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Tourism Diversity Matters’, Executive Director, Greg DeShields Shares A Reflection on “Black History A Year Later”

A year ago, I penned an article entitled “I’m Black, and I’m Proud” to celebrate Black History Month.  The piece captured my black experience as a 10-year-old in 1968 and why I chose my career to make a difference in the Tourism and Hospitality Industry.  It tells the story of how I was inspired by loving parents who instilled black pride in their children.  Also, in 1968, the James Brown song “Say It Loud, I Am Black, & I Am Proud” was an anthem of power for me.  Later that same year, devastatingly, my family was shocked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and almost the death of a Dream on April 4th.   

My most memorable excerpts from Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington speech, “I Have a Dream,” was a beacon of hope: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” And his desire to “Transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”  And of course, the speech ended with his infamous Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”.

These words over the years have progressively matured and imparted more pride, as those excerpts were vital to my parents and because I, along with my three brothers, were the four little children Dr. King referenced.

As we approach the end of Black History Month, I want to remind you that as Black people, our pride and history cannot be told in 28 or 29 days – because we live every day making a difference and contributing to society in a significant way.  I want to share a few Black Historical milestones that have both worried and encouraged me over the past year:

In the past year, as the Executive Director of Tourism Diversity Matters, a non-profit organization founded as the collaborative leader of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and concepts that can address the gaps of ethnic disparities, I have conducted several DEI training sessions, workshops, keynotes, and projects to underscore the value of DEI and how understanding the Fundamentals can move a DEI journey forward.

A DEI Journey requires self-reflection and contemplation as an organization or network. It entails difficult conversations, listening to and prioritizing marginalized voices, investing time and energy, and continually assessing progress.

While visiting many rural destinations, I have learned that change is inevitable.  Although we may not be able to change the world, we can make a difference one person at a time.  Through speaking to audiences about DEI in Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska, Arizona, and Missouri, I have been able to influence others in a meaningful way.  Changing large numbers of people is usually the privilege of only a few. However, it’s more fulfilling to impact a small number of people in a big way, as small changes have the power to make a huge difference.

This perspective is significant, as I will be one of the recipients of this year’s Camden County, NJ Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal on Thursday, February 24th.  The award is presented to county residents who have selflessly contributed their time and effort to better their community in conjunction with the goals of the late Dr. King.

As I shared, Martin Luther King Jr. had a considerable impact when I was a child,  led the American Civil Rights Movement for 13 years, and changed the world.  Before an assassin claimed his life in 1968, on April 4th, I watched the news reports as he led the modern civil rights movement, opposed the war, and championed forgiveness. Dr. King waved the banner for redemption. He completely changed the way people look at and treat others.

Weeks before his death, Dr. King said he’d like to be known as a “drum major for peace and justice.” He was a dreamer who envisioned and fought for America to become what its founders said it was.  Dr. King truly believed that all men and women everywhere were equal regardless of skin color, creed, or socioeconomic status. In addition to the Civil Rights Movement, he fought for causes such as poverty, oppression, and international conflict, including apartheid in South Africa.

As Executive Director of TDM, our team and I provide decision-makers in the tourism and events industry access, resources, and tactics to develop more effective Diversity & Inclusion strategies that will engage and retain a diverse workforce.  Our goal is to create solutions that can implement, change, and contribute to organizational success.

While the business outcome should never be your main reason for taking on DEI, quantifiable results are helpful to gain leadership support for strategic initiatives. A focus on DEI has proven to drive tremendous benefits to almost any part of every company.

Companies that work hard to create a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace will see improvements in talent acquisition, productivity, engagement, and retention.

As in the words of Dr. King, I want to be a “drum major” or “a change agent” for DEI in the Tourism Industry, managing the excitement, difficulties, doubts, and disappointments and developing well-informed targeted strategies to navigate DEI successfully.