African-American Business Legacy
For Nearly 100 Years, the NAACP Has Inspired Leadership and Achievement.
By Judith L. Turnock
Since early 1909, the multi-racial National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been a trailblazer for equality of rights for all Americans, though its far-reaching efforts on issues of economic equality are not widely known. “Our work focuses on eliminating the causes of poverty, because poverty’s symptoms must not be confused with poverty’s causes,” says NAACP National Board Chair Julian Bond. “If we don’t deal with the causes, the symptoms will continue with each new generation.” Here we celebrate some of the diversity and inclusion successes in the workplace that have their genesis in the efforts of the NAACP.
The NAACP’s Legacy of Achieving Economic Equality
The NAACP has a glorious legacy of creative thinking and brave action on all civil rights issues. From the earliest days, NAACP leaders refused to accept “the way we do business,” which resulted in blacks being excluded from gainful employment and therefore economic well-being.
“I vividly remember from my childhood many conversations with my uncle about how fairness in wealth distribution and employment was central to ending discrimination,” recalls Roger Wilkins, board chair of the NAACP magazine, The Crisis; recently retired professor of history; a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; and the nephew of Roy Wilkins, legendary NAACP Executive Director from 1955 to 1977. “The analysis remains compelling.”
As early as 1913, the NAACP began protesting against segregation in federal government jobs, the military and labor unions. When President Franklin Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) in 1941, it was a result of two decades’ worth of effort.
By the 1950s and 1960s, the NAACP was deeply into the challenge of creating economic and employment opportunities for black workers. “When we began the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955,” says Bond, a 20-year veteran of the Georgia General Assembly and a distinguished professor of history at American University and The University of Virginia, “we didn’t just want rider seats in the front of the bus — we wanted the driver’s seat, too.”
The work continued in the 20th century with the Fair Share Program, which increased jobs and promotions for black workers; Black Dollar Days, which demonstrated black purchasing power (today at $700 billion); and the Economic Reciprocity Initiative, which annually surveys the expenditures of more than 50 major corporations on workforce diversity, corporate philanthropy and supplier diversity. “As we educate consumers on the value of their dollar, they will make more prudent spending decisions, rewarding businesses for their best practices and holding them accountable for those that need improvement,” explains Bond.
In 2007, the NAACP launched its Consumer Choice Guide, which highlights innovative corporate diversity and inclusion strategies. “The NAACP is both an advocate and a valuable corporate resource,” says National Board Vice Chair Roslyn Brock, who began her work with the NAACP as an elected youth representative to the Board and serves as Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for Bon Secours Health Systems, Inc. “Through mutual respect, we will achieve a common good, benefiting industry and the community at the same time.”
Just this year, the launch of Gateway to Leadership, a summer internship program in partnership with the Money Management Institute, gave another boost to student economic literacy by placing African- American students at Wall Street firms and concluding the summer experience with a case study competition.
At Southern Company, we work hard to provide reliable low-cost energy, satisfy our customers and bring value to our shareholders.
We do this through a workforce that is diverse, engaged and committed to our individual and collective success. Our core values are grounded in ‘Unquestionable Trust,’ ‘Superior Performance’ and ‘Total Commitment’ and provide the foundation for our business and diversity strategy.
We believe diversity and inclusion principles must be woven into everything we do. Whether working with customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and vendors or communities, our goal is to achieve superior results through partnerships that demonstrate respect, value and full engagement. At Southern Company, diversity and inclusion are truly competitive advantages.
To learn more, visit us at:
Among the most common best practices
in diversity and inclusion are widespread
recruitment and strong employee development.
NAACP programs have long worked
to increase the visibility of African-American
future employees and to urge corporate
sponsors to hire them. “Without sincere
outreach efforts and adoption of best practices
that cut across racial lines in the new
global environment, corporations will never
be as profitable as they may hope,” says
NAACP Interim President and Chief
Executive Officer Dennis C. Hayes. Skill
building, mentoring, enlightened management
policies and leadership development
among employees will build a diverse
pipeline to the top positions.
“As we educate consumers on the value of their dollar,
they will make more prudent spending decisions.”
