Balancing social activism with unrelated full-time work has always been challenging. Rallies don’t only occur after business hours and commentary must come within hours of an event, not days. Those driven to make the world a better place make hard choices about working in activism around work hours, not to mention the worry that it may have a negative impact if the boss is unsupportive.
Now that is starting to change. Some employers, moved by the murder of George Floyd and reacting to the passion of their employees and society at large, are offering paid leave for activism. Yes& is among them. CEO Robert W. Sprague recently announced a new agency benefit of eight hours per month of paid leave for social activism. The hours reflect the Yes& core values of “Yes-ence” – actively bringing about new possibilities; and “Got-Your-Back-itude" – making sure everyone feels accepted and can reach their full potential.
“This is not just passive support, it’s actively going out and making a positive difference in the community,” he said.
The decision came after Sprague raised the issue in an all-staff meeting about how Yes& might make a difference. The consensus?The agency should demonstrate that “Black Lives Matter.”
PR Account Executive Alfred Warren proposed the idea of activism hours after meeting with other African-American staff to discuss the agency’s opportunities. Encouraged by the activism he was participating in in his hometown of Little Rock, Ark., as well as coverage of those around the nation and the world, Warren is optimistic that the time is right to turn the tide on the long history of police brutality and injustices against African-Americans.
“People can mobilize and activate in many ways – petitions, donations, emails to their representatives, letters to police departments,” he said. “What’s refreshing about this, if you feel like you can’t get out to protest, you can support black-owned businesses or do so many things to help that people don’t think about.”
Yes&formed a social justice committee for sustained action on the issue. All agreed that activism hours will be flexible to include whatever actions employees take to make positive changes in their communities.
“What we don’t want to do is have the word ‘activism’ apply a high barrier to entry,” said graphic designer Collin Brideau. “Activism doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to a protest. There are many ways to contribute.”
The activism hours support time Brideau already was making every day to read and educate himself, as a white person, about unconscious bias. “That’s important to me, personally, and it’s good to have that solidarity with an employer.”
Rutrell Yasin, a Yes& senior content strategist and longtime social justice activist, wasted no time in using his first eight hours of leave. Yasin took part in a Black Lives Matter rally in Prince William County, Va., in June that led to the county’s regional jail board ending its program that deputized county officers to make arrests on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Activists say the program subjected people to racial profiling and civil rights violations, and it separated families. The Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail Board – whose members are appointed by the county Board of Supervisors -- agreed.
“That's what electing the right people who listen to the voice of the people can do,” Yasin said.
With the mood of the nation focused on social justice issues, activists are passionate about seizing the moment.
“It appears that we are at that watershed moment again in which we can effectively tackle systemic racism in our society so that all citizens, all people, can live with a sense of human dignity,” Yasin said.