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On Air: On the importance of looking back before looking ahead

Illustration of someone looking through binoculars. A reflection of "2020" reflects off or the glass.

In this special episode of On Air, Jessica Hartley, VP of Strategy, is joined by Nishat Akhtar, AVP of Creative, and Leon Anderson, Executive Producer. They explore all that’s happened within the last six months, the reality of showing up every day as a BIPOC employee in Corporate America, and their future vision for the diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments that our organization and others made last year. We appreciate the honesty and energy with which these participants engaged in this episode.

    Jessica Hartley: Hello, hello. And welcome, welcome to On Air, a podcast hosted by Instrument, a design and innovation agency headquartered in Portland, Oregon. And now, with people all over the United States. I'm excited to bring this podcast to you all today because it's a special edition. It wasn't in the schedule. We didn't plan for it.

    But with so much going on in our world and in our lives, and in our communities, and also at work, I thought it was really important to create a snapshot in time. And it's exciting for me to bring back two of our original guests on the very first podcast that we did last summer, Leon Anderson and Nishat Akhtar. And I'm excited to bring them because we had said that we were going to check back in a year. And in a year, what would you have hoped would have been accomplished?

    What would you have hoped we would have achieved? How did you want to feel? And I think we basically have made it about six months. And so much has still happened, right guys? In those six months, I thought it was important to check in and see how you're going, and see how life has been. So, I'm going to kick off with our first question. I'm excited because we are all really great friends, both inside and out of work. It's been a fortunate blessing to get to know these amazing human beings.

    And what happens when you get a Philly girl, a Georgia girl and a Florida boy from around the way, as he told us a little bit of everything, a little bit of Chocolate City, a little bit of LA? And we've all lived in a few places. But what happens when you get in to some real conversation? So, first question on the docket is, just in general, how has it been? How have you been coping? It's been a lot, civil unrest in the country.

    And we still have a pandemic, very much in the throes of a pandemic. What was that road like? Let's just cap it and say, trying to get through the end of 2020. And then, we'll cover where we are today and the first few weeks of 2021. Maybe I'll kick it over to you in a shot first. Just say how's it been going.

    Nishat Akhtar: Wow, just asking the easy questions here, Jessica. I think that the end of 2020 was interesting as any end of a year where people are taking inventory and taking stock of how their year was, and how you want to start your next year. I personally am not someone who necessarily... I don't really do resolutions. In January, I tried to just think of the things I want to do when the moment is necessary and get after it. But there is this natural inventory taking and witnessing everyone doing that across social media across your projects, in work, in life, your friendships, I think that the end of 2020 was actually quite heavy.

    Because it was very clear that we weren't going to be stepping into some new year, new me attitude, new year, new country. I mean, even though there's obviously change that's coming, which we'll talk about, I think that the end of the year wasn't the weight off the shoulders. I think as we stepped into the holiday break, which we're so lucky to have, it was through exhaustion and so many different levels, and hard to really get the rest that you need to keep persisting in all of these things you're talking about.

    Knowing that just simple injustice that continues, the pandemic that is unending, I think that there's the moment to ask yourself or to realize, "Wow, I can endure more than perhaps I ever imagined." And that was a big lesson I think in the last year. Although, that lesson has been something I've learned before in other life experiences, certainly. And I think that the first time, it was a collective experience of feeling that across all of my different friend groups, all of the different cultures that... or the people that I'm around, and even people at work.

    Which is, things keep happening, and we have to endure. And we have to endure together.

    JH: Yeah, yeah. No, I think that's a great summation, even as I think about myself, for me, it was always just like, "Okay. Next hour, next day, next week, next month, how can we just sort of one foot in front of the other and try not to plan too far in advance?" Because things are going to continue to change. And I think, for me, yeah, it's been tough. It's been really tough to not... it felt like there was a little bit of optimism and hope of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel towards the end of the year.

    Vaccines were starting to get approved. First, overseas, and then here. The numbers were decent but not awful. In some cases, it felt like they were going to get better. And so, you had that light at the end of the tunnel like, "Okay, maybe Q4 of 2021, I might actually see somebody and go have lunch." So, everybody's still messed up, right? But what can you do? Even saying, "Okay, maybe we could get some playdates for the summer outside for the kids."

    But there's always this dread, I feel like in the back of my head, that it's going to be a while. I mean, this is going to be a long while. And then, you come to where we are now. And it's just feeling like, "Okay." They started talking about new variants, and things are getting faster, and numbers are increasing. You look at what's happening in California, and it is still very scary. And then, there's just trying to balance work and show up every day, and do good work.

    Because my kids need to be fed and clothed. We need a roof over our heads, right? And so, you can't check out. You can't check out. And I think trying to balance all of those things and then having every five minutes, somebody is in your face and, "Are you taking care of yourself, self-care?" And I'm like, "No. Just no." Self-care is a glass of wine, or self-care is eating pizza and ordering out, because I just need to take a break and not have to cook.

