The mood in New York right now is frantic and electric. It feels like a re-birth: A rawer, new New York. There is a surge of people out in the streets, restaurants have spilled into bike lanes. There are also sadly many more homeless people which is worrying especially as the winter approaches – the gravity of the pandemic is evident. There is a strong undercurrent of fear and uncertainty but despite this, we are connected by our desire to persevere.
On June 4th, just 10 days after George Floyd’s senseless murder, I was driving home from my office. I was about to turn onto my street and came face-to-face with a 10,000-person Black Lives Matter march. The car was on the verge of being swarmed by protestors, albeit peaceful. I jumped out carrying too many bags and boxes that I had just picked up from my office. Breathing heavily under my mask, I made it home a few blocks away. I dropped my boxes and bags and went back outside to watch the protest go by… it was impossible not to join. This massive herd of deeply sad New Yorkers walked to the Supreme Court Building in Brooklyn. George’s brother, Terence Floyd, spoke and I was brought to tears. This is the day I understood everything would now be different, as it needed to be. It was the day I realised that the world would change irreversibly.
The PR industry was facing some fundamental issues pre-COVID that we needed to reconcile. As a culture we have been rewarding some pretty bad behaviours – narcissism, exclusion, over consumerism. I’ve needed to step back and understand what wasn’t serving me, my company or our industry pre-COVID. Relationships have changed for the better. My friend and stylist Chloe Hartstein has been protesting every week since Floyd’s murder. She asked her friends to donate supplies for poster making and water bottles to distribute during the marches. If you can’t be out there protesting as much as you’d like, support your friends who are.
The game plan for the rest of the year is… to focus on people and brands that make us feel inspired, empathetic and expansive. We are cherry-picking stories that resonate with our team. There is a lot of animosity in the world right now and we need to find ways to keep our spirits high and ambitions alive. We need to hear stories about brands and people that make us feel connected, engaged and energised.
Winter is coming and we have to take it day-by-day. We don’t have all the answers and we need to see how the situation unfolds. We are learning to live in the present and making the most of what the day offers. New Yorkers, who are always out and about, are having to reconnect with their own homes and create their own sense of sanctuary, which is likely long overdue.
I miss exercise classes with people in a room… and Friday power lunches at Casa Lever. I actually miss taking the subway.
It will take a lot of empathy and a lot of humanity to rebuild this city. We need to keep doing what New Yorkers do, like striking up conversations with strangers, calling people out on their bullshit and living our lives fearlessly.
Follow Sophie @sophie_roche_conti