The following is an op-ed piece authored by Joe Frazier, Executive Director of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
It’s been slightly over a year now since the Kentucky Chamber Foundation established the Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and this new year is another opportunity to honor the legacy of the late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.
I would argue that when most Americans think about the Civil Rights movement and de-segregation, they think about the elimination of White only establishments throughout our businesses and institutions in the country. People of Color alongside White Americans can eat, shop, and patronize the same restaurants, businesses, and storefronts.
But what about our Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs)? Did we see the majority of Americans begin to use MBEs in the same way that people of color patronize majority-owned firms? Let’s fast forward to the 21st Century. According to the Minority Business Development Agency’s review of existing disparity studies, Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) frequently cite dealing with barriers including:
- Exclusionary networks
- Receiving timely payments
- Explicit discrimination, stereotypes, higher and double standards
- Marketplace discrimination
- MBEs only used if required
In Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermon “On Being a Good Neighbor (1962),” he said:
“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless. The law cannot make an employer love an employee, but it can prevent him from refusing to hire me because of the color of my skin. The habits, if not the hearts, of people have been and are being altered every day by legislative acts, judicial decisions, and executive orders.
“But acknowledging this, we must admit that the ultimate solution to the race problem lies in the willingness of men to obey the unenforceable… A vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws will bring an end to segregated public facilities which are barriers to a truly desegregated society, but it cannot bring an end to fears, prejudice, pride, and irrationality, which are the barriers to a truly integrated society… True integration will be achieved by true neighbors who are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations.”
Integration doesn’t stop at businesses opening to everyone. It needs to include the obligation of individuals to do business with everyone as well. So, while businesses were forced to integrate, did your shopping habits? While we celebrate the legacy of ending segregation, let’s make sure that our shopping habits and the procurement processes of our businesses reflect that victory as well. If you take the extra time to look at your spending habits, how many of your business dealings are with an MBE? As a business leader, whether it’s your supplier, prime contractors, or subcontractors, how often do you work with an MBE?
At the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Foundation, we are working to help Kentuckians, both businesses and individuals, to truly integrate their business utilization portfolio. Our free-to-access Kentucky Minority-Owned Business Database is a one-stop-shop including all Kentucky certified minority-owned businesses. As we celebrate and commemorate the legacy of the Late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr, remember that there is still work to be done, true integration and therefore inclusivity requires intention. So, let’s be inclusive and shop consciously.