Becoming a Good Ancestor

By Melody M. Benjamin

February 20, 2020

An interview with Darien LaBeach, the diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy director at Huge.

Grassroots efforts toward organizational and systemic change too often go unnoticed, uncelebrated. We quote Martin. We revere Malcolm. We adore Barack. Black history is an endless revolution with no small actors. We all have a part in Black history. Whether you contribute directly as a Black person, play a supporting role as an ally, stand by idly as an indifferent party, or as an active detractor of the Black community, your involvement or lack of it matters.

After interviewing Darien LaBeach, it became clear to me that his brilliance far exceeds repartee. He is a scholar of questions, a true strategist. When posed with a question, he first dissects it. His elegant responses to my inquiries were telling. His dissection of certain questions revealed my unconscious resignation to Black history, my penchant for icons. I’d resigned to relying on Black Lives Matter, Mr. Obama, and the residual efforts of our forefathers to lead the charge. I have dreams. I have a sense of purpose, but it wasn’t until this conversation that I realized that history, my history, Black history demands that I consciously do my part.

As the newly appointed director of diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy at Huge, LaBeach is certainly doing his part. While he is leading efforts to create a more equitable workplace, LaBeach appreciates that the different disciplines recognize “that diversity, equity, and inclusion is not some vertical, necessarily, but it is something that influences everything that we do.” While LaBeach emphasizes the importance of educating ourselves about Black history, he is committed to “calling people in, not calling people out.” That starts with an invitation to have tough conversations without judgment and imploring people to question themselves. That includes unpacking biases and recognizing we all have them. Diversity is something everyone wants to get right, but LaBeach says not so fast. Trying to get it right “can be paralyzing, it can be crippling, and it can lead to nothing happening.” He goes on to say, “It’s not about getting it right. You’re never just going to get to a place or reach some peak level of wokeness where you don’t have to learn anymore or you don’t have to understand how people want to be understood.”

One way to understand someone is to understand the experiences that shaped them. LaBeach is a Jamaican-born African-American Black man who moved to the United States when he was a year old. He lived in Miami for five years before spending the next ten years in New York State. His family eventually moved to the suburbs of Atlanta, where he faced “instances of casual racism shrouded in Southern hospitality that really kind of fucked [him] up early in [his] formative years.” He was called the “whitest Black person that people knew.” He couldn’t understand how being good at school and playing sports and enunciating his words somehow meant that he was less Black.

For many, Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate Black excellence, to pay homage to our ancestry. For LaBeach, “Black History Month is just a chance to really lean into my Blackness,” he says. “And whatever form I want it to be.” When asked what Black history is, he smiles wide and says, “Black history is the history of the world. Black history is the defining characteristic of most of the modern world. When we think about America and whose backs it was built on, it was built on the history of Black people. Black people literally paved the way and paved the ground for all of these modern industries that exist today.”

LaBeach follows and partners with a slew of amazing talent who continue to pave the way. When asked who we should follow in real life and on Instagram, he didn’t hesitate. “There are so many people that I think are worth following, a lot of them both in my circles and those that aren’t. But if I were to do a rapid-fire shoutout, I would say, follow The Creative Collective NYC, @theccnyc. They are the founders and creators of CultureCon. They are constantly connecting and helping Black people elevate themselves and level up. Follow Noémie-Marguerite, @noemiemarguerite. She is a phenomenal color theorist, photographer, and visual storyteller. Follow Khadijat, @jetsetterproblems. She is one of the founders of @hommetheseries, which explores how masculinity is something that needs to be explored by everyone because everyone has masculine energy, and it’s just a matter of what we do with it and how we allow it to be more free.”

After listening to the podcast “Good Ancestor,” LaBeach gave more thought to what that really means — to be a good ancestor — but it was his recent trip to Ghana that really put it in focus. He shares that Black history is an opportunity “to understand just how beautiful Black people are, how innovative we have been, the traumas that we have had to overcome, the resilience that we have as a people.” To further illustrate the resilience of Black people, LaBeach shares a powerful vista on Cape Coast of “Black boys and girls running and playing, having the time of their lives” juxtaposed the slave castle. He says, “To see that level of happiness and joy, literally in the shadow of this monument, that is resilience, that is longevity, that is Black don’t crack. We do not crack under the pressure, under the strain, under the torture.”

We all contribute to Black history whether we intend to or not, so let us do so consciously. We cannot rely on the efforts of our ancestors or the efforts of others to further the cause, to elevate the Black community. We cannot take refuge in the status quo. We must all “git up, git out, and git something” done to further Black history, because Black history is American history.

Melody M. Benjamin is a Sr. Creative Recruiter, Global Talent at Huge.