    Because I've been cooking so much for the last nine, 10 months. So, it's a lot to try to juggle and just keep your spirits up, and keep your hope up. Leon, how's it going for you?

    Leon Anderson: You know what, it's been good. I will say, hands down, it's been good. The definition of good and great has probably shifted contextually. But I remember there was a point like maybe November, October or November, when I was like spit and piss, and vinegar. I was on one for a while, and rightfully so. Whether it's at work, whether it's outside on the street, at the store, here in my own home, like always being a target, like not just always feeling I'm a target, but always being a target, and understanding the past in that the future will not be changing anytime soon really got to me.

    But then, I remembered back to when I was growing up in my mom's house, there was one of those little signs that has the script writing on it. And it was right by the patio door, and it had the Serenity Prayer on it, "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." And that's come to my life numerous times over and over, whether it's through that little poster, or whether it's through Al-Anon, whatever the case might be.

    And I had to just sit in that remembrance of like, "No, I can't change everything. I'm also not responsible for changing everything. But what I can do is make sure that I'm taking care of what I do have control over." And that's the present and the future that my two little boys are going to experience in their life. So, I have them as this great little circuit breaker in my life to just... they still need to get outside. They still need to go run. They still need to get the energy out.

    They still need to learn how to read. They still need to do all of these basic things that I can help them with, and I can put the food on their table. I can put clothes on their back. And so, that helped me just really refocus and prioritize, and to be able to say, "Look, I got my health. I got a good job. And I have time to still record with my improv group. I have time to still have these virtual sessions with people. I see people in my neighborhood at the park on these sunny days that we're still having in January."

    So, all in all, I'm doing good. And it's just a matter of just taking it one day at a time, one step at a time.

    I can't change everything. I'm also not responsible for changing everything. But what I can do is make sure that I'm taking care of what I do have control over.”

    Leon Anderson

    JH: Yeah, I love that. I love that even though it's still challenging, you recalibrate it. And I feel like all of us have had to do a bit of that, right? Recalibrate it, and said, "Okay, I'm going to choose to see the positive and the silver lining, choose to see the good." I think that's also important too because if you think about manifesting what you want in your life and manifesting positivity, and you have little humans that you're also responsible for.

    And I think it's also important to manifest that within ourselves in our work environment, right? So, we work in advertising, and last year was also hard, I think, because we were trying to make sure we made the numbers, trying to keep the clients happy because we wanted to keep people fed. And we wanted to keep people employed. And we're all leaders across our respective disciplines, in creative, in production and strategy.

    And so, I think trying to bring that positivity and optimism, even sometimes when you didn't feel it, is really important, because you're projecting and trying to create a space for others. So, talk a little bit to me about how it's been at work. We still have had Black people dying in America, problems happening and going on. The impetus of what happened around George Floyd has continued. But now, there's not as many protests anymore, right? And there might be a couple of commercials but not a lot of commercials.

    I think, for me, if I look at the road to ending 2020, I found it interesting that you got a lot less people checking in on you, and it was good and bad. Because sometimes, the check in was like, "How's it going?" And I'm, "Fine. It's fine. This is another day." But also, while we had commitments and we had diversity initiatives, and I feel like every day, there was lots of things posting in LinkedIn, and everybody in their mamas hiring a chief diversity officer or a diversity inclusion lead, I'm like, "Man. Y'all, go out here and get these jobs while they last," right?

    Go out there and get these jobs. Get these board seats, which is exciting. But there's then still the flip side I feel like a little bit of the day-to-day of still seeing systemic racism at play, even where we are, and seeing privilege show up. And you're like, "Huh." Or even seeing, and we can have a good laugh about it, but "wokeness", to the point where people cross the lines. And you're just like, "Nope, nope. Nope. That's not being an ally or advocate.

    You're just trying to carry a mantle, and you don't even understand what you're talking about. You crossed the lines." And I think those have been moments that while you feel like you are making progress and we are making progress, it's still a very slow road. And I remember in a shot in our first conversation, one of the things that you said was, people are at different stages on this journey. You got some people that are in kindergarten and then people like us that are high school and college.

    And man, oh man, I feel like sometimes, I'm like, "Yo. You need to go back to remedial class because what you think you thought you learned and how you should act, and what it means to show up, you still got some work to do." So, how's it been at work, navigating, showing up every day, even with everything going on? Leon, you want to go first? He's over here smiling big and laughing.

    LA: Honestly, it's pretty trying at work, and it's not because I don't think that people are doing the work themselves. And honestly, I hope that they are. But on a day-to-day basis, I do not see anything that has changed workwise between February or March, or whenever it was that we recorded the first episode, and now. I will say that hiring efforts are clear, and it's clear that there are specific folks that we're looking to hire and bring into the studio and agency.

