Roadies of Color United (R.O.C.U.) Working to Remove Barriers to Backstage Diversity
Kevin M. Mitchell • News • July 14, 2020
Open is Part of the Solution
Around 2009, longtime friends and touring buddies Lance “KC” Jackson and Bill Reeves noticed in the live event trade magazines (including this one and PLSN) that the stories seemed to always be on the same group of people, pretty much all of the same sex and ethnicity. “If an alien came down and only looked at these two magazines, they’d think no Black people participated in this industry,” Reeves says bluntly.
Jackson adds that during those early years, there was CrewSpace, a social media site to seek gigs and get known. “It was a great profile space and I didn’t have any problem signing up,” as he had decades of experience and was well known. As he proceeded to recommend other people of color, he noticed he was constantly being asked to “verify” these other professionals and vouch that they were “okay” to be included. He started feeling as though there was a chance that the group’s administrator was, unconsciously or not, making him jump through these hoops because those he was bringing into that circle did not look like the vast majority of the current members.
Lance “KC” Jackson and Bill Reeves
So Jackson and Reeves concluded that many talented live event professionals of color could benefit from a united advocacy group. “We wanted to form a sense of community amongst ourselves and let the larger industry know that Blacks, people of color, and women do participate in this industry.” Roadies of Color United thus began. “In the beginning it was mostly powered by KC’s efforts and was a loosely organized social network with a website and membership roll,” Reeves says. Articles were posted and shared, but mostly there was networking and an effort to be more visible in the larger community.
The organization has been steadily growing. They had their First Annual Conference and Anniversary Celebration in Atlanta this past February. They launched an award ceremony. “They are called the Lenny Awards, named after Lenny Guice,” Jackson explains. “He was one of the original roadies for the Commodores and went on to be everything from a Master Carpenter to a Lighting Director. We lost him to cancer in 2011.”
The 2020 Lenny Award Winners
Although Roadies of Color United is currently a subscriber-based social network, future plans include filing as a 501(c)6 organization and start an outreach to Black colleges in an effort to bring more young people into the business in general. To join ROCU, you need two years of road experience, which is vetted by the group’s directors. Jackson adds the group wants to support POC/women-owned businesses, too. They have started to establish relationships with other organizations, including the Event Safety Alliance and the Parnelli Awards. ROCU is active on social media, and everyone is encouraged to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
“I’d like a more diverse crew, but…”
“… I don’t know where to look.” From the beginning, and now more than ever, ROCU wants to be the answer to that question. In addition to making sure the group is better known, a comprehensive database of live event people of color is in the works. “In this business, we hire who we know – that’s how business works in general,” Reeves says. The variation on the “old boy network” defaults to those who you know, who you’ve worked with before, and frankly, who looks like you. He points out he and Jackson are “guilty” of that, too. “The idea isn’t to supplant everyone’s personal network, but if you go to your first-choice hire and they are not available, maybe reach out a little further afield.” Use resources like ROCU, Soundgirls.com, and LineCheck! Women in Live Production.
Both are aware that the moment for this is now. “In the past couple of weeks, it seems there’s been a sudden discovery of a sense of conscious,” Jackson [not so much?] jokes.
Reeves has a theory about why now is different. “It’s a confluence of the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder, and people in the industry with time on their hands,” Reeves says. “People are well-intentioned and think of themselves as not racist, a cool guy, but something about this murder touched people emotionally as opposed to intellectually. In the past it’s been ‘I’d love to hire a black person,’ but then they’d be distracted by that next advance call for the tour or need to fly off to that next meeting. Now we’re sitting at home,” and hopefully we’re all in a better position to deal with the systematic racism that is so baked into the entire culture at large.
No Easy Road
The two have no delusion of the hard work ahead in creating a more diverse live event community. “We have to work our way into some of these things, promote our competence and professionalism,” Jackson says. “Might not happen in my lifetime or Bill’s lifetime, but it’s good we’re getting so much attention towards that goal.”
For more info, visit www.roadiesofcolorunited.com