Diversity Again Challenges Community

September 25, 2006
Print
Text Size:
A A

The Convention and Arena Authority is providing specific objectives aimed at assuring that the community’s “diversity” is represented — and apparent — in the performances at the Van Andel Arena. While it might be said that such has always been the intent, it is true that intent falls short of action. The lion of the recent directive to specifically begin a minority community outreach plan is CAA Chairman Steven Heacock, who has long called minority representation a priority.

It may be a no-brainer for other urban communities in Michigan, but Grand Rapids is still underrepresented by minorities in leadership positions. The example of how this has come to pass is evident in the struggles of the city’s minority supplier program. In this “big-small community,” a surprising amount of business is still conducted to and through “who you know,” rather than outreach and competitive bidding. The city has long identified the issue and provided connections between potential business partners through its program and lists of minority-owned businesses.

The example of how it begets continued failure is evident in the comments of law firm partners who lose almost as many minority recruits as they invite. Statistically, such recruits are attracted to the larger firms in the larger metro areas. In a story in sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine (May 2006), Warner Norcross & Judd LLP partner Valerie Simmons noted, “Minority law students in general really aren’t much interested in being trailblazers or one of a few. They’re looking for places where they can be comfortable — places where other people look like them.” Harvard grad and Dickinson Wright partner Patrick Miles also commented on how Grand Rapids has less appeal because of low minority representation among business, governmental, academic and political leaders in the area, also equating to a small number of professional executives who would be viewed as mentors.

For those who remain in the community, the challenge becomes one of overextension, especially in the nonprofit sector where the few are asked to contribute comparatively inordinate amounts of time to “represent” minorities, yet are challenged by the number of those willing to sacrifice unceasing time commitments. It can be compared to the same names going up on major community buildings.

Joe Jones and Skot Welch, both highly regarded for their community leadership and integrity, won the CAA contract to provide the outreach plan. In what may be unprecedented for any business holding a government contract, both Jones and Welch have indicated the level of their commitment to the project, opting to provide two hours of pro bono work for every billable hour. It sets a new bar for giving in the Grand Rapids business community and provides example of how to walk the talk, which is exactly what the CAA decided to do last week in assurance, not just intent, that minority community members will be represented.

Grand Rapids Business Journal suggests that the CAA and Kent County Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau will benefit from such assistance as well in contracting for conventions more specifically related to a vast number of minority groups across the country.    

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus