This is the first post in a series in which LGA will interview community leaders and discuss their journeys with racial justice and equity in an effort to learn from and alongside our fellow Charlotteans. These interviews will be edited for clarity and brevity.
Dr. Monique Perry-Graves acknowledges she had a solid foundation from the beginning. She was born into a middle-class family to married, college-educated parents in the Raleigh-Durham area. Despite becoming pregnant as she was graduating high school, she continued to pursue her education and earned a degree in communications and English at North Carolina Central University.
After beginning her career in corporate communications, a mentor said she had a gift for connecting with people and suggested she look into teaching. She took a position teaching night classes at ECPI in Concord, N.C., and – as they say – the rest is history.
Since beginning her tenure at York Technical College in 2010, Monique has risen from faculty member to director of strategic communications and marketing and public information officer to her current leadership role of associate vice president of enrollment management and campus operating officer. She also serves on the board of directors at Florence Crittenton Services and Junior League of Charlotte, and on the advisory councils for The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and North Carolina Central University.
We sat down with Monique to talk all things social and racial justice through her lenses as an African American woman and mother, marketing and communications professional, and higher education administrator.
When did you decide to advocate for racial justice and equity causes?
My approach to leadership has always been through service, in that I’ve always tried to use my position(s) to make things better for everyone whether that’s advocating for equity in gender, race, class or another qualifier. In my journey, I’ve been fortunate to build a platform and reputation that has allowed me to have conversations about sometimes uncomfortable subjects – like race. Being a mom to an African American son, coupled with all that’s gone on in the conversation on race, I feel like it has just become my responsibility to speak up and hopefully encourage others to do the same.
What kind of RJE work are you most passionate about?
Everyone needs to do their part. For example, I’m able to influence the systems in education based on my profession, but it’s important we have people of all types doing this work to effect change at the systemic level. For example, you need people in government who can create and support policies and hold people accountable; you need people in corporate settings who can advocate for change within their own company and drive discussions and expectations in their industries; and you need people from a social justice perspective that are going to continue to peacefully bring awareness of uncomfortable issues to the surface.
What is your biggest personal and professional victory related to RJE to date?
Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, has said, “Justice is a continuum,” and I really believe that. There are successes I’ve had in creating more equitable practices or serving as a diverse voice in the room when it comes to making decisions that impact a large group of people. Both the organization I lead and community groups where I serve are more diverse than ever and really represent our community. That foundation was established by leaders above me but gave me the springboard to step in and do the work.
What is your short-term goal and long-term hope for the future?
Sometimes there are events that people can’t look away from, and the events of last summer definitely fall into that category. It’s those status quo-altering moments when people can no longer deny there is an issue that leads to elevated levels of consciousness. We need to maintain an urgency for truth and progress even when it seems hard, and we’re tired. Maintaining that momentum even in times without a direct catalyst is a short-term goal of all who fight for justice.
But in the long-term we can’t approach these larger changes with an attitude of scarcity, but rather with a mindset of progress and addition. For example, McKinsey & Company published a study that showed that if society closed the wealth gap between white and Black families, the U.S. GDP could be 4-6% higher by 2028. If we really want to live up to what our community and nation can be for everyone, we have to make significant changes that cannot be looked at as though we’re taking from someone to give to someone else. We must invest in these issues and the people that need opportunities. A rising tide raises ALL ships.
What role do you think marketers and communicators should play in these issues? What about educators?
It’s important for companies to take a stand. Period.
There are issues that you can be neutral on, but racial justice and equity issues aren’t among them.
- Marketers and communicators should help their companies and clients put together a thoughtful plan for how the organization will act.
- This action plan MUST go beyond simply a statement or performative gesture.
- Additionally, words and images are very powerful, so marketers should be sure the teams putting together campaigns are representative so the right voices are at the table to provide the best counsel.
- With this, you must also create an environment of psychological safety where team members who are in a minority feel comfortable speaking up, so you can truly realize the benefit of a diverse team.
- Education is also critical to solving these issues. It’s easier to prevent a problem than to fix it. We have to invest in systems that help create the same environment for everyone, so children are on the right trajectory from the outset.
- We must also invest monetarily into providing access and opportunity to underrepresented groups that do not benefit from privilege. Invest in opportunities that provide access like careers, training, fellowships – and invest in minority-owned businesses as well.
How would you challenge our agency to continue to act on our RJE mission?
The real change is what’s happening on the inside – changing hearts and the way we work. Those that are in a position of power and privilege have a responsibility to walk alongside and amplify their voices to our common goal.
LGA should change the attitudes, processes, structure, etc. that it has the ability to impact, because those are the types of actions that promote the level of progress that we all need to see. Continue with your urgency and stay the course. There are going to be hard conversations and challenges, but don’t grow weary. This didn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t going to change quickly, but people realizing the necessity to do the work and making the commitment to actually make the change is what will contribute to progress.