    I do wish that that was not just at that middle level but was also in leadership. Because I think that being able to, if you come in at a mid-level or even at a senior level, and again, you don't see that ahead of you. You don't see those opportunities ahead of you. You don't have a voice at the table or in the room for folks who look like you. It becomes hard to see yourself staying there long-term and to see how you are respected in that area.

    And so, that's an area where I hadn't seen the growth and change. I hope to see it. I've retained hope for the future. Again, one of those things where, "Hey, I can go out. I can try to meet people, but I can't make the change because I'm not necessarily hiring at that level," me personally. And I think that we have buried ourselves in work, which is great, and make sure that everyone has food to put on their table. I was extremely thankful for the bonus that we were able to have at the end of the year.

    And I know that it came because of all of the hard work of folks. But, yo, end of the year? We were jamming, like crushing, like not even coming up to take a breath. And it felt like after that two weeks off, we just jumped right back in. And that's one of the hard things about combining personal growth and professional growth. We work at an agency. Our goal is to make dope products and to make money. That's the thing that keeps the virtual doors open.

    But it's really hard sometimes to balance that. And having the time to actually do reflection actually do very considered recruiting. So, not just hiring to fill a role, but actually going out and creating the future that you want by bringing those people in and courting those people. So, yeah. I think a lot of the work has... I guess I can say this now again because he's not in office, but a lot of the work has the Trumped actual personal growth.

    JH: How about you, Nishat?

    NA: I want to piggyback off a couple things that Leon said because I think they're so important. In the work, it is so challenging where you may not see advocacy at the highest level. That is absolutely so critical for people of color, queer people. And that is still a major priority for this organization to get after. And frankly, every organization is so hungry for that right now. There's a Black, Brown and queer bonus that's out there, every person of color.

    I think that there's identifying the gap, which is what everyone came to their knees on last year, perhaps for the first time. If it was for the first time, all right, we're all here now. And there's identifying the gap. And just putting hiring people isn't the only solution. I mean, that is a very important part of that. And definitely, seeing those people in leadership so that other people have advocacy. And also, that those leaders may see things that other people aren't seeing, and then are canonized to say things for, be the voice of the voiceless.

    JH: Yeah. It's like, "You get a Brown person. You get a Brown person." We're a hot commodity right now.

    In the work, it is so challenging where you may not see advocacy at the highest level. That is absolutely so critical for people of color, queer people. And that is still a major priority for this organization to get after. And frankly, every organization is so hungry for that right now. There's a Black, Brown and queer bonus that's out there, every person of color.”

    Nishat Akhtar

    NA: I think that there's identifying the gap, which is what everyone came to their knees on last year, perhaps for the first time. If it was for the first time, all right, we're all here now. And there's identifying the gap. And just putting hiring people isn't the only solution. I mean, that is a very important part of that. And definitely, seeing those people in leadership so that other people have advocacy. And also, that those leaders may see things that other people aren't seeing, and then are canonized to say things for, be the voice of the voiceless.

    That's so important. And beyond the recruiting, it's also essential that we consider the process in which we work like you're talking about, Leon. We're pedal to the metal, and we're satisfying our clients. And we're making money for the business. And all of that is great, of course. But how are certain individuals... are certain individuals being treated differently through that process? Even now, where there's this hunger of diversifying teams and clients want to see that, and we want to see how this conversation happens in the work too?

    Are people of color being asked to be a monolith for a culture and represent for that? How do we continue to think about how we're approaching work in a balanced way and making sure that a single individual isn't doing their job and the custodial cleanup of what others haven't spent time thinking about how the process is going?

    JH: Yeah, agreed. Oh, man, so much there. I think, for me, it's been interesting to see the progress that has been made in certain ways. And I know, this is not just us. You can probably extrapolate this across any number of organizations across the United States. But seeing the efforts that we put forth, for example, in community service and really trying to... at this point, it's less about man hours or woman hours, or volunteer, people, human hours, and more around, how do we funnel dollars to underprivileged communities and things like that?

    Which I'm excited about, and I feel like we've made significant progress on that. We now have DEI consultant that we're just getting started. But I can already see the fruits of this amazing woman in her firm to come in and really put things on front street and put people on blast a little bit, and really check people. And that's going to be tremendous for the executive, sort of extended executive leadership team. Now, we have affinity groups, which is awesome.

    I'm the executive sponsor for that. It feels good. But I just think that it's still a long... we still got a long way to go as any other organization has. And for me, it still comes back down to whether you're a large organization and it's different business units or divisions, or for us, in our teams, that's the culture. Leon, you talked about work every day. It feels very much the same. Why? Because we still have work to break down in those smaller modules, right?

    How do people show up to work every day? How are people processing bias? How are people acting or reacting in ways that showcases their privilege or problems with power, or conflict record resolution? Or not being able to deliver critical feedback in a way that's going to be supportive and helpful, and also not be biased, right? And so, our people still, and every team is a little bit of a different culture, which is also a problem.

