The Co-Presidents of the Black@Amyris ERG reflect on their experiences, Black excellence and making an impact in the workplace and community
In this week’s blog, Alexis Udo-Udoma and Bryan Chimney, the Co-Presidents of Amyris’ Black@Amyris Employee Resource Group, reflect on their experiences, Black excellence and making an impact in the workplace and community
What does being Black mean to you?
Bryan Chimney: I have a sense of pride in being black. There is a history of strength, resilience, and boldness in being black. We come in all shades and sizes, and there is a wonderful beauty in that. Oftentimes black people will say, ‘I love us.’ This is because there is a shared cultural experience and unspoken understanding that bonds us to one another. It comes from our upbringing, values, culture and a collective sense of togetherness. Through adversity and conflict, we have maintained a positive, uplifting, humorous outlook in the worst of times and encouraged each other with love and kindness. We have an immense capacity for empathy even with our shared generational traumas and woes. We steadily push the envelope, set trends, and influence the world. It’s this that makes me feel good in my skin and proud of the legacy of courageous black people that came before me.
Alexis Udo-Udoma: My experience of being black in America has been multifaceted. As a first generation Nigerian American my parents immigrated to London where I was born. We moved to California at the age of 4. We traveled a ton and culture was confusing as a child. I experienced one set of cultural rules at home and another at school. The beautiful thing is that I could always connect to black people wherever I was. There is a shared understanding and joyous celebration for life, culture, fashion, triumph and everything in between. I always felt like my friends were my family no matter where I was and my black friends just got it, at the root we are all connected to mother Africa and that connection runs deep in our DNA.
Black people have a way of showing up and setting the bar. It doesn’t matter what it is, we have a saying “You know how we do.” Meaning, you know that what we are presenting is going to be taken to the next level. Being black in America means sometimes being the first. It can mean taking the responsibility of representing black people upon yourself. At times it means feeling alone or different. Ultimately it means taking pride in our collective efforts to excel, propel and build upon the foundation laid by those that came before.
How has being Co-President of Black@Amyris impacted your day job? What has your experience been like leading an ERG?
Alexis Udo-Udoma: Being a leader in an ERG has helped me show up in a much more authentic way. I can be my full self in a supportive group of leaders working towards the same goals of engagement, outreach and inclusion. I feel a sense of community and connection to Amyris and Biossance in a way that makes me feel like I belong, that I’m not just an employee. This has made a major impact on my day-to-day. Being a remote worker can be isolating at times so to have a break in the day to bond over a shared experience or plan an employee event is incredibly uplifting.
Leadership has its challenges and we have faced many since the start of Black@Amyris. Not only are we working towards creating an employee resource group that represents black people and allies across all of Amyris, we are also working to expand and shift company culture to think outside the box, become more inclusive and be proactive. We have had many obstacles and resistance which in the past have left us feeling deflated but we have become even stronger and found resilience together. When we see positive employee feedback and participation numbers rise, we know that we are on the right path.
Bryan Chimney: It can definitely feel overwhelming. I cried on a call with my manager just because I was putting so much pressure on myself. What I needed was balance and to give myself grace, which is what my manager said.
I feel a sense of responsibility to represent black people and myself, in the best way. There can be preconceived notions and stereotypes about us but we’re not linear and one note. We’re not a monolith either. We are multifaceted, dynamic individuals who happen to share a similar experience. This is why I wanted to lead. I want others to see us the way we do. Visibility and understanding are the keys that compel us to move forward to a brighter, more inclusive future.
What are some ways to celebrate Black excellence both in and out of the workplace?
Bryan Chimney: Every day there are new barriers being broken and records being set by black people. The education system doesn’t tell us about these amazing doctors, artists, musicians, inventors, authors, etc. Most people I’ve talked to say that they didn’t learn anything about black history in school except slavery. If this is all that is being taught, what perception does that leave everyone with about black people? What ideas or notions does this form in people’s heads? Many of the accomplishments of black individuals go unnoticed and unacknowledged. Today is a new day though. This is why the leaders of Black@Amyris wanted a specific focus during Black History Month on Black Excellence.
We’ve celebrated wins and successes for the culture and you can too! Some may not know what to say or feel it’s not their place to discuss this. But remember, everyone wants to be celebrated and appreciated for what they have contributed to society. Many times, a light is shined on tragedy and hard times. Let’s shine a light on the positives and triumphs. It’s a win for us all.
Personally, I’ve never met a stranger. I got it from my dad. I strike up conversations with everyone, all walks of life. When I do this, I learn about them and their experiences. Any presumptions I may have previously had gets a newfound perspective. Get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. Your understanding will be limited if you stay in your own bubble. Once you hear someone’s story, you’ll want to celebrate them and they’ll do the same.
Companies and communities often think about what to do during BHM, but then engagement and enthusiasm for initiatives after February often wane when there’s less spotlight. How can we take lessons learned during February and continue applying and driving them throughout the year?
Alexis Udo-Udoma: Don’t feel like you have to make a grand or performative gesture. It starts with the small everyday acts and engagement. Start by showing support all year round. Have a conversation or join a Black colleague for coffee or lunch. Ask them about their experiences, get to know them outside of who they are at work. Become an ally and get curious about what it means to be black and how their journey is different from your own. It’s about being proactive with your involvement and actively listening to those around you.
Bryan Chimney: Go out into the community and volunteer. Stay up on current events—local, national and international. Go to a new event or meetup that you’ve never been to before. Engage with people who are different from you. Watch films and documentaries to grow more aware. There are many things you can do. One of the biggest is to offer support when unfortunate events occur. Just being there with an encouraging word helps and sharing what you have learned with those around you.