Black excellence, advocate for positive social change, and accomplished are just a few words to describe Kelley Chunn. She is the founding president of the Roxbury Cultural District in Boston and Principal of Kelley Chunn and Associates, specializing in branding, strategic planning, civic engagement, and other services. Chunn is a speaker, trainer, multicultural/cause-related public relations and marketing consultant, and has been a professor at Simmons University, Tufts University, and Emerson College.
What led you to pursue cause-related and multicultural PR?
My overarching goal throughout my career has been to use the power of communications to promote social change and help people to navigate social upheaval and disruption. Change is hard and risky – though when you are young, risk often looks like a great adventure. A few years into my career in TV news and public affairs, I quit my job at WBZ TV to live and work in Nigeria as a consultant to the federal government. After some 18 months, a bloodless coup forced me to leave the country with pay and the experience of a lifetime–but without a contract or further immediate employment prospects.
Years later when I quit a tenure track position at a university to open my own public relations and marketing consultancy full-time, my sense of adventure and risk were less fervid. I made sure I had sufficient client relationships, revenue, and contracts in place to last at least one year.
What is the most fulfilling part of your work? Are there any accomplishments you’d like to share?
I built my collaborative consulting practice on the notion of “providing culturally smart strategies to promote social change,” especially relevant during a time when the multicultural dynamic of our country is undergoing transformation. I leverage my commitment to positive social change and my intimate knowledge of diverse racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups to meet the needs of client partners who understand the value of connecting with this broader market.
Key accomplishments include the pioneering Tobacco Education Campaign for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This led to a portfolio of health-related projects that focused on myriad health disparities and eventually included an award-winning obesity prevention campaign for the National Institutes of Health. Through this work, we helped to spark a wellness movement among health care providers who serve Boston’s communities of color. In addition, we have worked on the formation, administration, and marketing of the Roxbury Cultural District (RCD). We are also proud of the civic and community engagement work we have conducted as part of the restoration of the Shaw 54th Memorial on Boston Common. Working on behalf of the City of Boston, the National Park Service, the Friends of the Public Garden, and the Museum of African American History on Beacon Hill, we have used the restoration as a platform for civic dialogue to explore issues of racism and social justice. Other highlights include my being invited to the Obama White House, and being honored by the Public Relations Society of America, Boston Chapter with the prestigious Diane Davis Beacon Award.
What does DEI mean to you?
Diversity gets you invited to the party. Equity and Inclusion mean that you get to dance and choose the playlist.
Why is it important for companies and organizations to have DEI initiatives and policies in place?
As noted author James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” At this moment of “racial reckoning” and the “Great Resignation,” companies who do not address DEI in a meaningful way will be at a competitive disadvantage.
What is a common mistake that companies and organizations make regarding DEI and DEI initiatives? How can they avoid that mistake?
If we do not change the systemic policies and procedures embedded in organizational structures, we are skimming the surface. Companies and organizations must have commitment to DEI starting from the C suite. Attention must be paid to the development of policies and procedures related to recruitment, retention, and professional development of staff. The makeup of the board, senior management, and vendors must also reflect commitment to DEI. Measure your progress.
What advice can you give to those looking to get involved in DEI initiatives?
Do your homework by researching the needs and concerns of the organizational landscape both internally and externally. Develop clear goals and metrics to measure your progress. Talk to and vet DEI professionals who have a demonstrated track record in helping organizations to achieve their DEI goals. Understand that achieving DEI is a process. It takes time and will not happen overnight.