Bryson Yarbrough, Master Distiller at Brough Brothers Distillery, Kentucky’s renowned and first black-owned whiskey brand, exemplifies kindness, humility, and wisdom. Discussing black entrepreneurship and whiskey with him prompted introspection on my commitment to the cause. Without casting judgment, he made me think. Does engaging in one-on-one dialogues with clients on access and representation during private sessions or having a company that supports black businesses represent my best effort? The resounding answer is, “Of course not.” The journey to improve representation remains ongoing because we will always need improvements to diversity, equity, and inclusion by aligning with similar entities and highlighting those currently doing the work.
As my conversation with Bryson turned to John Hope Bryant's Operation HOPE, I experienced excitement and embarrassment. The former stemmed from my passion for successful black businesses, while the latter rose from a lack of knowledge of the initiative. Reflecting on these thoughts motivated me to take responsibility, initiate action, and consider pursuing a partnership with Operation Hope. Before doing so, however, I familiarized myself with Operation Hope’s past, present, and future.
Evaluating purpose and a potential partner’s current relationships is pivotal when considering alignment with another organization. This process aids in holding organizations, including my own, accountable. Operation Hope’s site offers a vast list, including Fortune-indoctrinated companies, government agencies, and other notable organizations revealing familiar entities from my former legal career (and one surprising revelation: Delta. We will get to the ‘why’ later.)
Access across markets should not necessitate an “equal opportunity” label; opportunities should inherently be equal. Since this remains unrealized, aligning with entities that share our views on representation is crucial. I cannot emphasize this point enough. As I see it, transorganizational change requires three essential elements.
The insights on support and humanity are from my education and professional experience. Yet, the brilliance of Keyra Lynn Johnson, Delta’s Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, produced the concept of equity as the anchor in a beautifully written article by Toni H. entitled, How Delta’s Keyra Lynn Johnson Delivers DEI Results. According to the article, ‘Delta’s transformation over her twenty-nine years’ is noteworthy and is reflected in the company’s ascent to the twelfth position on Fortune’s 2023 World’s Most Admired Companies list. Johnson’s ascent to her role, when less than four percent of Chief Diversity Officers identify as Black or African American nationwide, offers valuable lessons for the public. We see two powerful things from the outside: (1) Delta and Ms. Johnson understood the assignment, and (2) Ms. Johnson is a thought leader who understands people guide the journey to success. These facts represent why Delta offered me a surprising revelation against what I know of some other Fortune-listed companies.
People like Bryson Yarbrough, John Hope Bryant, Keyra Lynn Johnson, and Toni H. emerge as everyday heroes when the world needs more positive examples. Their careers serve as beacons, navigating the work of representation.