Jozelle Luster Booker: “The conference explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses and workable strategies that can make all businesses stronger together.”

How diversity and inclusion can help minority enterprises survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic was the key focus of this year’s 13th Annual Conference of the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum (MMBC Continuum).

“The pandemic has resulted in small businesses and corporations, alike, adjusting their operations, head count, use of facilities, and strategic priorities,” said Jozelle Luster Booker, the organization’s president and CEO.

“We wanted to show how diversity, inclusion, and equity can improve a corporation’s performance as well as be an economic driver in the community moving beyond this pandemic,” which particularly been devastating to small- and minority-owned businesses.

A report from the New York Fed released in August, for example, stated that nearly half of Black small businesses had been wiped out by the end of April as the pandemic disproportionately ravaged minority communities. The report found that Black-owned businesses were more than twice as likely to shutter as their white counterparts.

The two-day hybrid virtual Continuum conference Nov. 10-11 featured live and pre-recorded presentations.

Highlights included a panel of corporate business executives, who offered participants invaluable information to help minority enterprises survive and thrive in a post-pandemic economy.

The panel discussion, “Suite Talk: Moving Forward With Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity,” created lots of buzz in the virtual networking lounge, which allowed participants to comment and chat with other watching the session.

“The conference explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses and workable strategies that can make all businesses stronger together,” said Booker.

Panelists were: Markita Jack, senior vice president and senior manager of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity at First Horizon Bank; David McKinney, vice president of Government, Public and Community Relations for AutoZone, and Dr. Albert Mosley, senior vice president and chief mission integration officer for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.

Jack said that equity was mutually beneficial to both the corporation and the community.

“There was research done by the Kellogg Foundation that equity can account for $8 trillion GDP growth over the next 40 years, if we do this right,” said Jack. “So, it is really important. It’s the right thing to do, and humanity needs this now. It’s exciting to continue this work at First Horizon.”

McKinney said diversity at the highest levels is important in any corporation.

“About seven years ago, we stood up and formed a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) program,” said McKinney. “And it is a journey. It’s something you are always working on. But I am pleased to say starting in January of 2021, six of 14 of our most senior executives will be ethnic … and we’ll put that up against any Fortune 500 company.”

Mosley touted Methodist Le Bonheur’s commitment to “improving every life we touch.

“We are a comprehensive, not-for-profit, faith-based entity, and so our mission drives us,” said Mosley. “We have a strong commitment to three p’s: people, philanthropy, and purchasing.

“We make an effort to intentionally reflect the community. Six of our 10 top executives are ethnic or women. We take a strategic approach to philanthropy…We have a $5 billion economic impact on the community, and we know that can make a real difference by being intentional about vendor diversity.”

The panel discussion was just short of an hour in length and can be viewed in its entirety on the MBDA Cares Facebook page.

Kimmie Vaulx, system director of communications for Baptist Memorial Health Care, was panel facilitator.

“We are confident that business owners will be inspired to advocate for these strategic priorities within their organizations,” said Booker. “Panelists gave great insight in how we move forward together to rebuild and create stronger economies.”