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On Being Present: Celebrating Blackness in Italian History with FH4Inclusion

April 14, 2021
By Gracey Wallace

Every year, Black History Month in the U.S. is an opportunity to shine a light on some of the incredible — and often unknown — contributions of Black Americans. Celebrating Black history doesn’t stop at the U.S. border, though.

Image of “Allegory of America” by Baldassare Franceschini, property of The Uffizi

Recently, FH4Inclusion, True MOSAIC and Omnicom PR Group’s Milan-based office joined forces to support Black History Month Florence (BHMF), an Italian-based program co-founded by new media artist, organizer and educator Justin Randolph Thompson. BHMF is an initiative designed to highlight the cultures of African diasporic communities in Florence and throughout Italy, with key events taking place during February. This year, one of its main vehicles is a partnership with Florence’s Uffizi Galleries that launched On Being Present – Vol II, a virtual exhibit highlighting — and contextualizing — the presence of Black African figures in Renaissance paintings. The Uffizi’s collection includes the work of famous artists like Botticelli and DaVinci, to name a few. Last year, On Being Present Vol I was the Uffizi Galleries’ most-visited online exhibit.

As part of this pro bono work, we identified and engaged with outlets across Italy, as well as journalists at U.S. art trade publications to spread the word about BHMF’s 2021 roster of events and their second Uffizi partnership. To amplify BHMF’s reach even further, we helped raise its awareness on social media and created a space for audiences to engage. As part of our strategy, we highlighted Thompson’s unique cultural experience — having lived in the U.S. (where he’s originally from) and in Italy. Given this, and the global resonance of the campaign, we worked toward the goal of driving visibility of BHMF not only within Europe, but all over the world.

As a result, we, in collaboration with BHMF partners, secured almost 90 articles in Italy across a range of outlets, as well as an opportunity to work with U.S.-based Blanc Magazine on a panel event focused on authentic storytelling and the “Black Presence.” Our BHMF clients were pleased with the results, stating:

“We are humbled by all of the positive responses that we have received, and it has been great to have an extra push in a complex year. The Italian press and the broadened reach of our program fostered by the support of your team have been meaningful acknowledgments of our efforts and serve as important contributions and fuel for our ongoing and forthcoming work. It has been a powerful start to the year and the wake is just beginning to show itself.” – Justin Randolph Thompson, co-founder and director of BHMF

“We cannot thank you enough for your guidance and for being by our side in this last edition, we definitely saw a difference, in having a PR agency accompanying us and helping us managing the press and the communication.” — Janine Gaëlle Dieudji, co-director and vice president of the Association Cultural at BHMF

With projects like these, I am reminded of just how impactful our work as FH4Inclusion counselors can be. The Italian peninsula is overflowing with history — think the Roman Empire, the Vatican and Michelangelo — but the stories and accomplishments of Black Italians have been left out of that narrative. As a student, I paid particular attention to how our understanding of “history” is intentionally shaped by the politics of the day. Just because something is not included in history textbooks does not mean it’s irrelevant. The events of 2020 reinvigorated conversations among Americans to unpack what it has meant to be both black and American at different points in history. Thanks to BHMF, we can begin to understand what those conversations look like across the world.

You can read more about Black History Month Florence here and follow them on Instagram and Facebook.