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Corporations unveil initiatives in support of racial equality

Community advocates and business leaders look for sustained change

Over the past few weeks, Rev. Watson Haynes said he’s heard from representatives of several corporations.

Bank of America. PNC. Publix. Sembler. They’ve all reached out to the president of the Pinellas County Urban League, he said.

They’re looking to offer resources to the civil rights organization in the wake of protests against racial inequality following the death of George Floyd while being restrained by Minneapolis police.

The companies’ overtures are part of a larger outpouring of support for racial equality, both through statements and donations, by businesses nationally.

Rev. Watson Haynes II, President & CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League, at 333 31st St N, on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 in St. Petersburg. The Pinellas County Urban League has been one of several nonprofits in the area overwhelmed by serving new populations of people who were surviving paycheck to paycheck but no longer are receiving that income. He has been receiving offers of help from representatives of companies wanting to show their support for the black community. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Bethanie Nonami, CEO of Tampa-based marketing and tech firm Marley Nonami, said the recent show of solidarity from corporations reflects a growing awareness of social injustice among the broader public.

“I think that right now there are a lot of people that are realizing they might not have understood the depth of the problem,” she said.

Still, companies’ gestures have been met with skepticism by many activists, who point to the businesses’ track records when it comes to past protests and civil rights issues.

The National Football League has faced criticism — including from ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer Michael Bennett — for expressing support for Black Lives Matter. Bennett called it a “slap in the face,” given that the league failed to stand by players taking a knee during the national anthem in protest to police brutality and some team owners openly back President Donald Trump. And recent reporting by the Washington Post showed tech companies expressing support for Black Lives Matter still lack diversity within their corporations.

Local advocates say they’re grateful for companies’ recent statements and donation pledges. However, they also want to see sustained change from companies through diversity in hiring, a more inclusive work environment and ongoing financial investment in black communities.

What corporations are doing

Tivona Hill, one of Thee Burger Spot’s owners, said the popular mom-and-pop has seen an increase in customers, which she says is likely due to a mix of factors. Locals are looking to support small businesses in the wake of COVID-19, and black-owned businesses in particular, following recent protests.

It’s also received a boost from Uber Eats, which is waiving its delivery fee for customers ordering from various black-owned restaurants around the country. The company said it has seen a 134 percent increase in orders from black-owned businesses in the Tampa Bay area since launching the campaign, which runs through the end of the year.

Hill said she hopes to see corporations continue to offer their support and have internal conversations with staff about inclusion and equity.

“I feel like this is the direction we all as humans need to go,” she said.

Uber Eats is waiving its delivery fee to several black-owned restaurants, including Thee Burger Spot in Tampa.

In the Tampa Bay area, Uber also is waiving its delivery fee for 7th + Grove, BJ’s Alabama BBQ, COPA, Flavaz Jamaican Grille, Jazzy’s BBQ, Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant and the Hall on Franklin.. Uber said it expects to expand its list of businesses as it receives more input from restaurants and consumers.

In a June 4 company email to the company on June 4, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahisaid Uber was donating $1 million to the Equal Justice Initiative and Center for Policing Equity. Khosrowshahi also said in the email that in 2019, the company announced it would tie senior executives’ income to their success in achieving the company’s diversity in hiring goals.

On June 5, Florida-based Spirit Airlines announced it would allocate $250,000 in flights to civil rights organizations working for racial justice. Marriott president and CEO Arne Sorenson, whose company is also based in Florida, published a blog post on May 31 titled “Honoring George Floyd with Real Change.”

PNC Bank said in addition to working with the Pinellas County Urban League, it is has supported other organizations such as the Boys & Girls clubs, Goodwill Industries, Neighborly Care Network and University Area Community Development Corporation.

“Our commitment to Tampa Bay has never been more important as we collectively navigate the challenges posed by recent events, which are a harsh reminder of our society’s ongoing struggle to effectively address racism and discrimination,” the company said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times.

Bank of America announced it would be donating $1 billion to organizations nationwide “to help drive economic opportunity, health care initiatives and racial equality, particularly focused on creating opportunity for people and communities of color.”

In the Tampa Bay area, it has previously partnered with community organizations focused on economic development, including the CDC of Tampa, the YMCA in St. Petersburg and the University Area Community Development Corporation, Inc. Ann Shaler, Tampa Bay market manager, said.

However, these companies and other organizations who have issued statements in the past few weeks have also faced criticism, both locally and nationwide, for both internal and external practices and policies.

In 2018, Uber executive Liane Hornsey resigned after an investigation of allegations that she routinely dismissed reports of racial discrimination within the firm. Publix told employees they couldn’t wear Black Lives Matter masks at work. And Bank of America has been at the center of calls for banks to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves used as collateral for loans by predecessor banks. The company has faced multiple civil rights’ lawsuits, both for internal hiring practices and for allegedly charging African Americans and Latinos higher interest rates. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, Bank of America said many of these controversies “concern allegations of companies that pre-date Bank of America’s acquisition.”

“They just have to provide the resources.”

Local advocates and business leaders say while they believe businesses’ statements of support in the past weeks are a good start, they want to see sustained investment in black communities.

Chastity Martin, co-founder of the Tampa Bay Action Collective, sees corporations’ statements in support of recent protests as a sign of solidarity. However, she said more companies need to make ongoing efforts to partner with local organizations working in black communities.

“There are people on standby ready to do the work,” Martin said. “[Companies] just have to provide the resources.”

Colette Glover-Hannah, founder and CEO of Hannah’s Shoebox, said as a black business owner, stakeholder and customer herself, she has been grateful for companies’ expressions of support for the black community.

“People are grateful for the words, but are now watching the actions of these corporations,” she said.

Glover-Hannah, who is also the 2020 chair of Tampa Bay Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator, pointed to the chamber’s program as a model of how companies could support black professionals and business owners. The accelerator provides mentorship and networking opportunities for minority-owned businesses, as well as additional resources and educational programming to help the companies grow.

“This is the type of outreach that should be done and there are many ways for companies to duplicate or create additional programs with the same desired outcomes,” Glover-Hannah said.

Hiring practices

Though some of the corporations speaking up in recent weeks, have had sustained relationships with miinority community organizations, these companies also need to examine their hiring practices and work environments, advocates said.

Martin, of the Tampa Bay Action Collective, said as a black woman, she’s faced both micro-aggressions and more blatant racism in the professional world.

“I think that it’s important for people to educate themselves so they can educate their company,” she said.

Haynes, of the Pinellas County Urban League, said donations are a concrete, helpful way that corporations can back up their statements in support of Black Lives Matter. He would also like to see greater efforts within companies to hire black employees for leadership and management positions. He said there’s no excuse for a company’s failure to employ black executives and management, especially considering the number of Urban League chapters and other community groups across the nation that can help find talent .

“I don’t know how a company can’t find [black] employees when we have 90 Urban Leagues,” he said.

In the corporate sphere, black employees have struggled to break into the business world due to discrimination, said Nonami, the marketing and tech firm CEO.

“There's so many industries that have just kind of been off limits,” she said.

In addition to making donations and public statements, corporations need to take a hard look at who they’re hiring and which consumers they’re targeting, Nonami said. Sometimes, she said, a company’s honest admission of its mistakes and failures can be more compelling than a well-crafted PR statement.

“Companies have to be willing to grow and stretch and be uncomfortable,” she said.