Differentiators are the lifeblood of a business because they highlight your competitive advantage through the developments of a brand or product.
When we talk about differentiators in cultural organizations, however, we all too often see well-intended changes that chip away at the essence of what makes the culture great. Progress is good, but when we make change without at least a basic understanding and respect of that which we are changing, we risk losing what made it special to begin with.
I have spent the majority of my life in very diverse circles both personally and professionally and have worn many different hats, simultaneously at times. Oftentimes, I find myself in circles and settings where I stereotypically don’t fit in (i.e. the only woman or person of my race or religion, or the youngest person in the room.) These experiences have taught me the art of relating and the importance of diversity. They have also led me to unconventional access to groups such as the Mardi Gras Indians, a group historically not accessible to outsiders.
When working with any group, but especially groups who are traditionally closed off from the public, I have found the first and most important step in a supporting role is to listen. It’s important to remove personal opinions so that I can be educated about where and what the group is and then, in turn, where I can fit in and assist.
Three years ago, I was introduced to The Red Flame Hunters All Youth Mardi Gras Indian Tribe. The Red Flame Hunters are a youth organization that functions as an after-school program and is run by a local community organizer and leader, Edward Buckner. When I first met Mr. Ed, I knew very little about the Mardi Gras Indian traditions, but I knew that I wanted to help. Since meeting them, I have had the opportunity to sew with the young men in the tribe, parade with them and their families, help them raise money and truly become apart of their lives and traditions. Along the way, I’ve helped them secure grants, paid performances, and a feature in an exhibit at the Contemporary Art Center. As much as I’ve been able to contribute to the tribe however, I feel that they’ve given me the best gift. I’ve been able to make a real impact that respects the foundation of the organization and I’ve become an integral part of the tribe without changing who they are and what they stand for.
Much of the magic of New Orleans lies in the traditions of community groups such as the Red Flame Hunters. It’s our job as the entrepreneurs and connectors to help ensure the future of these cultural gems. However, in order to do so, we must first recognize the importance of understanding and respecting the people we’re working with. If you really want to help, it’s oftentimes best to leave your ego at the door.
Nicole Hershey works at Eiffel Society at Director of Event Sales. Join her Thursday, March 23 for an Ask Me Anything session.
Photography Credits to Xistence Photography (for the group shot) and Quinn Miller-Bedell (for the photo of the author).