Talent is created equally, but opportunity is not

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable summer. It has certainly been an eventful one for me!

In June, I had the opportunity to tour the “Black Belt” or the southern states (Ala., Miss., Tenn.) where our nation has communities living in more than five decades of poverty, high unemployment, and economic lack and scarcity of basic goods and services. In doing so, I was honored to meet Bertha Rogers Looney, one of the original Memphis State Eight, now 82 years young.  She, along with seven others, desegregated Memphis State University in 1959.

Ms. Looney endured many hardships, including threats, physical violence, demoralizing acts, and emotional trauma, but remained steadfast in her resolve to get a good education and take full advantage of an opportunity that was life changing academically, socially, and economically. She went on to have an impressive 40-year teaching career and aided in many desegregation efforts of colleges, universities, and vocational programs to ensure others could reach their potential.

It was a very emotional day, for persons of color and marginalized groups, when we learned the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Affirmative Action in a devastating decision that erases race-based admissions at U.S. colleges and universities. Like many, I experienced a range of emotions, from outrage to hopelessness to disdain for yet another setback our community must endure, despite hard won battles. I thought of the trailblazer I had just met, Ms. Looney, and how she must feel, as a person who has tirelessly devoted her life to inclusion, along with other successful persons of color who gained access to education and opportunity through Affirmative Action.

As I continue to wade through the emotions, and process the articles, commentary and discussions among peers and family members of color, I am left to find sentiments of hope, stories of resilience and, most importantly, comfort in the allies of our business community, especially the companies represented in the CIE membership. I believe in the commitment of those Fortune 50 companies (TIAA, Amazon, Hewlett Packard, Biogen, General Motors, and Microsoft, etc.) to remain steadfast in their search for diverse talent with an unwavering resolve to equality and representation, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Industry and business leaders must continue to publicly invite colleges, policy makers and other institutions to create MORE alternative pathways of inclusion so that each student can actualize an equitable path to higher education and opportunity.

Although this most recent ruling brings numerous challenges and setbacks, the like-minded, allied business community has a profound opportunity to lean into direct, deliberate, and comprehensive measures of equity and inclusion investment, and provide unyielding support for under-represented individuals and communities of color in our country.

This most recent decision – along with the Supreme Court’s decision to block student loan forgiveness – fuels my focus and efforts within CIE to drive economic empowerment for persons of color and other disenfranchised groups through the influence and implementation of DEIB practices and mechanisms that entities, like our CIE member companies, must adopt.

“We know talent is created equally, but opportunity is not,” said Thasunda Brown Duckett, CEO of TIAA. Much like the work of CIE, we must continue to move allies into firm accountability and action to create the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging we want to see – denouncing current limits – and setting an irrevocable course for generations of color.

Stephanie Knight
Chief Executive Officer, Colorado Inclusive Economy

July 15, 2023