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In honor of Black History Month, we’re here to celebrate and shed light on the Black Excellence at Benefits Data Trust (BDT). In 2019, the fabric of BDT was forever changed when two Black women leaders — Shakena Lum-Cox and Alvania Boone — formalized their networking, mentoring, and community service efforts into a collective community and employee resource group (ERG) called In Living Color (ILC).
While BDT’s culture has always been broadly inclusive and welcoming, the experiences of Black employees are shared and vastly different — ILC was formed to retain and promote the development of high performing Black employees, promote cultural awareness, and sustain a truly diverse and inclusive work environment. Some of our major accomplishments have brought about positive changes both inside the organization and for families and communities in Philadelphia, BDT’s hometown.
Honoring Juneteenth at BDT
ILC is a collaborative village of people of color who are as crucial to BDT’s success as African Americans are to the nation. The ILC members worked with BDT’s executive leadership to solidify Juneteenth — a holiday celebrated on June 19th to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States — as a paid holiday for the organization, one year ahead of Philadelphia’s proclamation and two years prior to the US government’s decision to do the same.
Giving Back to Families and Students
Our fundraising efforts have helped to secure gifts, food, decorations, and more during the holiday season for 10 locally adopted families. In addition, we’ve funded the purchase of school supplies for 70 local children during the pandemic.
Providing Resources for All
ILC hosts education events for our fellow coworkers as well, to address and remove microaggressions at BDT. So far, ILC has led organization-wide presentations on African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Environmental Racism, Juneteenth, and worked to co-create a Black Mental Health Resources guide.
During Black History Month — and every day — ILC celebrates the rich and dynamic history of African Americans and, in doing so, we strive to highlight the Black Excellence at BDT. What better way to do that than to hear from members of ILC; allow us to introduce you to some of them through their own incredible words.
Why did you join the In Living Color ERG?
“I was an original co-founder of In Living Color. We started the ERG to give our Black employees an opportunity to have a safe space to be themselves, talk about their concerns and bring up ideas that can better serve the Black community at BDT. I remain a member of ILC because it gives me a better opportunity to meet and engage with employees that understand and relate to the same experiences that I have. We are a family at work!”
What does Black excellence mean to you and how do you embody it?
“Black excellence means being dynamic. No matter what the Black community has been through they have managed to bring a positive attitude, full of energy and new ideas. The Black struggle has birthed innovators and has made major contributions to society. I embody Black Excellence by remembering those that have come before me. I aim to contribute my skills, thoughts or feedback to any group I am a part of, whether it be at work or outside.”
“Black Excellence to me means showing up and being the best at whatever it is you do. Black Excellence means overcoming all obstacles that have kept us limited in our abilities for so long.”
Since it’s Black History Month, what within our history – past or present – has inspired you as a Black person?
“Currently, the Black women here at BDT is what inspires me the most. Every day I have the honor of working beside some of the most dedicated and committed Black women. Not only are they committed and dedicated to the work they do, they are big on showing up and making their voices heard. Their strength, adaptability, and endurance shines in everything they do no matter what position they hold. They create real impact and in-depth change! They each drive me and push me to be better each day! I am thankful.”
How can organizations and companies support better inclusivity and opportunity for Black communities?
“James Baldwin once said, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ I think it starts with acknowledging that there is a problem. Once we do that, I believe the dialog can start for creating more inclusive spaces for people of color. Really committing to it. I believe having ERGs like we do here could really help other companies.”
If there was a piece of advice or education you could provide to someone outside of the community, what would it be?
“I would advise don't judge the book by its cover until you have read the pages. Not everyone acts angry or is crazy. We do have people who strive for excellence and want to be understood. If you do not understand something, rather than make harsh judgments, have a conversation for better understanding, you will be surprised on what you learn.”
Black is...[complete the sentence]
“Black is beautiful. Black is resilient. Black is adaptability. Black is empowerment. Black is strength.
Black is inspiring. Black is change. Black is amazing.
Meet the Authors:
Janeetra "JJ" Johnson is a Training Coordinator at BDT and is the Co-Facilitator of In Living Color. On the Training Team, Janeetra is responsible for preparing materials and resources for training sessions, as well as providing feedback and coaching to the training participants. Moreover, Janeetra serves as a resource to the Contact Center by maintaining a strong knowledge of BDT campaigns, benefit information, and Contact Center procedures, and strives to communicate that information effectively to the incoming new hires. In her spare time, she likes to read, sing, listen to music, and watch TV.
Jeff Trotter is a Contact Center Supervisor at BDT and Co-Facilitator of In Living Color. On the Pennsylvania Campaign, Jeff is responsible for coaching a team of Benefit Outreach Specialists to cultivate the knowledge and skills needed to provide an excellent client experience. Through the analysis of client interactions, efficiency reports, goal progress, and trend identification, he manages individual and team performance while furthering the personal professional development of specialists.