Community Connections panelists explore 'the cost of discrimination'
Four experts shared insights with members of the campus and Alamance County communities on Tuesday night in a forum about ongoing issues tied to race in the realm of business and finance.
By Brittany Barker ‘19
Civic and business leaders in Alamance County gathered together Tuesday night to exchange possible solutions to gaps in business opportunities for racial and ethnic minority populations.
The third “Community Connections” forum of the 2015-2016 academic year, sponsored by Elon University and the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News, took place Jan. 19 in McKinnon Hall where nearly 100 people posed questions to local business leaders.
The four panelists were:
- Blanca Nienhaus, founder and general coordinator of Latinos Unidos Promoviendo Esperanza
- John A. Peterson, Jr., president, Peterson Nationwide Agency
- Steve Bednar, assistant professor of economics, Elon University
- Shelby Scales, president & CEO, Airport Minority Advisory Council
Panelists said that minorities still face discrimination in business with wage gaps, a lack of high ranking businesspersons, and even in education.
“There is a lack of leadership by those who have the power to provide for those in the minority,” Scales said. “If people never get the opportunity to build their portfolio, they won’t be able to qualify for a contract.”
The cost of discrimination has become a moral and business imperative, panelists said, which is why business leaders need to ensure their policies are fair.
“Evidence shows that businesses will go for the worker who will provide the most productivity,” Bednar said. “For this reason we need to invest in early education. There are little gaps in kindergarten, but after two years of education the gap starts to widen between whites and other minorities.”
A video clip featuring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. discussed the "two Americas" and focused on the poor "other America" that is made up primarily of minorities, which inspired the audience to question what can be done to unify the nation.
“Universities have lost touch with marketing, but community colleges are going to businesses to see what they want,” Scales said. “We live in two Americas. There is still the ‘other America.' We need to be better educated and be better prepared as a nation to become one America.”
Now in their third year, “Community Connections” forums take on a lively format and consist in large part of a well-informed panel having an open conversation with audience members. The series features as many as four events each year.
The goal of the forums is to create thoughtful dialog with members of the university community as well as those who in live in Alamance County and the surrounding area. Previous forums have explored issues surrounding on public assistance, race relations, domestic violence, hunger, downtown revitalization, health care, gun violence and education.
Assistant Professor Jason Husser, Elon University’s faculty fellow for civic engagement, moderated the event.
“We can’t make progress in these issues without sharing ideas and conversation in a civil manner,” Husser said in his remarks.