On June 16th, the SPEAK Mentorship organization hosted the #SpeakingMyName campaign, which invited people to post videos about their names, pronunciation, identity, and backgrounds.
Our team at NameCoach was thrilled to support the campaign, and I was honored to participate as a panelist in the #SpeakingMyName Summit, alongside students, educators, business and nonprofit leaders, and elected officials.
Many important perspectives and stories were voiced – borne of personal pains and hopes, professional experiences, and an inspirational commitment by so many to do some good in this world.
But some of the most deeply resonant messages dealt with the need for justice, anti-racism, and sustained change in our society. I’ll share just two here.
Campaign organizer Yodit Haile started the summit by taking a moment of silence to acknowledge that racism and injustice exist, and to present the names of several Black Americans who have been killed. She talked about the #SayHerName, #SayHisName, and #SayTheirName movements, and her message was powerful:
“If we start to learn to respect someone from the beginning by asking them how to say their name and working to acknowledge them in those first few moments, we can start working towards living in a world where we no longer have to use hashtags to acknowledge someone once they have passed.. We continue to use the hashtag #SpeakingMyName so that we can unlearn assumptions and bias to get to the world. My name is Yodit Haile.”
Yodit’s words are a reminder that respect and empathy are critical to sustaining the change we so clearly need.
Campaign organizer and SPEAK director Hetal Jani then spoke about how the #SpeakingMyName campaign had its roots in a panel about how culturally responsive education can support marginalized students going back to school during Covid-19. Ironically, her name, and that of a co-panelist, were mispronounced. She realized that:
“The panel we were on, discussing how educators can be culturally responsive, needed to take a huge step back and first talk about something as simple as a name. Since then, it has been a conscious decision to continue the campaign because of the persistent injustice we see in our society.”
She pointed out that empowering youth to be proud of their names, and insisting that others respect them, is a simple step towards a broader societal shift. This work is a way to:
“..begin to amplify the many minority voices through something as simple as their name, to begin to teach the importance in educators and youth being culturally responsive and making space for a students identity, without placing our own biases and labels onto them.”
In part, Hetal’s story of starting the campaign resonated because it is so similar to my own. I was inspired to do something, to build NameCoach, after hearing my sister’s name get mispronounced at her graduation, and hearing about my mom having her name Anglicized at her doctor’s office when she immigrated. The unintentional slight, the inattention to the marginal effort it would take to say it correctly, the norm that it’s ok, and the understandable reluctance to correct others… they are a small, inchoate indication of a much broader set of often unconscious norms, norms which paint a much larger picture of privilege and marginalization and inequity.
And we must change that bigger picture. We must advance the values that help sustain broader change, that help sustain a society that is at once dignified, diverse, and free.
But of course, names are just a small step in the right direction, and as Hetal observed, “this is not where the work stops.” The SPEAK Mentorship program works to “dismantle the systems upholding injustice” by developing and empowering marginalized youth, and by giving them guidance and models of success which reflect the diversity of our society – and which challenge that very same set of unconscious norms.
We applaud SPEAK Mentorship and all the organizers and participants of the #SpeakingMyName campaign, and hope that the campaign and summit is as thought-provoking for others as it was for us.
– Praveen Shanbhag, CEO, NameCoach