Honoring Black History: Michelle Berry’s story

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ITHACA, NY – Throughout the month of February, we’re honoring Black history with the stories of those who have broken barriers and sought to heal divisions in our society.

Tonight, we speak with Michelle Courtney Berry, a wellness coach and business consultant, poet and performer, past politician and current Chief Marketing Officer, about how she uses a challenge common to us all to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I really feel this is my life’s work, to help people and to bridge differences,” says Berry.

Michelle Courtney Berry began her consulting business when she was still a grad student at Cornell, with an initial focus on writing, marketing and public relations.

The more she worked with companies and their owners, the more a common thread emerged.

“No matter what field I was in or career, stress, stress, stress. And I thought there’s something about this. Because I had done a lot of work with trauma informed approaches to teaching and to helping people reduce their anxiety, I thought wouldn’t it be great to add that to my consultancy,” says Berry.

And Berry could speak first-hand to the challenges. While living in Binghamton, she became a poet and performer and began offering diversity training as a part of her business.

After moving to Ithaca, she developed a one-woman show, taught classes at Ithaca College and was elected an alderman on Common Council and deputy mayor.

With so many balls in the air wreaking havoc on her life, she realized it was time to take her own advice and do the important work of managing and prioritizing her time.

“No matter where we’re from, what we have in common is, we’re always trying to do more with the hours that we have in the day, we’re often sleep-deprived, we often don’t take good care of ourselves. So, how can we prioritize self-care so that you can help more people?” asks Berry.

This led Berry to see herself as a wellness coach in relation to all of her various endeavors.

She engages techniques such as meditation, Reiki and basic mindfulness when working with clients.

She also currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer for Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca, where she oversees projects related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

When offering DEI training to her clients, she seeks to create a safe place where people feel heard and not judged.

Berry says there’s a financial incentive to having an inclusive environment.

“You make more money in a business if you are culturally aware and culturally competent. You retain more of the diversity that you seek across all levels when it’s an inclusive space that feels safe,” says Berry.

Berry says communities of color and other minorities aren’t the only people who feel disenfranchised within our society.

She says the rural white poor often feel neglected.

Plus, there’s intergenerational conflict in the workplace and cross-cultural misunderstandings within multi-national firms.

Layer a global pandemic on top and stress levels skyrocket.

“People are really suffering. Between worrying about whether they can stay open, between worrying about whether they can be as diverse as they need to be, between the worry about what’s going on in the world around them and what do they say to children? So, anyway that I can play an important bridge in those conversations and relationships, that’s what I feel called to do,” says Berry.

Berry says she takes a compassionate approach in which she sees conflict as an opportunity.

And helping people to become better listeners so that everyone can feel heard.

To find out more about Berry’s consulting business, go to MichelleCourtneyBerry.com.

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