    Because you're like, "Okay. Well, what is the culture of who we are as an entire organization?" I've had enough conversations with our leadership to feel like some of the things have been twisted or added on to, and it comes across as, "Oh, we have these cool T-shirts, or we do something really corny or kooky in our stand ups." And I'm like, "Nah, brah. It's much deeper than that, and you don't realize." It is the type of people that you like to hire to come into your team that fit into this... fit into the mold.

    And even though they might look like you and me, they come in with the same mentality, "Houston, we have a problem," right? And so, that's where the work still needs to be, for me, as well as just like, how are people experiencing this organization every day? It's in the teams. It's in the works. It's even in the clients. And in some cases, checking the clients because they're creating challenging environments for our people. So, yeah.

    I think similar to you, obviously, Leon, as I said, before, I'm optimistic. I am hopeful. But I have been doing this for a minute in other organizations. And now here, and it is going to take a while. It takes a long time to change a cruise ship, to change that direction. And we are a freaking cruise ship. And we're a smaller organization. I've seen in the larger organizations, you just... man, you're just like, "What little small thing can I change?" And I think I posted earlier in the week around like, "How can I focus on just my people, my community?

    What I can affect in the power and privilege that I do have as a Black woman in this organization?" And I think, I'm hopeful that others will sit in that power as well and be able to help really affect change for others. So, let's pivot just slightly saying-

    LA: Turn the cruise ship and pivot. I see what you did there. It's nice. Nice.

    JH: So, is it a pivot? Is it a turn in direction? I don't know.

    NA: Is it a cruise ship?

    LA: Where is my tie? That's what I want to know.

    JH: We got to December 31st, 2020, turn up, everybody... champagne or apple cider, or whatever your libation of choice was. January 1st, 2021, same shit, different year, right?

    Literally. We woke up, and I found it fascinating that people really truly thought that there was going to be this... all of these things were going to be different. It was going to feel different. And to your point, Leon, especially at work, it was just like, "Al; right, hey. All right, let's go. Let's talk about these SOWs. Let's get in here and do these things." And while for me and I did, I really was intentional about disconnecting for the latter part of the year.

    I also recognized that a lot of people weren't able to do that. I attended a virtual funeral over the holiday break. People are still dying out here. There's still challenges going on. There's still millions of people unemployed. And so, I think that gets back to the challenge of, how do you balance trying to keep that positivity, and then saying same stuffs, different year, and still show up at work? And still be effective, still be helpful and supportive for your people?

    And then, by the way, there is a riot on the capital. And you're on a Zoom call talking about a project and watching social media video footage of people wiling out in DC.

    NA: Yeah.

    JH: That was hard. It was extremely hard to watch it. And part of it was, what was the phrase that kept reverberating or running around in the back of my head is that, you reap what you sow. You reap what you sow. Now, what was your reaction, both to work, home watching that? Or maybe Leon. Leon, you look like-

    LA: Okay. So, I was so focused on the work and just trying to get back into the swing of things because this was, what, last Wednesday? Or Wednesday, the 6th. And then, my birthday is on the 7th. And so, I was just like, "How can I get as much done today as possible, so I can maybe have a little bit mellower of a day tomorrow?" And I didn't even know anything was going on until someone else on our team leadership channel was like, "Hey, I think we need to take a pause and give folks some space to handle this."

    And so, I went over to CNN and then to the route, and just trying to piece together what was happening. And I wasn't surprised it was happening. I was surprised it had gotten that far. And yeah, it's a buildup of everything that's been going on that has been either swept under the rug or has been addressed with a slap on the wrist, or a, "Hey, now's the time when we need to come together and look beyond the things that separate us," yada, yada, yada, all of the pacifist rhetoric.

    Which I will say, at the risk of revealing my political and social stances, that rhetoric and that language is only ever one way. You never have the folks who were storming the Capitol, they've never sat back and said, "You know what? Let me look at what the other side is saying and accept their differences so that we can move beyond this." So, again-

    JH: Maybe something is wrong with my anti-Semitic shirt. Maybe I shouldn't wear it?

    LA: Aside from the fact that it's two sizes, too small, and you probably shouldn't be wearing your kid's baseball uniform and also your work badge, yo, my dude.

    JH: Let's not forget the horns and hats, and furs like I... what?

    LA: But it's like, it's clear that there has been embers that have been burning that hasn't been addressed. We're taking care of the fires, and we're putting all hands on deck with the fires. But we're not focusing on those embers that still burn that will make something bigger now that it's all dried out. And so, it's just like, "Hey, all right. Now, I've got people to take care of on my team. I got people to take care of at home.

    Let me do what I can to give them that space and to let them know that they're heard. And I'll take care of me. I'll take care of me later."

    NA: You get a little nice something for your birthday or what?

