On Monday, November 13, Diana Steeble, PRR co-owner, board president, and Health sector lead, received the Puget Sound PRSA’s Hugh Smith Community Service award. Diana was nominated for her service as past board president of the Atlantic Street Center, a social service agency helping families and communities raise healthy, successful children and youth, and for co-founding and co-chairing Congregation Beth Shalom’s anti-racism group, Tzedek, as well as her work here at PRR in support of healthier communities.
We wanted to hear more about Diana’s work in the community, her experience with PRSA, and the role PRR has played in her approach to work in the community.
PRSA stands for the Public Relations Society of America, and I am a member of the Puget Sound chapter. This is a Puget Sound chapter award, but many chapters throughout the U.S. have a Hugh Smith Community Service Award. I consider PRSA my industry professional organization – it’s not just media relations, but communications much more broadly – and I attended their annual conference in Nashville last month.
It is lovely when your peers nominate you for something like this, so that feels meaningful. I am being recognized for a few different things, but I think the organizing principle around them is mutual aid. I want a community where we look out for each other, where we give our time and treasure, and where we get support when we need it, too.
I have learned to follow the lead of BIPOC-led organizations. Don’t do what you think you should do, do what the people you are trying to serve say you should do. Don’t waste their time.
When I joined the board of Atlantic Street Center, I was suggesting things like adding metrics and quantifying their progress. Nope! They taught me that metrics never tell the full story about a child. There will always be cheaper, faster, more efficient ways to do things that will help convince companies to write a check, but they won’t help the kids in the same way.
With Tzedek, we focused at first on defunding the police and have since pivoted to following the lead of the BIPOC co-led Multifaith Coalition for Restorative Justice to focus on reforming the criminal (in)justice system. We have talked a lot about prison, but it became clear that prison is not something many of our members have direct experience with, so I hosted a panel where people who have that experience could share, making the conversation less theoretical and more human. Then, on Yom Kippur, I hosted a panel on clemency – including my hero Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu; the director of the Seattle Clemency Project; and a member who is a legal advocate and her client, who has direct experience of incarceration in prison as well as life after clemency.
The panelists reframed the conversation we often have about convictions from one of guilty versus innocent and a focus on punishment, to a conversation about mercy, healing, and kindness to humanity, including both people who are victims of crime and people who have committed crimes and people who live in both of these categories. They also described some of the ways the system routinely fails people, for example mandating that someone with a 20-year sentence wait until the final 18 months to get drug treatment. And, they shared some of the creative ways women who are incarcerated have developed to support each other against the odds, and ways attorneys have come together to work on clemency in a volunteer capacity with the Seattle Clemency Project—an organization grounded in the belief that people are fallible and capable of reform, and a healthy legal system must account for that.
I have also learned about programming education for people from lots of different backgrounds, opinions, and different ways of learning. I learned it’s important to provide lots of options so people can connect in their own way, that it’s especially effective to bring a new speaker in alongside someone people already know, and that it’s important to provide action steps people can walk away with. (I also want to make it clear that I am not directly teaching any anti-racism classes, but rather hiring acclaimed teachers, who are Black and Jewish or other Jews of color.)
I have taken the principles of PRR’s work with community-based organizations (CBOs) with me, including: don’t jump to conclusions, ask for what is needed and follow their lead, be flexible, and provide compensation. I also use my communication skills to help. PRR and community service feel like one big thing to me – it’s all just an opportunity for me to keep learning and being in community.
I am still learning how to balance community service with my work at PRR. I started doing work with Tzedek when many of us, myself included, had to reduce our work hours during the pandemic. Now that I’m working full time again, I have to ask for help more.
At PRR, and in life, I am absolutely still a student in anti-racism. I will never stop making mistakes, but by going and doing a thing, I get to apply them and learn with others as I go.
An anti-racist PRR dismantles systems of advantage based on race when and wherever possible. We engage staff of all racial identities in dismantling white supremacy culture at work. This includes personal ideologies, beliefs, and behaviors. And, it includes removing white supremacy culture from the systems, cultural messages, institutional policies, procedures, and practices that PRR and our staff interact with and inform. We believe it is not enough to be “not racist.” We must be “anti-racist.”