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Brandon Chamber meets moral imperative with diversity council

JOYCE MCKENZIE | Special to the Times Members of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce\u2019s Diversity and Inclusion Council gather together for their August meeting at the Studio of Livy O\u2019s. Members of the community, no matter their race, ethnicity or age, are welcome to join them on the second Tuesday of every month from 1 to 2 p.m.
By Joyce McKenzie, Times Correspondent
Monday 3 September 2018 12.01

BRANDON — Rick Lewis was no stranger to the organization when he was named president and CEO of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce in the spring of 2017.

The former financial services advisor had been an active member of the nonprofit group for nine years.

But as a result of various rumblings he heard from people in the community, as well as his own observations, he decided the chamber needed to take a close look inside itself and make some changes.

With that said the board of directors rewrote the bylaws and created a mission statement that aimed to eliminate the "good ole’ boy club" mentality that overlooked people who didn’t fit the mold of the organization’s predominately all-white founding fathers.

That 50s-era philosophy, Lewis contended, did not bode well in today’s global-minded environment.

"We needed to fix the culture and our mission statement addressed the issue by saying we are here to serve the community," Lewis said. "And by creating moral, social and business imperatives, we are able to measure how it all plays out."

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In July of last year Lewis formed the chamber’s first-ever Diversity and Inclusion Council, which meets the second Tuesday of every month from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Studio at Livy O’s, 905 E. Brandon Blvd. The next gathering is set for Tuesday (Sept. 11) and it is open to people of all ages, races and ethnicities.

The group has already made a positive impact inside the chamber as well as in the community at large. The chamber’s May luncheon, hosted by the council, drew record attendance for the organization’s longtime monthly tradition.

What’s more, the diversity council’s entry in the 2018 Brandon 4th of July Parade garnered the group a first-place trophy as the event’s best overall float.

"We accomplished a moral imperative, and as a result, we set a new membership high of nearly 800 people," Lewis said.

Lakewood Community Church of God Lead Pastor Dr. Degrando Franks, Jr. is the council’s chairman.

"We’ve been very fortunate in that there are usually close to 20 people at every meeting," he said. "Some of the faces change from time to time in that new people join us who want to learn more about what we do."

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And Lewis, who generally attends every Diversity and Inclusion Council meeting, was also quick to point out that it attracts a good mixture of attendees with varied ethnic backgrounds and careers.

"The chamber did not always look like this," Franks said. "This is what diversity looks like and everyone’s invited."

During last month’s meeting Franks asked for ideas on how to draw more people into the council.

"What we have is very, very special … and maybe we could send invitations to businesses, telling them what we’re about," said Christine Gearhart, Florida Risk Partners chief operating officer.

"I get the feeling when people read Diversity and Inclusion Council they think it doesn’t include every segment of our community," she added. "We need to change that perception."

Lewis informed the group of the chamber’s plan to start a career academy at Brandon High School that likely will begin in November. In his view, the students involved in the program could be great resources for the council to consider in its quest to interest more young people into joining the group.

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"It is not just a good idea, it is good business," Lewis said. "We see ourselves as a social organization, but we need to be relevant to everyone we meet."

For more information contact Lewis at (813) 689-1221, Ext. 8813; or Franks at (813) 714-8562.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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