    LA: I got a cake. I got a cake from Audrey, yeah.

    NA: Okay. Okay, good.

    LA: Yeah, she hooked me up. And also, I got an iPhone 12. I'm not an early adopter by any means but my seven is on its last legs. And so, she got me a 12. I just need to go pick it up, because apparently, you can't activate a phone for someone else. So, maybe I'll find some time to go do that.

    NA: There's the shock of the day. And then, there's the day after. And I think it's like, I'm just thinking about... like for you in particular, that that being your birthday and that day, while Wednesday was quite a wash, it's almost like Thursday was also. And for me, coming into the New Year, and both of you know, my dad was very sick and was in a hospital. And it's one of those scenarios due to the pandemic, I would have been in Philadelphia, no question.

    I would have flown across the country but you can't. So, when I talk about endurance, it's like, "Wow, I have a family member that is sick. I can't go be there." And every day, my brother and I are just working to get the updates. And I also went to work the first day of January 4th and told everybody, "Hey, I have this thing going on. I'm not really sure if I'm going to be making it through the week or not. But we'll see."

    And also, what else was I going to do? I think I shifted into this total logistical triage mindset of like, "Well, let me work. And then, I'll hop off when I need to talk to my dad or talk to the doctors." And then, Wednesday hits. And we were in a client meeting at noon when all this stuff was happening. And it was about five minutes into whatever's happening in the Capitol and 10 minutes into the client meeting, and I felt like I was just completely glazing over.

    I was speaking, and I had no idea what the words I was saying, while also messaging folks on the side to be like... typically, we ask people to ask for what they need. But I flashed back to last summer when the fires were happening. And we were just working in our house, and my house was smoky on the inside. We were just working. And that day, I was remembering September 11th in New York, and I witnessed it. And I went to work.

    And I was like, "Am I ever going to learn?" And so, on Wednesday, I wrote to everyone, I was like, "Nope. We have to take a moment and call that moment for everyone." And we were able to do that. Although, I think some of our leads went to a couple other meetings, including myself. And again, I spoke in those meetings. I have no idea what I said, and it's, you're just trying to push through in the responsibility that lands on leadership. Or in both of those cases, parents where you just have to have that level of endurance.

    But there is a moment where it's like, "Is this productive? Is this helping?" And then, you think about the rest of the week where it's, A, we're listening to people say, "How could this happen?" And you're like, "What do you mean? Have you been paying attention or not?" And then, also, trying to pick up and somehow make up for the half day that everyone was like, "Well, take a minute to fall out or to do what you can to take care of yourself." And yet, the work doesn't go away. It's still there.

    Are people of color being asked to be a monolith for a culture and represent for that? How do we continue to think about how we're approaching work in a balanced way and making sure that a single individual isn't doing their job and the custodial cleanup of what others haven't spent time thinking about how the process is going?”

    Nishat Akhtar

    JH: Yeah, yeah. I can say that, for me, I was encouraged, right? So, we talked about positivity and all of that. I was encouraged that, pretty quickly, and I'm on the back end, so I'm seeing other messages. I'm seeing C-suite leadership, exact team messages that were like, "We need to give people time. Let's start canceling meetings where you critically can." We worked with recruiting, and recruiting was like, "Hey, we should cancel all interviews for the rest of the day.

    So, if we're going to be interviewing candidates, a number of those people are BIPOC and queer. Let's go ahead and give them the space." And even if they said, "You need the rest of the week," right? We'll give you the rest of the week and reschedule. So, for me, that was really encouraging that we as a company took care of our people. And were able to do that. Now, again, as we think about being a leader and leadership, and also teams, and also cultures, that didn't permeate I think as well.

    For example, like on your team, we should have shut ship down. Not doing it, sorry. The world is on fire. Your project is not on fire. We can regroup tomorrow. And so, I think those again are the pockets and things when you talk about culture, when you talk about principles, when you talk about what's the foundation, I think that also continues I think for me to feel very hard to sit at the intersection of being a woman, being a Black woman, being a woman who, this isn't my home space.

    Portland's not my home space. So, being a little bit out of my element with not family around. But also, being in a position of power and privilege as an executive at an organization, and you're balancing all of these things at once. And I'm trying to take care of myself and do what I need for me. But I also have to consider what my people need and what others need in the organization. And that makes it very hard. And there's also just like, what's happening around you, even if it's not close to you.

    I mean, for me, it's not crazy, because crazy is not the word, but just the most profound thing for me was we already knew 72 million people voted for Trump. We know a chunk of those people voted just because of their wallets and their pocket books, because they care about taxes and their 401(k)s. But there's still a considerable amount of people that voted for him in that way for what was beneficial for them and be damned to everyone else, right? They might not have agreed with anything that he's done.

    But because it was beneficial for them, they voted for him. And so, a lot of those people are the people that showed up at the Capitol. And I'm just like... I think the profound thing for me is, those people could be anywhere, right? And we're seeing it every day.

