Celebrating Nine Years in Business and Honoring Where I Came From
Although I was confident and excited when I launched RENEWPR nine years today, I didn’t envision what the future held. Did I think we’d work with nearly 50 clients and collaborate with a team of eight freelancers and more than 10 agency partners in our first nine years? Did I foresee that we’d win awards and that I would be inducted into the PRSA National Capital Chapter Hall of Fame? In a word, no. What I did know was that RENEWPR was a very good idea whose time had come and launching this business was the right next step for me.
Over the last nine years, I’ve celebrated the anniversary of our founding with receptions (remember in-person events before the pandemic?) and donations to organizations and non-profits working on energy, environment, equity and related topics. And on the seventh anniversary in 2022, I launched an endowed scholarship for LGBTQ students attending my alma mater, Texas Tech University, to help make it easier for openly LGBTQ students to go to school where they wanted, even when doing so might be challenging.
This year, to mark our ninth anniversary in business, I’m doubling-down on support for the RENEWPR LGBTQIA Endowed Scholarship and I’m inviting you to join me by donating as well (select the RENEWPR LGBTQIA Endowed Scholarship in the drop-down menu). I hope you’ll join me to help ensure that LGBTQ students at Texas Tech know that they are valued and important and that they should not be afraid to attend a school like Tech fully present as who they are.
So what does our scholarship have to do with RENEWPR’s ninth anniversary in business? Everything. Texas Tech helped make me who I am today. My education and my exposure to people different (and often more conservative) than myself has been integral to the approach I’ve taken in building my business. We don’t work at the fringes and just hope that our efforts will produce results: we engage in the broad center where the majority of people are AND where smart, strategic, collaborative work can yield positive results. We work to bring people together despite their differences and we strive to find those areas where we can agree so that we can get good things done. Texas Tech helped give me that perspective. That’s why establishing the RENEWPR LGBTQIA scholarship was so important to me in 2022 and why I’m redoubling my efforts this year to increase its value as part of our ninth anniversary.
The timing of this donation is not accidental; if anything, it’s consequential:
The Texas Legislature last year enacted legislation outlawing diversity, education and inclusion programs at state universities and other public institutions. The governor signed them into law, despite outcry and opposition. In response, state schools like Texas Tech began quietly dismantling their diversity, equity and inclusion programs ahead of the legal deadline of January 1, 2024. This didn’t just involve scrubbing terms like “DEI” and “LGBTQ” from university websites, but closing down entire programs and laying off or moving staff to other departments. Diversity is now a dirty word in Texas universities and any signs of Texas Tech’s former leadership on LGBTQ outreach and engagement have disappeared.
Imagine what kind of a signal those actions sent to LGBTQ students and students of color. When the institution of higher learning that you trust to teach you what you need to know to make your way in the world literally erases your existence, the repercussions are many, from fear to anger and shame. It’s hard enough being a young adult in college. Being told that your identity is not valid, is not worthy of acknowledging and is, in fact, a threat to others and must therefore be shunned is an experience that is the exact opposite of what a college education should provide.
I visited the campus of Texas Tech last April to deliver the keynote at the Lavender Graduation ceremony in the Student Union Building. It was the first time I had returned to campus or to Lubbock since my graduation more than 30 years ago. And what I saw was not the same campus I left. The buildings looked the same, but the student body was dramatically more diverse and the whole environment felt more welcoming and more like the university experience every student should have. It was remarkable and life-affirming – and that was before I witnessed several dozen openly LGBTQ students walk across the stage in a ballroom in the Student Union Building, accept a lavender tassel and take a photograph with university administrators as part of the Lavender Graduation ceremonies. What a moment. I was so proud – and a little shocked – to see my alma mater leading the way for LGBTQ students.
I had no idea that the Lavender Graduation that brought me back to Lubbock for the first time in decades might be the last one the university ever hosts. The closure of the Texas Tech Office of LGBTQIA Education and Engagement a few months later and the disappearance of links to the Lavender Graduation and even to my scholarship on the university website were further signs of the regression taking place at Tech and at universities across the state.
In the months since Texas legislators drove a stake into diversity, I’ve been reflecting on the value and impact of my scholarship. For an LGBTQ student in a time of fear and doubt, seeing a scholarship designed expressly for you signals that it’s okay to be fully yourself and that you are both okay and welcomed, even if it doesn’t seem like it. It’s like lighting a candle rather than just cursing the darkness. It’s saying that LGBTQ people are valued AND that we shouldn’t have to retreat to “blue states” or “safe schools” that will accept us. We can’t expect every LGBTQ person to leave Texas or Florida or other states where regressive actions are dominating the headlines. Some can’t and some don’t want to. What we can do is try to make it easier for LGBTQ kids to get an education regardless of where they live and despite the fact that some state educational systems are set up to deny their humanity. With my RENEWPR scholarship, I’m providing a small example that we are not just everywhere, but we are everybody and we are all worthy of love, respect and opportunity.
I’m thrilled and proud to be celebrating nine years in business. And I’m thrilled and proud that I’ve been an able to do that as openly gay man with a degree from Texas Tech University. All of those things are part of my success. All of those things are why I’m trying to make sure that the next generations have those opportunities too.