The Black Lives Matter movement has made conversations about social justice and equality a top priority for many companies. But it’s crucial for businesses to continue engaging in conversations and taking actionable steps toward equity and inclusion for the long term. So how do you create a socially responsible business?
Skywalker Payne, founder of Vibrant Velvet Voice Productions, helps teams answer that question. A professional storyteller, she offers a R.A.C.E.S. (Race A Concept Explored in Story Circle) program for businesses to convene small groups of employees for a two-hour Zoom call where participants use "stories, questions, and games to examine ideas and emotions around race." The goal is to improve interactions with members of the Black community, either as clients or staff.
Below, she shares how she pivoted her business to offer anti-racism education courses for her community following the June 2020 protests.
Many founders are pivoting their business models during COVID-19. Have you pivoted your business during the pandemic?
COVID-19 actually didn’t affect my business because I was and am an online business. What did affect my business was the protests that began in the summer. I realized all of my life I've been involved in anti-racist work without even calling it that. I was a performing artist, writer, and activist. I worked in nonprofits for peace and community organization and for Black rights organizations.
You also have a nursing background. How did all those experiences lead you to starting your own business?
Initially, I didn’t know how to use storytelling as a business beyond being a performer. But as I began to work with people, I learned storytelling can be used to heal people, to educate people, and to create community. My short nursing background did give me discipline and taught me critical thinking skills that are essential to manage a business successfully.
Can you share how you started your business and what services you offer?
I started Vibrant Velvet Voice Productions about three years ago when I was attempting to be a voice-over artist. In the process, I found out that voice-over artist is primarily an actress, and I'm not an actress. But I also realized that my velvet voice was all of me. Everything I've experienced in my life, my knowledge, my feelings, my experiences all make up my vibrant velvet voice. I used that concept to create challenges and mini courses and offer story healing and energy healing services. Since the pandemic, my focus is on anti-racist education and healing racial stories.
Yes, the R.A.C.E.S. program. Could you describe the program and how the idea came about?
R.A.C.E.S. began after my husband pointed out to me some of the Facebook posts being made here, locally, in Homer, Alaska. We live in this 99% white town and I began thinking about what could I do here. I’d produced a storytelling circle here for three years and had seen it’s healing powers. I began with R.A.C.E.S. (Races a Concept Explored in Story Circle), but after two Circles, I realized a two-hour Circle can only plant the seeds for racial healing, anti-racist education, and creating community.
What have the responses been like from the R.A.C.E.S. Circles?
The responses from people who participated in the R.A.C.E.S. Circle confirmed what I believed would happen. The circle opened people up to understanding other people's experiences of race. In the U.S., everyone will have some kind of racial story that needs healing. Some people didn’t know that until they were asked the right questions. With just a little history, people begin to see how they’ve unconsciously accepted racist lies. The Circle is a first step. You cannot overcome a lifetime of being hit with racist ideas from schools, media, churches, and even the internet. To overcome and permanently end racist ideas requires continued conversation.
Do you have any advice for founders who are striving for diversity and inclusion at their businesses?
It's really simple to just do it. Make sure you advertise in places where people of color and Black people are. Make sure you reach out to people of color and Black people, in their communities, schools, clubs, churches, and businesses. And when you have Black and people of color in your business, make sure they have the opportunity to advance and grow in your business.
Ready to learn more about ways to create a business committed to equity and inclusion? Check out the Hello Alice Engage Thoughtfully & Consciously Online Guide.