    NA: And they are. And they are.

    JH: They are everywhere. They're your neighbors. They're your friends who were on the low, like supporters, and all of this that are showing up. They're CEOs of companies who have BIPOC people that work there. They are people in positions of power. And so, it continued to be a reminder that as far as we have come, this is... when we talk about systemic racism, these are the people that are continuing to pull the strings and hold up the infrastructure.

    And you might knock down a building, but they're still over here building something else. Those are the people in the web that continue to proliferate all of these things and creating these hostile work environments for people of color, for queer people, for religious minorities, for people with disabilities. And so, to watch people... yeah, I love reading comments on things. And I was watching the threads of people like, "Oh, my God, that's my ex-boyfriend, or that was my friend in college.

    Or I was so stunned." I tried to turn them around. But then, I saw them get radicalized. And I can't believe like, "How much evidence do you need? What else do you need? Do you need people to walk around with a tattoo that says, 'I am a racist on their forehead', for you maybe to believe them?" Because all the evidence is there. And I think, to me, that's the frustrating part, like people who were so, so woke.

    Marching and protesting, and George Floyd, and sending money, and doing all these things, but we're so utterly shocked by what happened.

    NA: Yeah, they're missing the narrative here. It's not the moment. It's not like a moment in time. This is history, like Leon put it best, the embers have still been smoldering. If that's not extinguished, that fire can go up at any moment once everything is dried out, and it is dry, ashy, dusty.

    LA: I'm shooting from the hip when I say this, but I'm pretty sure not one of those people who is up there, they were just walking to work. And like, "You know what? Let me see what's going on over here." There are signs. There are indicators. And the problem is that, White people get the benefit of contrition. So, a White dude can punch a hole in a wall. And people are like, "Oh, he was just angry. He was upset. He was expressing his emotions."

    NA: Having a bad day.

    LA: Having a bad day. And nobody like nobody takes note of that and then says, "You know what? Maybe he shouldn't date my friend because maybe he has some physical things that he needs to work out." And he gets some forgiveness. And then, it goes on and then Shia LaBeouf, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

    NA: Not Shia. Not Shia. Yes, it's Shia.

    LA: So, a Black kid raises his voice or speaks loudly in a classroom. And all of a sudden, he is a disturbance to the entire classroom. He's a threat to the school. We need to put him on suspension, on probation. The way that you treat people and the way that you coddle people and allow them to get away with shit, as you said, Jessica, it comes back. It comes back. These things are there. There's the quote by Malcolm of, "The chickens come home to roost." That's the thing. Whatever you sow is eventually going to grow. And oh, that was nice.

    JH: Very nice. You can put that on a T-shirt.

    NA: I also think that there's this separation. There's a privilege of the separation of like, "Oh, well, these people were at the Capitol." And this thing that happened at the Capitol is this massive event, of course, that we all witnessed. And truly, we're all disgusted by, regardless of whether you were prepared that something like this might happen or not. But how to connect the overt racism to the impact of the smaller moments in the everyday, someone can chip away at any one of us with a microaggression day to day, and we all experienced it.

    Many of us experienced it. And those things maybe contribute to our endurance, but it also gives us more to endure. And there's this like... we talked about White supremacy in many people. And I think many White people feel very separate from that because it's such a massive title. And when we say, "A moment is an act of racism," versus someone being called a racist. I don't know if that's a more digestible moment for someone, but there's the big and the small.

    And the small have really great impacts in our day to day at work, in life. And to find that connection, to not only relegate racism to this massive, these huge moments, because there are things that happen quietly, subtly. And as you said, Jessica, the people that are pulling the strings and controlling businesses and making decisions that are inherently biased, inherently racist and affect our entire function and flow. And by our, I mean that in the royal sense, just like in business, in advertising. Again, there's this hunger for change.

    But people have to look very closely at the gaps that exist within themselves within an organization, within a process. It's not only about seeding people, which is very important. And please, Brown, Black people come through. Like, we're here for it. But it's not only about that, it's also about how are we, not just attracting but retaining and growing people, and creating a space where we actually feel safe to call something out when we see it and also adjust the process that is not fair, equitable, not racist.

    JH: Yeah, yeah. I mean, for me, cosine all around. The thing is like, "Yes, all those people descended on the Capitol," but 80% of those people were not from DC. They came from your hometown and your hometown and your hometown, and where you live today, right? So, those people are coming back. They're coming back. And a lot of them are more angry. And the embers continue to smolder.

    A lot of them are just going to go underground for right now so they feel like there's a fertile environment for them to potentially flare up. And I think a part of it is exactly what you said, when I think about my White colleagues, my White friends, and even some people, when we talk about colorism and people who are BIPOC but have the privilege of the lighter skin and operating differently in this world, it's creating an environment to say, "Hey, I need you to call me out when I'm not doing something because you don't know what you don't know."

