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On Being a Black Special Event Professional: Leaders Speak Out

Leading special event professionals share their insights on being Black in the industry.

Special events are all about making guests feel important, cared for and comfortable. But as the U.S. faces a painful accounting of bias against its Black citizens, Special Events Magazine asked three Advisory Board members what their experience has been in our industry. We share their insights here:

THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE
Rena Puebla, founder, Coast Concierge Service, Costa Mesa, Calif.
What has been your experience as a Black person in the event industry?
It was challenging at the beginning in 1986. Now I feel rewarded and respected, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. Being a part of this industry has helped me grow to be more professional and determined to be the best in every way.

Have you been treated differently than others (e.g., white people)? Would you share an example?
When I started, the population of Orange County [Calif.] was only 1 percent African-American. At first, it was difficult because I essentially had to ask people for their business. It wasn’t until I started getting involved in other organizations that people started to trust and respect me, and this is when my business began to flourish.

Once when I called the businesses, they couldn’t tell that I was African-American over the phone. But, when I arrived at the businesses, they had me wait in the lobby for an extensive amount of time without seeing me. I would eventually leave the property. I would go to my car and be so upset, I started crying. I was determined, so the next day I went go knock on doors at other companies.

Being persistent paid off, because I was able to get a small piece of business from a client, which was a custom gift basket. Even though I was met with struggles, I didn’t let that douse my flame of desire to be successful. Look at me now, 35 years!

Has this situation changed/improved over the years? Or is the status quo still the status quo?
There has been unbelievable change. I have been greeted with open arms, and I’ve learned how to present myself more professionally. The status quo has improved for me personally, but I am still one of the original African-American event planners in Orange County.

What changes would you like to see in the event industry?
I would like to see young women in Orange County become more professional because right now, it is not good. I have been overall impressed with many young women and men that I have met throughout the United States and from other countries.

What do you wish white people would be aware of?
I think that all people are the same. It is body language and words that change people. Everyone knows who you are outwardly. If you don’t make people uncomfortable with the way you dress, carry yourself, and speak, then they will be more accepting toward you. It’s all about poise!

What haven’t we asked you that we should have?
I would like to address young people in the industry. I feel that my only pet peeve is that young people today can have an attitude. There is strong body language, cliques and people looking each other up and down. Before, people were more hospitable. I just don’t want people to feel intimidated. If you don’t come in with an attitude, I think people are more willing to be accepting. Overall, it’s a wonderful industry, and it has been a fabulous journey. I hope the next generation will have an even better experience!

TIME TO LEARN
Amil Mendez, owner/ president, Rayne Sound Lounge Decor & Lighting, Crofton, Md.
What has been your experience as a Black person in the event industry?

Overall, I would have to say my experience has been positive. I can’t ever think of a time where I have felt unwelcome by other event professionals due to race. There are times when I feel the industry can be cliquish, but I don’t believe that is related to race. While the majority of my clients may be African American, I would say that I have been able to service a very diverse clientele base through the years.

Has this situation changed/improved over the years? Or is the status quo still the status quo?
Being a business owner, my experiences, I would assume, are quite different than those event professionals working in a more corporate structure. Being as though I do business in one of the more diverse areas in the country, I don’t really experience many of the inequities that I hear about from other event professionals of color in other areas.

What changes would you like to see in the event industry?
I have always felt that networking events and conferences needed to be more proactive in getting attendees to mix and mingle with other professionals that they don’t know. I feel the event industry tends to be more inclusive than other industries. That doesn’t mean it can’t be made better. If you want to be looked at as a diverse organization, then that should be reflected in your leadership.

What do you wish white people would be aware of?
I think that if white Americans really understood the history of our nation as it relates to slavery, Jim Crow, racism and violence against Blacks, some might be more understanding and proactive in taking a stand against racial injustice.

What haven’t we asked you that we should have?
What can The Special Event do to be more inclusive and increase the diversity of its attendees.

Special Events Magazine is committed to continuing this conversation. Please feel free to send your comments to [email protected]ecialevents.com.

 

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