Tanya M. Odom has worked for more than two decades to advance diversity and inclusion in workplaces and communities around the world.
To mark Women’s History Month, we asked Odom to reflect on the women who influenced her work and thinking on DEI and her passion for social justice.
“Audre Lorde was a Civil Rights activist, poet, and scholar who has always inspired me,” says Odom, who joined the foundation as director of its Equity & Inclusion Program in 2020.
“She was committed to issues of justice and inclusion. She highlighted the importance of a ‘shared struggle,’ and acknowledged the importance of intersectionality. She committed her life and work to issues of injustice.”
Lorde was the author of several volumes of poetry, including “The First Cities,” “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches” and “From a Land Where Other People Live,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry. A collection of essays, “A Burst of Light,” won the Before Columbus Foundation National Book Award in 1988.
“You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other,” Lorde wrote, in one of Odom’s favorite quotes. “I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities.” And in order for us to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness.”
My mother always instilled in us that if we could help someone, then we should.
Odom credits her mother for teaching her to recognize injustice and working to correct it in the world. She recalls her family once had Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” as the song on their answering machine.
“My mother always instilled in us that if we could help someone, then we should,” she says.
“We grew up with a keen awareness of how others were treated unfairly. She also taught us about standing up for what is right. From the time we were little we attended protests and marches related to various causes. We grew up in a house singing songs of the Civil Rights movement.”