    And there are just things that... there are perceptions that are so deeply rooted in our society. I'm a part of an organization focused on Black mothers and children. And we focus on education and social environments. So, we're really creating safe spaces for our children of color. And one of the moms, we'd had a very raw moment before the holiday break, where one of the moms said... she is a White. She's been living here for a while. She is a White friend, had children, and the kids were playing together or however.

    And I think her son is in middle school or however. And her friend just was like, "Wow, X child, he's so big, right? Wow, he's like a grown man. And she's just really built." He remarked on it a few times. And the mom who I know, the Black mom was like, "I'm going to stop you right there. That's racism at work. The fact that your child is the same age as mine, but the fact that you see your child still as a boy, and you're talking about my son being and looking like a grown man, is why Black men are dying in America."

    She didn't say that. But I mean, is it like you can connect the dots because you were bred to think about our children as being more mature as they, as being scary to you, as being monsters. Those are the real moments of people that you know in your everyday life, then they might be your ride or die but they still are bias. They still benefit from systemic racism. They still have these perceptions and ideas and things in their heads that have been implanted since birth. So, we're coming up on today and the road to today.

    How are y'all feeling? I mean, Joe Biden, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, truly, truly, for all of us, I think a monumental moment. And whether you love Joe Biden or didn't, whether you love Kamala or didn't, they are representing hopefully a paradigm shift for us. So, how is that felt, especially coming out of all the things that we just talked about with the riots and obviously arrests and things happening in where we are today. Who wants to jump in first?

    NA: It's nice to have an Eagles fan as a president, I got to say, that life is good for me. Delaware is almost Philly, and Scranton is north of Philly, but we'll take it like that. That's nice. And so, you have an Eagles fan and also some Indian representation in there. There's something just personal for me, which I felt it today. I woke up this morning and was like... I was really surprised. I was like, punch my fist in the air. I was psyched. I was like, Trump's out.

    Talk about the weightlifting, and not to say that the racism isn't over. It's not ending. But I certainly felt a big weightlifted because the chaos agent at the helm at least is gone. And that felt great. And I was like, "What's the theme song I'm going to listen to when I watch Joe and Jill coming out?" And I put on Missy Elliott, Lose Control. And I was just like, "This is the vibe." I'm just going to set the vibe. I listened to Smashing Pumpkins today when Kamala came out.

    And then, I was listening to Missy, Lose Control when Joe and Jill came out. And to see Amanda, this young 22-year-old poet just moved me to... I mean, I felt her radiance in her words and also just in my heart, it was incredible. This was a really heartfelt morning.

    JH: Yeah, it's pretty powerful.

    I'd had the adrenaline. I'm not even there, but just watching it on TV, listening to the words, feeling inspired. And I'm a cheesy person. So, yeah, it doesn't take much for me to, puppies and babies to get a little misty eyed. But oh, man, it was just so impactful. And the visage of just what's to come... and also, there's the back of my mind marking the occasion with like, thousands of people, people socially distance, and everybody's wearing masks.

    So, there's also that moment of just, wow. Also, a reminder, right? This is a pivotal moment for so many reasons, including having somebody like Kamala Harris, representing so many identities at one time. It's just powerful. It just really is powerful. I have a four-year-old daughter and she won't remember it today. But I will. And I have pictures and things. But to be able to see that in my lifetime, but also to have that at the start of her lifetime, she's only four, it's just...

    This is a pivotal moment for so many reasons, including having somebody like Kamala Harris, representing so many identities at one time. It's just powerful.”

    Jessica Hartley

    NA: That's awesome.

    JH: Again, when we talked about seeing, our company, any small companies, just that smaller scale, but being able to see that that is possible is going to change the course of history for so many women.

    NA: I mean, my mom was writing to me this morning. My mom, who is an Indian immigrant, she was writing to me saying her mom's name was [Lila Davey 00:52:07] and [Kamala Davey 00:52:10], with multiple other names that I'm not sure, but she was so excited to hear that connection. And then, she told me that she had an auntie named Kamala, and I was like, "This is the time you choose to tell me this? You had a runway."

    But to feel that cultural connection and to hear it from my mom, you're talking about a younger generation, which of course is, this aspiration to be able to look up to and understand or to even have the bar set that one can't even remember, because that's the only history that she will know, which is so exciting for Ireland. And then, for my mom on the other side, to be bearing witness to this as she is now an American citizen and to be bearing witness to this is a completely whole other experience. And I think it's a part of all ours.

    LA: There was afterwards, after the inauguration today, I actually asked myself, I was like, "Why are you not super excited about this?" And I was like, "I just don't have time to be super excited about this. Tomorrow will be the same as yesterday was. Let's move forward. Let's see what happens here." Also, I don't forget some of Kamala's and Joe's prior actions that have spoken very loudly. But I did find myself afterwards with that post-wedding song that like, played back in my head.

