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Chamber Joins Equality of Opportunity Initiative

Posted by: Justin Freeman on Monday, July 6, 2020

The Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce has joined with over 500 state and local chambers of commerce and associations to participate in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Equality of Opportunity Initiative.

Nationwide Effort to Advance Economic Inclusion Across Our Society
The purpose of the Equality of Opportunity Initiative is to power a nationwide effort to advance economic inclusion across our society through business leadership by addressing inequality of opportunity focusing on reform in four key issue areas: education, employment, entrepreneurship, and criminal justice.

The National Black Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., the National Business League, the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship, and the U.S.Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation (USPAACC) are among the initiative’s nationwide partners.

Initiative Aligns with Chamber’s Vision & Mission
The Vision of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce is to be the center of world-class business, welcoming communities, and opportunities for all. This Vision inspires the mission work we do which includes championing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that are sources of both competitive advantage for business and sustainable success for the future of our community.

As our nation undertakes a necessary conversation about systemic racism, we will be listening thoughtfully and leading solutions locally to help ensure all people of color have greater opportunities to succeed. To realize our Chamber’s Vision, we must work together to remove barriers that have been present for far too long and have prevented fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement.

America’s Opportunity Gaps: By the Numbers
On June 25, the Chamber participated in the initiative’s formal kick-off, a virtual National Summit on Equality of Opportunity, where leaders from across the private and public sectors discussed solutions to some of the underlying challenges driving inequality of opportunity for Black Americans. Featured speakers explored how the business community can lead, educational solutions to social justice, breaking down barriers, addressing opportunities in employment and entrepreneurship, making the business case for racial equity, and building the infrastructure for racial equality (education, health, housing and criminal justice).

During the Summit, the U.S. Chamber shared its research showing participants the magnitude of opportunity gaps in six key areas. These findings as well as local data will be used to inform our work as we pursue targeted, data-driven, and sustainable solutions that will help deliver the American promise of equal opportunity for all. To download the complete report, click here.

We’ve Got More Work To Do
Raymond Burns, Chamber President/CEO, recently reflected on how the work of this national initiative will build on the mission work already undertaken by the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. Burns said, “As the trusted source for growing business, activating leaders, and building community, we have a lot of work to do. We are committed now more than ever to advancing current Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and continuing our work as influencers, catalysts, and conveners.”

Burns added, “Our Chamber has been actively engaged for almost three decades in DEI initiatives and over that time we have earned the respect and reputation of Business, Community, and Government as one of the go-to-sources based on our policy and our actions. Our work in the Latinx Community and other Communities of Color, is recognized throughout the State and Northwest Arkansas. Our Governor has called on us several times as has our City, and Public Education, to bridge
cultural differences and promote better communication especially with Law Enforcement and Public Safety.”

Your Chamber in Action
During the National Summit on June 25, it was strongly recommended that Chambers tell their stories about important actions they are taking and more importantly, that we help tell the story of our members of color who need their voice to be heard. Here are some highlights of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce in action to address the challenges facing us:

•Three DEI trainings through our Lens Series (Lens was created by our DEI Council) have already been held through recent webinars:
   •Moving From Diversity to Inclusion, LaTricia Hill-Candler, Arvest Bank
   •Inclusion During Covid-19, Dr. Todd Jenkins, Bowtie Conversations
   •Unconscious Bias, Tina Gilbert, Next Level Training Solutions
•Starting in July; NWA Emerging Leaders will kick off the #ListenNWA Social Media Campaign designed to give our minority community members a platform to share their experience in Northwest Arkansas. Those stories can be good or bad, as we will ask the participants to be as candid and vulnerable as they wish. Our hope is that hearing these stories from our friends, neighbors, and colleagues will spark productive dialogue within the community that will lead to positive change.
•Conducting Race Equity Training for our Leadership Benton County Cohort.
•Teaching Tolerance training for Arvest First Leadership (creating civil and inclusive schools).
•Created the Board Mentorship Program.
•Created a new partnership between NWA Urban League and NWA Emerging Leaders.
•Minority Outreach programs spearheaded by Geovanny Sarmiento, VP of Community Engagement & Inclusion.
•Starting in mid-July, we are creating focus groups of minority community members and asking for their experiences and feedback.

The Chamber is also present at DEI efforts around our region and state and the City of Rogers is leading our region and state in DEI initiatives. Burns said, “Our City and Chamber have been working for many years along with all its leadership to advance our efforts in this area. We have a reputation for convening and listening to our community, and by working together, we have made every effort to make Rogers a great city to live, work and play for all. However, we understand there is a lot more work ahead of us.”

Below are a few activities and organizations the Chamber is actively involved:
•Engage NWA Steering Committee. As a convener and connector for leaders in Business, Government, and the Community, Engage NWA provides a platform to demonstrate shared values, practical strategies for engagement, and positive results around efforts to build an inclusive region.
•Members of the COVID-19 LatinX Stakeholder Outreach with the Arkansas Health Department. Tasked by Dr. Smith and the Governor to help find creative ways to fight the pandemic and the spread of the virus among the LatinX community.
•Recently appointed by Governor Asa Hutchinson to the Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas. The task force will be reviewing the adequacy of law enforcement training, policy, and operations, specifically related to cultural, racial, and community relations; studying and analyzing the processes for accountability, discipline, removal, and decertification of officers who do not meet standards, including an evaluation for the creation and implementation of a statewide, public database of complaints and resolutions concerning law enforcement officers; studying and analyzing the standards, requirements, and obstacles for recruitment, hiring, and retention of law enforcement officers, including resiliency programs, educational opportunities, and compensation and benefit packages available to law enforcement officers; making recommendations to enhance trust between law enforcement and communities; making recommendations for improvements or changes needed to enhance the profession of law enforcement to ensure compliance with standards.
•Representing the City of Rogers in Governor Asa Hutchinson’s Covid-19 LatinX NWA leadership meetings.
•Collaborating with True NWA, a three-year pilot initiative to train, report, uplift, and engage our community towards diversity and inclusion, with the support of the Walmart Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

We believe that through diversity, collaboration, and teamwork we encourage an inspired, open, and welcoming environment that leads to the greater good. We will convene, we will listen, we will collaborate, and we will help lead our community and region into meaningful action and lasting change providing equal justice and opportunities for all.

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