Bear with me on this one, we’re going to be all over the place—but that is why I started a blog! Kind of. Not really. But stay with me. This year fall break at my son’s school was an entire week. So, I did what any workaholic mom would do—I asked my son to pick a location in the United States, so I could make up for how many nights I end up plugged back into work. To no one’s surprise, my historian 13-year-old picked Washington D.C., and the planning began.
Before I dive into this post, I need to tell you something: I’m a shitty blogger. I debated writing that word. I actually deleted it a few times. My dad will cringe if he reads this. My son would scold me. But I strive to be authentic, and it’s sad but true—my name is Casey, and I cuss like a sailor. Glad to have that out of the way!
When I started this blog, it wasn’t to grow an audience or influence the products you buy. It was to share my story. Sometimes that story is really fun and exciting and offers takeaways I’m passionate about sharing. But, other times, my story is kind of boring or insanely busy. When I lack inspiration to write, I don’t write. So, I appreciate those of you who are still following along! I owe you a post on my trip to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) 2018 International Conference, and I promise, it’s coming soon. Now, back to D.C.
Neither Caiden or I had been to D.C. before, and being the person I am, we arrived on Saturday, October 13 with a week-long itinerary that would keep us moving until we departed on Saturday, October 20. While I wouldn’t call it a relaxing vacation in traditional terms, I will say it was one of the most incredible trips I’ve taken.
I’m not a history person. Honestly, when I think back to high school, I can remember my dad sitting in our rocking chair drilling me on names and dates while I sat on the floor and failed to recall any correct answers—the same answers we’d reviewed just moments before. But my son happens to be a young historian. Watching him dive into our nation’s capital was unforgettable and left me inspired. Hence this post.
As I reflected on our trip, and the stories and happenings that have mosaicked together to form America, it really got me thinking about the work I do. In no particular order, here are a few things I was reminded thanks to our week in D.C.
The past has to propel the present.
Washington D.C. houses some of the most beautiful buildings, monuments, and documents I’ve ever seen. But just as it tells the story of a group of people striving for independence and democracy; there are also countless exhibits that illustrate times of turmoil, devastating war, and grave injustice.
In full disclosure, I’m an overprotective mother. I think that’s just the single mom in me. But when we encountered these difficult exhibits or stumbled into heavy conversations, we talked through them. One of these times came after we explored the National Museum of the American Indian, specifically after we played a simulated game on the third floor.
The game asked us to select an American Indian. From there, we were presented a scenario essentially saying that European settlers have moved into the area. We were then presented options as to how to respond—do as they ask, compromise, or meet their request with conflict. We spent a great deal of time at this simulator as each scenario resulted in the American Indian tribe losing control of their land and being forced west.
In the moment, this was a very infuriating realization to Caiden. He repeatedly asked me to make sense of the outcomes, and I repeatedly struggled to do so. As the rapid-fire questions continued, I got frustrated and asked, “Do we need to avoid exhibits that have to potential to upset you for the rest of the trip?” I’ll never forget his response. “Mom, we can’t erase what happened. We have to know what happened over history to make sure it never happens again.”
And in all honesty, the same can be said for public relations campaigns, which is why I took this moment back to work with me. In order to tell a story, grow an audience, garner support, drive a behavior change—PR pros have to have historical context to better connect with audiences and drive them towards the goal.
Old can inspire new.
Yes, I proofread this post. Old can inspire new, you read correctly. Let me explain. I booked an Airbnb for our week in D.C. (#shoutout to Barry who was an amazing host!), and about three weeks before the trip I got an email of things to do around the city. As soon as I spotted a street art tour (hi Korey!), it was booked.
The 90-minute walking tour took us through and around #artblocdc with illustrations of icnoic individuals, vibrant colors, and mind-blowing designs. But our tour guide truly made the experience. We started at the famous #watermelonhouse before heading down to Logan Circle. It was there we learned that the community was created by runaway slaves that would seek freedom in nearby shacks. Recently, residents and community groups have begun to spearhead initiatives that celebrate some of the influential African Americans that paved the way for today’s black business owners and community members.
The entire mural walk was incredible, and I’m going to include way too many photos—which won’t do these buildings justice. But the reminder is apparent and important: old buildings, old sidewalks can inspire new perspectives. Very few would look at an alleyway lined with dirty napkins and crunched up soda cans and see an inviting canvas. DC’s art community rallied around spaces and through their art transformed them into places.
Which is a great reminder for any industry, but as the PR field continues to evolve and collide with marketing and digital—it seems even more poignant. The old way of doing things can be incredibly helpful in inspiring newness today. While some would argue the press release is dead, for many it continues to be an essential document to get a story idea in front of a journalist. And with a fresh coat of paint—which may look like a few Tweets to that journalist, a paid digital campaign, or an engaged group of stakeholders—a wonderful feature can come together that perfectly marries old and new.
We’re all in this together.
Cliché? Yes. True? Without question.
As a single mom in a picturesque city like Washington D.C., I was begging strangers and trading picture-taking duties as I tried to capture every moment. And my requests were almost always met with kindness and a willingness to help. Groups were patient as we each took turns posing and snapping the perfect picture—and it was a beautiful reminder.
We’re all in this together. Which is easier now to forget than it’s ever been before. But something about the energy of this trip coupled with the stunning sights and rich history of our nation’s capital left me reminded that at the end of the day, we’re all people.
If you’re planning a trip to Washington D.C. any time soon, I’ll warn you I’m no expert! But, I will say, we put a major dent in the city while we were there. If you have questions or want to vet your trip itinerary, comment below or Tweet me @CaseyNCawthon.
I’ll leave you with a few additional photos below: