volunteer to help out on BHM because honoring the rich history of, and understanding / acknowledging the reality of racism towards African Americans past and present is important to me. I love history and especially when presented through film and documentary, so I was really excited to facilitate a group discussion about High on the Hog,” a documentary series on Netflix about African food and its influence on modern cuisine.
The events were chosen in an effort to facilitate opportunities for employees to learn about the experiences of Black Americans throughout time to create a foundation for productive conversations within the workplace. As Howard described, “Sometimes we try to keep things in a workplace box as if people aren’t affected by many different things within the greater world.”
As such, the programming intentionally leveraged different formats and mediums and went beyond celebrating to ignite important conversations. As Jasmine described, “Celebrations feel good and can shine light on certain identities, but they don’t move the needle when it comes to the progress we need to make around diversity and inclusion. Not only do we aim to accommodate different learning styles and time commitments (we are a startup after all), but we facilitate authentic dialogue about previous marginalization or oppression and systemic failures impacting our communities and therefore employees today. Lastly, we must create the space for us to grow together as an organization. Within this space, it is imperative you allow employees who identify with the month’s cause to share their experiences.”
Censys employees shared that honoring Black History Month provided strong opportunities for learning, as well as facilitated team bonding and built trust between co-workers.
Maya Ziv of our Engineering Team shared, “It was so special to celebrate the countless ways Black voices and culture are so foundational to America as we know it today. I learned a TON about everything from music to fashion to food to feminism – such lovely opportunities to have during the work day!”
As Kristin Houghtaling in Revenue Operations put it, “I really enjoyed the 1619 podcast event. It was great to take a break from work and walk while listening – this helped me to really absorb what I was listening to. The conversation during the podcast over Slack and live discussion afterwards was amazing as well. I’m so thankful that our company supported time in the work day for education and discussion surrounding Black History Month, and I know the events/initiatives won’t stop here.”
Rachel Benson of Marketing agreed that The 1619 Podcast was a highlight: “I LOVED listening to the music episode of 1619 with the group. It was really fun to share other music suggestions and experiences with colleagues.”
The DandIE committee as a whole is a highlight of many Censys employees’ experiences. As Jasmine describes, “It is so much more than a group of people that talk about surface level topics and what colors to change the logo for certain causes. It is a dedicated group where caring is the core and works extra hours outside of their day jobs to make sure we are walking the walk. When an employee feels like something has gone sideways, or can’t focus because of a current event impacting their identity, or has an idea on how we can try to recruit underrepresented talent, they go to DandIE.”
Howard reflected on his personal experience: “The DandIE committee has been an amazing and reassuring experience for me at Censys. I really feel comfortable saying how I feel, and I have connected with other people on the committee who have similar passions. Having a lot of people who genuinely care about other people has been inspiring, and I know every time I go to DandIE meeting, we will have a conversation that makes me feel even more motivated to contribute overall at work.”
“Every day I see the DandIE committee making our organization better: more empathetic, more informed, more inclusive, and better allies,” added Jasmine. “I see intersectionality in the making. I see us reaching our business goals because we inherently believe representation matters and inclusion is the only way we win.”