Why our business resigned from the Charleston visitors bureau

Provided / Sean Alexander

Who Loves Company?

Editor's note: Helen T. Hill, CEO of Explore Charleston, responded in a column published Friday.

As small business owners facing the already staggering challenges of a pandemic, the last thing we want to do right now is call out the well-connected and well-funded Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, known more familiarly as Explore Charleston. But as we reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement, the systems of power in our city and how we can best contribute to meaningful change, we can't walk away from the chance to make this public call.

Every organization has an opportunity right now to step up to the plate, acknowledge our missteps, learn to do better and commit to do more. As one of the gatekeepers of Charleston's national and global perception, Explore Charleston has a responsibility to do better.

A bit of background: Sightsee Shop signed up for a retailer membership in the CVB's Travel Council at the beginning of the year, hoping that our still-new business could benefit from their media campaigns targeted to out-of-town customers whose patronage is essential to our bottom line. Admittedly, we let potential profits or press mentions cloud a more thoughtful investigation of their values before joining. Hindsight is, appropriately, 20/20.

That said, being "on the inside" over the past few months has given us an opportunity to more clearly see how Explore Charleston communicates to their members, how they shape their public narrative and how they demonstrate their values, particularly now during the Black Lives Matter movement. Emails and marketing content with no sign of solidarity for black lives, glossy social media posts with muted comments and requests for their members "to post only uplifting and positive content" are just a few examples among many that signal a broader culture of silence and denial. With this new information, we can wholeheartedly say we are disappointed in ourselves for joining, and even more frustrated that the CVB's priorities seem to actively uphold the systemic racism that our community is trying to fight.

As we move through the rest of the year, our community and its visitors need to know: Do black lives matter to Explore Charleston? What ongoing commitment will you make to represent — and champion — black businesses and residents in Charleston? With the tagline "History Loves Company," how will you ensure that your work doesn't contribute to the white-washing of our city's racist history, and that you tell the full story of this place?

We believe that Explore Charleston has the power, platform and connections to make meaningful change and would like to see a public commitment in that direction. As such, we are using this forum to demand that CVB take the following actions towards becoming actively anti-racist and showcasing the true identity of our region on a global scale:

1. Allocate advertising dollars towards highlighting black-owned businesses in Charleston. Some suggestions include: ensuring journalists visit black-owned businesses during press trips, an online guide to black-owned businesses and longer-term investments to support the region's black culture and entrepreneurship.

2. Stop white-washing history in your marketing materials. The language on your website and social media tells a very specific story. There is no mention of slavery to be found on the Explore Charleston plantation guide, Civil War monuments are heralded and your standalone African American history website represents a "separate but equal" effort to segregate the black experience from the rest of Charleston's history. It's time to change that.

3. Join the call for the removal of Confederate monuments. The CVB has a lot of power and influence over our local government's decision-making. Joining this call would set an incredible example for other cities and tourism bureaus for how to make meaningful progress.

If you would like to join us in demanding that Explore Charleston become a more actively anti-racist organization and better represent the true identity of our region, please add your name to the list at: historyloveshonesty.com.

Joel Sadler and Allyson Sutton are the co-owners of Sightsee Shop at 125 1/2 Line St.

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