Excerpted from Jacksonville Business Journal story.
Leaders. Educators. Trailblazers. Fighters. Mothers and fathers, mentors and models. Across the First Coast, a range of African American men and women are changing how we do business and who we are as a city. In celebration of Black History Month, we sit down with some of them to talk about how they are Shaping Their Identities.
Justin Spiller believes identity comes from two places: how someone is perceived and how they perceive themselves. Managing people’s perceptions can be exhausting, yet it’s a chore most African-Americans are very familiar with.
“We have to be cognizant about how people perceive us, whether we’re white or black,” said Spiller, associate director of investment sales at Franklin Street. “You can identify as whatever you want, but we’re still in a country where people’s perceptions matter.”
Changing people’s perceptions, Spiller believes, requires engagement and honest communication.
“It requires building a relationship with someone to change their initial thoughts about who you are,” Spiller said. “And that goes beyond color … .”
There is a lot of relationship-building and work to do, and Spiller believes the observation of Black History Month is a small but necessary start.
“Frankly, we should celebrate black history throughout the year,” he said. “In a perfect world, we wouldn’t distinguish between black history and American history, but because there’s still a lack of emphasis on the contributions of African-Americans in this country — other than a few — I think the devotion of a month is very critical.”
Although Spiller’s work hasn’t changed his ideas about race and equality in America, it has impressed upon him a sense of duty to try to improve the path for others.
“It’s reminded me that while I have sat at many tables where I’m the only African-American, it doesn’t mean equality has been achieved just because I’m sitting at that table,” he said. “At the end of the day, a single African-American, or even a couple, doesn’t satisfy diversity at a firm. At the same time – that single black person or those few – should they so choose, have the ability to shape the experience of others.”