    Because it was like, one, the scene of after Biden gave his speech and everything was over, and everyone was up there chatting and hugging, they reminded me of after a wedding. But also, the moment of inauguration brought forth that same emotion like, when you go to a wedding and you see a wedding, no matter what's happened in your marital history or your relationship history or what your parents were like, there's that moment where you're just like, "God, this is a moment of pure," it's just like, "a nugget of purity and what the ideal should be."

    And it felt like there was that nugget for a moment where I was just like, "Ah, okay. This is how the world looks when everyone comes together for one brief moment."

    NA: And optimism too. And I think like, one more thing is that in Joe's speech, and I agree, politicians, nobody's hands are clean. Nobody's hands are clean. Obama's hands aren't clean. I mean, I have an auntie from Pakistan, and I was speaking with her this weekend. And she asked me how do I feel about Kamala. We also have been talking about Obama. And we talked about how important visibility is, but nobody's hands are clean at all.

    I mean, I think she really grappled with drone wars in her home country. I mean, it's painful. But one of the things that I think is in Joe's speech is the words that he used, and words are powerful. And of course, actions, that's have to be attached to that. But he talked about the history, the discussing history of racism in this country. He talked about White supremacy. He addressed those things. And it sets a foundation for the work that is to come.

    And as to bring it all back, and Leon said it and Jessica said it, we are hopeful, we are watching. We're doing the work every day in our seat, and I hope that they're going to do that work too. I think it was really impactful to hear his speech and him directly address these things. And whether it's meme culture, social media, that makes it obvious that those are the things you have to say. Whatever it takes, this is the direction of the work that has to be done, should have been done. But here we are today.

    LA: Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. I also agree, words are power. And for me, what was so impactful and powerful was that he said those things and use those words in his inauguration speech, right? This wasn't a separate speech on racism in America. This wasn't a separate speech on economic policy, and then how systemic racism has affected Black and Brown and underprivileged community. It is his inauguration speech. It's not even the State of the Union, because you're usually trying to hit all the targets. It was his inauguration speech.

    And I agree, for me, it is the foundation of why I continue to... I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in America... I mean, in the world, even though it's a challenge. It's not easy, right? That's why people in rows, thousands of people every year wants to come and live here because there is opportunity. There is love. There is community. I just think about, "Look at us. We did not know each other before two years ago, and now we have built community."

    And you can do that right here in America. That's so important and powerful for me. And so, I'm hopeful. I continue to be hopeful. I think there's going to be a lot of things of just protecting like, we're trying to protect our people at work. They're going to be focused on immigration and kids in cages, like all of these things that have been awful. And I'm happy because there's a spotlight. If Trump did nothing else, he put us a brighter spotlight on some of the worst parts of what is across this country and what's in America.

    And so, it is good. Now, we're going to drive out the shadows. And what? This is something here? We're going to take care of that. And that for me, I felt like there was a lot, even as we think about Obama and in previous administrations, there's a lot of stuff done in the dark that was done behind the scenes, that was done in the shadows. And there's been so much that has come to light, I think. I'm optimistic that we'll be able to root out a lot of craziness.

    Any parting comments as we wrap up? This was great. And I appreciate you all stepping up, stepping in, bearing a little bit of your souls today. Any final parting comments you want to make?

    LA: We're still watching.

    NA: Absolutely. Big and small.

    LA: Yep. I think we've talked about the inauguration speech and putting some of that language in this. Inauguration speech is laying a foundation, is laying precedent and an expectation, right? All the way down.

    When it comes to our work, when it comes to the promises that we made in our objectives, I'm watching you. I want my I want Biden to look up at me and say that same thing, where he's like, "You said that you want to be the father that your father wasn't? I'm watching you." We got to hold each other accountable. That's not always going to be assuring our praise and, "Oh, amazing, you've done this little thing."

    It's going to be calling out the hard truths and letting folks know. I'm watching you. I'm supporting you, and I got your back if you need anything. But I'm watching you.

    NA: I love that. I mean, progress is every day and it's for everyone and all of us and everybody. And yeah, I love that, Leon.

    Progress is every day and it's for everyone and all of us”

    Nishat Akhtar

    JH: Yes, accountability. I mean, it all comes back to that, being accountable. And words are great, action is better. And so, yeah, we're watching. We're watching our government. We're watching President Joe Biden and Madam Vice President Kamala Harris. And we're watching our leaders, our leaders in the community and our leaders in local and state and our leaders here where we show up to work every day. So, thank you both for the time, the love, the space. This was fantastic.

    And I'm excited to get with you all again because this is only a midpoint checking. Who knows what the world will bring to us when we get back together sometime in June? So, thank you both for joining me for this special episode of On Air by Instrument. I am the host, Jessica Hartley. And we thank you. Sending you all love and light.