In March, in the northern Atlanta suburb of Chamblee, a middle-aged black man, Kenneth Coleman, was driving to his son’s baseball practice when a police car passed in the opposite direction. The cop swung around and followed Coleman. This was just weeks before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“He throws on the lights. I said, ‘Hey, why’d you stop me?’” Coleman tells Site Selection. “He said he didn’t recognize my sticker on the back. I asked him how he could’ve seen the sticker when he was going the other direction.”
Backups arrived, hands on pistols, and circled Coleman’s car. The cops left, without further incident, after detaining Coleman for nearly an hour in the parking lot of his son’s youth ballfield.
Coleman is president of the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce. As of July 20, he’ll be president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance in Birmingham, Alabama, that organization’s first black leader. While his tale of racial profiling is all too familiar, his message to business underscores how the debate has evolved from one centered on legal justice to the larger cause of socioeconomic justice.
“We, as a business community, have a tremendous opportunity, but we have to be careful that the initial response we’re seeing fails to address some of the larger systems. To be first out there to do something, that’s good. But it can’t be the only thing. What we as a business community have to do is take time and listen. We must make sure we’re pulling in a very diverse group of people, whether they’re part of our leadership, part of our customer base or part of our vendor network. We must listen to them.”
Corporate America’s response since the death of George Floyd is not unimpressive. A few examples: Bank of America has announced a $1 billion, four-year commitment to strengthening economic opportunities in communities of color; PayPal is committing $530 million to supporting black-owned businesses in the U.S.; Comcast is dedicating $100 million over three years toward diversity and inclusion; Sephora committed to devoting 15% of its shelf space to products from black-owned businesses; NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its races; PepsiCo announced a five-year, $400 million initiative to increase black managerial representation by 30% and more than double its business with black-owned suppliers.
Coleman believes the answers that drive business responses should not be hard to find.
“Sizable companies can find the answers within their own employees. Most employee bases are diverse enough to have seen the good, bad and the ugly from our companies. When companies then have the information they need to make the right decisions, and to make the right investments in their communities, they’ve got to treat it like their corporate goals. That means set specific objectives with specific tactics, clear accountabilities and regular follow-up. If you treat rooting out systemic racism as one of your corporate goals, you’ve got a better chance of doing it.”
After protests erupted nationwide, Coleman says he took his sons, ages 13 and 16, to a rally in Atlanta, where he was encouraged by what he saw.
“The group of kids was wonderfully diverse. There were Asians and Indians and Hispanics, black and white. It looked like America. And it looked like kids who wanted America to live up to its promise.”
Site Selection and its parent company, Conway, Inc., remain committed to bolstering our efforts to cover and explore economic development (or its historical lack) in minority communities. Visit siteselection.com and see: “Ready to Rise, Once Recognized” (September 2019); “Minority Report: Atlanta” (October 2019); “Alabama: History in the Making” (January 2020); and “Already Risen” (January 2017). There’s more to come.
We all are in this together.