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What Does it Mean to Be an Ally? Notes from the PowHER Summit 2023


By Katherine Harrington, President/CEO | West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce

On Friday, the Lady Like PowHER Summit held an Ally hour where Iowa’s top female Black leaders shared their insights on what it means to be an ally and how people can become stronger allies. The speakers included Helena Young, Nyra Bottley, Tiara Mays, Bridget Neely, and Teree Caldwell-Johnson. Each speaker had unique perspectives on being an ally, but there were common themes that emerged from their speeches.

Nyra Bottley emphasized that being an ally means advocating for her. She encouraged allies not to just bring her to the table, but to set her up for success. Action speaks louder than words, and allies should take tangible steps to support their Black colleagues and peers.

Tiara Mays stressed the importance of not being a secret ally. She needs allies’ public support and for them to advocate out loud. Allies should not help her behind closed doors but should be willing to stand up and support her publicly.

Bridget Neely’s main point was to stand beside Black colleagues and peers. She urged allies to be a sometimes-physical blocker, standing in front and supporting them. Allies should also teach their peers and stand up to comments made behind closed doors.

Helena Young highlighted the importance of creating an environment where Black colleagues and peers can succeed. Allies should give them opportunities that allow them to be successful and sponsor them, not just mentor them. Allies should also encourage Black colleagues and peers to apply for jobs that may seem out of reach, however, are not, and bring them to the table.

Finally, Terre Caldwell-Johnson emphasized the importance of going back to basics. Allies should read and learn about Black people and culture. It is not Black people’s responsibility to teach allies about who they are. Allies should not generalize about who Black people are because they are not a monolith. The world is getting more diverse, and if allies want to be effective, they need to take the time to learn and understand Black people and culture.

Terre is right. According to the United States Census Bureau, the minority population is projected to become the majority by 2045. By 2060, it is estimated that non-Hispanic Whites will make up only 43% of the population, while Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, and other groups will continue to grow. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center reports that the number of multiracial Americans is on the rise and that the country is becoming increasingly diverse.

These trends are reflected in Iowa as well. According to the Iowa Data Center, the state’s minority population has been growing steadily over the past few decades. In 1990, non-White Iowans made up only 4% of the population, while in 2020, that number had risen to 15%. By 2050, they estimate that minorities will make up around 25% of the state’s population. The future of Iowa will be increasingly diverse, and it will be important for the state to embrace and support that diversity.

In conclusion, America and Iowa are becoming more diverse, and this trend is projected to continue in the coming decades. As the Lady Like PowHER Summit speakers emphasized, being an ally means supporting and advocating for Black colleagues and peers in this changing landscape. By doing so, allies can help ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to succeed and thrive.

To learn more about the Lady Like and the PowHER summit visit: www.LadyLikeDSM.com.

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