NOTE: This "It's Your Business" column by Chamber CEO Erin Predmore was published in the September 10, 2021 Bloomington Herald-Times.
In 2019, the Regional Opportunity Initiatives issued a Monroe County Quality of Place & Workforce Attraction Plan. The initiative hosted a series of focus groups to develop the plan, and one of the findings included this:
Minority residents do not feel the sense of welcoming community that Monroe County prides itself on. The legacy of the Ku Klux Klan in the region is remembered and felt today. Recruiters have trouble attracting diverse candidates to the region, to Monroe County and to Bloomington.
One focus group member noted that Monroe County “thinks it’s more progressive than it actually is.” Others pointed to the existence of a Black community that’s small with a strong identity and said they stay here for that reason.
On the flip side, HR professionals interviewed by ROI cited a lack of diversity in their job candidate pools, which hinders our local economy from developing a stronger workforce.
Our community clearly has a lot of work to do. Here at the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, we’re working to do our part.
With a generous grant from the Duke Energy Foundation, the chamber will be offering our members free diversity, equity and inclusion trainings, beginning Oct. 1. These sessions will be provided by The Guarden, a Bloomington firm that offers diversity education training for institutions, corporations and organizations of all sizes.
Six topics will be covered this fall semester, including foundational bias and micro-aggressions, culturally sensitive communication, imposter syndrome, exploring anti-racism, inclusive excellence and a diversity, equity and inclusion work session.
We’re thrilled to work with The Guarden on this project — our staff have already benefited from internal training with Nichelle Whitney, The Guarden’s founder.
We’re also excited to welcome Maqubè Reese to our staff as community engagement coordinator. You might also know her from her work with Tribe Consulting, from her service on the Bloomington Board of Public Safety and the Monroe County Branch of the NAACP, or from the Bloom magazine issue that featured her for its Black Women of Bloomington cover story.
Reese will be doing outreach in a number of ways, so stay tuned for news about her work for a variety of sectors in the community. One of her first efforts is organizing the inaugural Black in Bloomington Networking Mixer from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 22 at the FAR Center for Contemporary Arts.
The goal for this event is to amplify Black people in the community and strengthen connections. If you are concerned about racial equity, are an ally to Black people fighting for equal rights, have a Black partner or are a parent or guardian to a Black child/children and need to build community, please join us to learn how to lean in more to be an advocate for social change. We hope this group will build community, connect and service local businesses, and join in the Blacks in Government membership drive.
The event will include a lineup of notable speakers, including Virginia Githiri, Cherelle Hines, Audra Lampkins, Mary Priester-Hanks, Julius Hanks and Adriann Wilson.
The last initiative I’ll mention is the chamber’s support of Black-owned businesses, including businesses that aren’t chamber members. Part of that includes listing businesses on our website at https://bit.ly/3hgJLx3. We’ll be expanding this programming to include other groups, including Latinx businesses, veteran-owned businesses and more.
None of these things alone will make Monroe County a more welcoming community to minorities. We all have a part to play, and the chamber will continue to build on the efforts we’ve made so far. But I hope each of us reflects on what we can do within our own organizations and networks and makes a commitment to building a more inclusive Monroe County for all.
Erin Predmore is president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
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