- Julian Bond, National Board Chair, NAACP
The most successful corporations have
taken these lessons to heart, and as a result, provide a wealth of growth opportunities
for a wide range of employees, intentionally
making sure that diverse employees share
equally in the benefits. Examples are leadership
training, internal sourcing to allow
broader business perspective, international
postings, enlightened HR policies, mentoring
programs, and open and transparent
succession planning. The results are seen in
products that appeal to broader and niche
markets, better retention rates, improved
business experiences in different cultures,
and diverse representation in the ranks of
upper management, the C-suite and the
boardroom. These companies are positioned
for the future and already experiencing
bottom line increases.
NAACP programs have always supported the development of minority-owned businesses. Today, major corporations are selecting from a more diverse pool of vendors for products and services, resulting in significant business opportunities for minority-owned businesses. As proof, the elite Billion Dollar Roundtable organization now has 14 member companies, each of which annually spends at least $1 billion on products and services from minority-owned enterprises. Its members are among the most respected companies in the world, and all are reaping the rewards of customer loyalty.
Best practices for achieving the benefits of these new partnerships include spreading supplier-diversity champions throughout their organizations, mentoring and other support for the sourcing organization, establishing annual objectives and reviewing performance against those objectives.
NAACP programs have long fostered the establishment and growth of entrepreneurship. For example, the Reginald Lewis Youth Entrepreneurial Institute, in partnership with nine black colleges, has graduated 2,300 high school students from its financial literacy curriculum.
The Financial Empowerment Initiative, which includes workshops on managing credit, achieving home ownership, business development and personal investing, is conducted regularly by NAACP branches across the nation.
“Without sincere outreach efforts and adoption of best practices
that cut across racial lines in the new global environment,
corporations will never be as profitable as they may hope.”
- Dennis C. Hayes, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, NAACP
Gwendolyn Smith Iloani, founder and
chair of Smith Whiley & Co., a private equity
investment firm, and a board member of
the NAACP Special Contributions Fund
and The Crisis magazine, began attending NAACP meetings as a child with her
parents, and she is clear about the reason
for her success: “I would not be where I am
today without the work of the NAACP,
and my company would not have been
successful without its economic and
employment agenda and its advocacy on
access to risk-based capital.”
NAACP leaders have always known that quality education is the foundation for a stable and rewarding life. Explains Brock, “We have to make sure those who come through the corporate doors are properly trained and ready to take on assignments that lead to advancement.”
This means reaching students long before they are of working age so they are aware of and prepared for the opportunities. ACTSO and “Back to School, Stay in School” are two competitive scholarship programs for black youth that have made the dream of education a reality for 29 years and 20 years, respectively. Scholarships for graduate and undergraduate students keep the dream alive for hundreds more every year.
Many corporate foundations and giving programs have followed the lead of the NAACP by financing self-help programs in minority communities around the country. These programs have encouraged minority youths to begin learning financial and business skills starting in elementary school and continuing through scholarships and internships for graduate students.
“We have to make sure those who come through the corporate doors are properly
trained and ready to take on assignments that lead to advancement.”
- Roslyn Brock, National Board Vice Chair, NAACP
The Future of Corporate Diversity
“We live in a world that values evolution and improvement, yet our country still faces many of the same challenges we’ve faced throughout our history,” says Bond, referring to the ever-present “color line” in society. “The NAACP is still fighting to eliminate the racism and prejudice that feed inequality and social ills.”
There has been great progress since the beginning of the 20th century at the urging of the NAACP. Thanks to its continuing inspiration, committed staff and board members, countless volunteers and many corporate, nonprofit and individual partners, we’re getting closer to achieving the mission of the NAACP and creating equal opportunities for all Americans.
AT&T’s long heritage in serving
stems from the company’s
commitment to diversity and
inclusion at every level.
This year, AT&T was honored to be included among DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity. The company also ranked number one among the Top 10 Companies for African Americans and was named as one of the Top 10 Companies for Recruitment and Retention.
Our commitment to attracting diverse talent extends beyond AT&T’s walls. Our HBCU Campus Challenge introduces students from historically black colleges and universities to hands-on, real-world marketing endeavors, while giving them opportunities to earn scholarships for themselves and grants for their institutions.
Diversity-owned firms are vital to our mission to deliver the best products and services to our customers, and AT&T spent $5.15 billion with those businesses last year. Diversity and inclusion is also woven into the business strategies for our philanthropic giving, advertising and media and community outreach.
AT&T is always working hard to be an employer, business partner and service provider of choice for African-Americans, and the NAACP is a key partner in helping us stay true to that promise.