Discussing diversity and inclusion, some think quotas are needed or standards have to be lowered, but that could not be further from the truth. Businesses diversify their workforces, research, and development to be competitive just like how we diversify our investments to maintain long-term growth. Maintaining diversity and inclusion is maximizing one’s organizational strength, intellectual property, relevance, and innovation. Yet in Charleston, diversity and inclusion remain stagnant in several areas.

In some ways, an equitable paradigm shift has skipped our area. Our public education system is designed to be segregated, neighborhoods have been gentrified, communities have been developed anew, families have been displaced, political and financial structures remain fixed on the status quo, and a plantation mentality continues to plague our community.

The only time we appear to come together in solidarity and show goodwill is during Martin Luther King’s birthday, tragedy, and annual black and women’s history months. Outside of that, there is limited systematic diversity and inclusion in the areas of public education, business, housing, and government. Atlanta or Charlotte, we are not. However there is room for us to improve.

With over 7.4 million visitors annually to the region and 5 million airline passengers, I can count on one hand and have leftovers how many black-owned-and-operated businesses that have had substantial opportunities. I have always been perplexed by questions and pushback over my career when trying to address these issues: “Not now,” “Wait,” “You’re wasting your political capital,” etc.

A position here and there without a budget and freedom of movement to make transformational advances is insulting. Photo ops and repeating the same examples of success is repulsive. Leveraging people and networks against those with a backbone and independence further makes the point of the entrenched practices that exist. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic.

I believe that when like-minded people assemble and focus on creating systems that make progress, solve problems, and create sustainable opportunities, business as usual will succumb to a wave of unity.

The International African American Museum should not be the only activity we point to when the economic backbone of the region is produced off the backs of African Americans — especially when the return on work, ownership, and equity is disheartening.

My education taught me not to seek less, having exposure means I cannot be content, and my upbringing pushes me to always speak out and act when right and better are options. A museum, commemorative programs, and platitudes do not make up diversity and inclusion. The standards are much higher.

Advances have been made. However, when steps are taken forward, part of our community takes a step back. At that rate, one would be hard pressed to know the difference between progress or marginalization.

As the Census begins, I hope we count every person, and when lines are redrawn, black people are not confined to representing majority minority districts. I hope more white people use their privilege to break down barriers. I hope policies are developed and enforced that create affordable, equitable, and accessible economic, educational, housing, transportation, and recreational opportunities. This would represent the values we claim to share during the times we stand together, cry together, and sing together.

Clay Middleton, of Charleston, has held various
senior-level positions in government and politics.

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