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March 11, 2021 9:35am

OPINION: Equity remains a priority for city’s business community

This editorial was originally published in the Courier-Journal on 3/11/21

Our city’s journey toward racial equity has been filled with obstacles, difficult conversations, and deliberate actions that have pushed us out of our comfort zones. The task is daunting, and often it feels like our efforts are a drop in the ocean. However, looking back over the past year we are closer to our goal and have made small, but meaningful impacts. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.”

The past year challenged us to expand our perception of an “inclusive economy,” highlighting that it is more than what happens in the confines of the office. Following the tragic death of Breonna Taylor and resulting calls for racial equality, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to play a role in eliminating racism.

Last summer, Greater Louisville Inc. recruited leaders in the Louisville business community to launch the Business Council to End Racism. The Business Council’s goal was to focus on how oppression and injustice impact marginalized communities. The initial phase of this work required a deep understanding of the barriers that Black communities in Louisville faced. Because these barriers were complex, the Business Council was divided into five workstreams: access to healthcare, workforce development and barriers, inclusion, criminal justice and law enforcement, and education.

We held meetings and heard firsthand testimonials of the barriers facing Black communities during  GLI’s annual GLIDE trip to Louisville’s West End. Recently, GLI partnered with the University of Louisville for a CEO Roundtable which offered some of the region’s top business leaders an opportunity to hear from Black talent who left greater Louisville’s workforce and relocated to other regions. The roundtable led to a collective brainstorm on how to create a more welcoming and inclusive business culture. These eye-opening experiences played an integral part in shaping our understanding of the deep wounds of racism in our city and allowed us to create a strategic direction forward. While we must always continue learning and understanding the experiences of our Black community, the Business Council and our workstreams are working diligently to eliminate systemic racism in our community by taking bold and intentional actions.

One step is addressing the injustices of Louisville’s criminal justice system, which has historically had a disproportionate negative impact on Black individuals. While these kinds of reforms take time, we start by ensuring that those within and exiting the criminal justice system are still able to access education and career opportunities. Currently, we have launched a grassroots campaign advocating for House Bill 25, which will expand eligibility to KEES scholarships to those with felony records, and House Bill 126, which will raise the felony theft threshold from $500 to $1,000. In addition, Workstream leader David Tandy, will delve into the details of the LMPD top-to-bottom review conducted by Hillard Heintze. GLI is also advocating for full investigatory power of Louisville Metro Council’s Civilian Review board to increase confidence in our local investigatory processes and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The Access to Healthcare Workstream, led by Corenza Townsend, is working with state and local leaders as well as Norton Healthcare and Baptist Health, to guarantee equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. GLI is assisting both the state and city in disseminating information on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine to build confidence in the vaccine and ensure information is reaching Black and minority communities in Louisville.

The Education Workstream, led by Nat Irvin II, in partnership with the University of Louisville, is developing The Digital Transformation Institute Summer Magnet Program that will educate 100 Black High School students across the region in the Business and STEM related fields.  In addition to the partnership with the University of Louisville College of Business, The Digital Transformation Institute is also partnering with the Lincoln Foundation Program which also focuses on STEM.

Finally, the Workforce Development and Barriers Workstream, led by DeVone Holt, is working with GLI’s Career Acceleration Network, which is a collective of employers investing in strategic partnerships to build career pathways for Louisville’s underserved communities from entry level positions to high-skilled careers that lead to family-supporting wages. The workstream will support the Network and ensure it reaches minority populations.

While the Business Council to End Racism has significant work underway, there is still much to do. In the coming months, our Inclusion workstream led by Condrad Daniels, will launch a business community racial equity pledge which will give Greater Louisville companies the opportunity to commit to equity and provide them with resources to promote inclusion in the workplace and community. The pledge will be accompanied by the roll-out of a community platform to help keep businesses on track.

Another step in this work is the recent launch of the Power to Prosper Minority Business Accelerator powered by Interise which will help minority business-owners and entrepreneurs scale and grow their operations and maximize their potential. The application process for this cohort style program is now open. The Minority Business Accelerator will offer personalized content that allows individuals to focus on specific areas of their business that need assistance including: marketing, HR, and finance. We recognize that growing a successful business is largely dependent on access to these services which are often costly.

The goal of equity is long-term, and our strategy will undoubtedly change as we continue to move the needle. Actual and sustainable change takes time and effort on all fronts. The business community is committed to continuing to do our part to eliminate systemic racism in all forms and facets and will continue working to understand and remedy the barriers that people in Louisville’s Black and minority communities face.

Ralph de Chabert is senior vice president and chief diversity, inclusion and global community relations officer for Brown-Forman Corporation. Cynthia Knapek is president of the Leadership Louisville Center, and Jerilan Greene is global chief communications and public affairs officer at Yum! Brands. They are the co-chairs for Greater Louisville Inc.’s Business Council to End Racism.