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Greater Louisville Inc. The Metro Chamber of Commerce 2019 Chamber of the Year
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Media Center

October 15, 2020 11:59am

Op-ed: The goal of racial equity demands immediate action

This article first appeared in Louisville Business First on October 15, 2020.

As our community continues processing last month’s grand jury announcement, many are rightly asking, where does Louisville go from here?

It is hard to look ahead when our city is in need of so much healing, but the goal of racial equity demands immediate action. More than that, it demands concrete next steps from all of us — including the business community.

As the largest business organization in the region, I want to share the steps that Greater Louisville Inc. is taking to advance racial equity in Louisville. Our members recognize the deep wounds of racism in our community and are fully committed to a prosperous future rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion.

This is critical not only to the soul of our community but its economy as well. GLI’s mission has long been to cultivate a thriving economy in our region, but an economy cannot thrive unless opportunity is equitably accessible to all, regardless of one’s ZIP code or skin color. That is the type of inclusive economy GLI is committed to cultivating.

When we look at other communities that have experienced challenges like we are seeing now in Louisville, Cincinnati is an often-cited example. The business community rallied around the creation of a minority business accelerator, which has demonstrated excellent results in a short period of time.

Louisville, too, must have economic empowerment for all. GLI formally unveiled a bold economic development roadmap last month called NOW Louisville. I want to underscore the plan’s commitment to intentionally supporting the success of underrepresented enterprises and talent.

This commitment is one of six key goals that seeks to drive the inclusion and amplification of minority-owned businesses throughout our regional economy and ensure diverse talent in Greater Louisville is connected and feels a firm sense of place in our region. To accomplish this goal, we have established a series of tactics, including the development of a Minority Business Accelerator and facilitating introductions of minority-owned businesses to other enterprises.

Closely tied to NOW Louisville is GLI’s Business Council to End Racism, which is playing a critical role in facilitating discussions, building trust, and organizing action for all businesses and organizations in Greater Louisville. The Business Council includes five workstreams, each focused on specific areas of impact:

  • Access to health care
  • Workforce development and barriers to work
  • Education
  • Inclusion
  • Criminal justice and law enforcement

I am pleased to report that all our Business Council workstreams have begun meeting to create consensus on how to build a more equitable and inclusive business community. I strongly encourage any interested individual to join us in this work and help further the council’s mission.

A third crucial initiative is an honest and inward examination of the economic and workforce inequities facing Louisville. For the 20th anniversary of GLI’s GLIDE trip, regional business leaders will explore Louisville’s West End early next week. There are realities in West Louisville that the business community needs to better understand and there are candid conversations around racial and economic equity that must take place.

GLIDE has always served as a catalyst for change in Louisville. Past attendees have brought home lessons learned and best practices from other cities and regions. But two lessons that 2020 has already taught us are that too many of us do not truly know our own city and that looking inward is equally as important as looking outward.

GLIDE 2020 reflects an effort to address that knowledge gap and create an opportunity for meaningful community self-reflection that will need to progress.

Finally, I want to highlight our policy work. GLI has stood at the forefront of advocating for criminal justice reforms in Frankfort. We recognize that reforms are critical to removing barriers to workforce participation and righting the wrongs of a system that has fallen hardest on the Black community.

GLI was the first business organization in Kentucky to endorse and advocate for Class D felony expungement and after passing landmark legislation in 2016, we followed up with legislation to make improvements to our expungement laws in 2019 and 2020.

We are in the process of setting our state priorities for the upcoming session, but we will continue championing bail reform, raising the felony theft threshold, improvements to our probation and parole systems, further improvements to our expungement laws, and removing barriers to education for inmates and individuals exiting the system. More to come on state priorities that will address equity.

At the local level, we recognize the need to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the community. This must involve increased implicit bias training for all members of our criminal justice system, a robust discussion around the city’s collective bargaining agreement with law enforcement, and steps to improve local department culture, accountability and civilian oversight of local policing.

I urge all members of the business community to embrace the need for reform and the need for honest and candid conversations about policing in Louisville. These are difficult, often emotional conversations, but they need to happen. Trust must be rebuilt in order to heal our city. It is not enough to say these things are needed. We must work together to create this change.

Our regional business community must also continue to be a strong advocate for increased investment in public transportation to ensure equitable connectivity to jobs, education, food, housing and urban amenities. We advocate for land development and redevelopment policies to support density and increased access to housing opportunities throughout the community.

To advance equity in education, GLI supported JCPS’ Racial Educational Equity Plan and recently announced its endorsement of increased investments for public education in Jefferson County to improve student outcomes and dedicate additional resources and support for vulnerable student populations.

My goal in highlighting all this work is not to pat ourselves on the back. Rather, I want to remind our community that the wheels of progress are turning, and hard work is being done — even when sometimes it might not feel like it.

But still, more is needed. Much more.

As Louisville stands at a turning point in its history and we ask ourselves where we go from here, GLI’s response is a commitment to pushing our community in the direction of inclusion and racial equity.

I encourage all members of our community to hold us accountable to this commitment, to engage with us in difficult or even uncomfortable conversations, and to join us in our mission.