Project Inclusion strives to give minority voices a place at the table in the boardroom

PORTSMOUTH, Virginia (WAVY) – “If you’re out there and want to help your community and don’t know where to start, I’d say ‘Project Inclusion’ is for you,” said Ebony Artis, who works for USAA Insurance and is passionate about the issue of domestic violence.

“After I finished the program, I was able to communicate and get more involved with the YWCA. I have a background that allows me to have some experience with domestic violence, ”said Artis.

Project Inclusion is an “award-winning leadership and governance development program,” according to United Way director JR Locke. It is sponsored by United Way of South Hampton Roads.

The aim of Project Inclusion is to “advance diversity and inclusion on the boards of directors of non-profit organizations and local institutions”.

Since its launch in the 90s, Project Inclusion has recruited 20 to 50 volunteers per session. Locke said there was a need for minority voices on boards and commissions that served minority communities.

“In 1997, we actually surveyed United Way’s 55 agencies and boards of directors to see what the composition of diversity was on those boards. The boards had about 22% diversity, ”he said.

However, Locke said African Americans made up about 33% of the total population.

“We felt like we wanted to use that as a benchmark to create more diversity on these nonprofit boards,” he said.

And the effort has produced results.

“The last investigation was about five years ago,” Locke said. “We interviewed these more than 60 agencies and the results [are that] this diversity has increased from 22% to 30%. So we are making a difference.

“I currently sit on a few boards, but the most recent is the YMCA of Mt. Trashmore,” said Dr. Tonya Shell, a mental health professional and therapist who also works at Old Dominion University.

Pamela Champ, who specialized in pre-retirement legal studies and regulatory enforcement, served on the Portsmouth Community Criminal Justice Council after training with Project Inclusion. She has also worked with the staff of Children’s Harbor, using her knowledge of the children’s and labor laws in Virginia.

“A lot of people talk about how things should be done, but we’re actually learning how to do them,” said Arnita Brooks, Sentara’s health administrator with a doctorate in ministry. The knowledge gained in Project Inclusion’s classes helped her run her non-profit agency, All Is Well Foundation. Brooks says the 501c-3 organization is focused on the areas of housing, feeding the hungry and other needs in the
community.

Those who sign up for Project Inclusion can expect to be working from day one. This is 13 weeks of leadership training on topics such as multicultural sensitivity and fiscal responsibilities.

Those who go through the Inclusion Project not only sharpen their [board] skills, they also sharpen their management skills. Some companies such as Sentara and Cox Communications, USAA, TowneBank and many others have adopted Project Inclusion’s leadership and management training program for their employees.

“So after participating in Project Inclusion and being briefed, I was on the board of HER Shelter, which deals with domestic violence against women,” said Sebrina Brown, who took his retirement from the US Postal Service after 35 years.

Reverend Kelvin Turner, senior pastor at Zion Baptist Church in Portsmouth, believes Project Inclusion has given him another tool to reach out to young people who could become the leaders of tomorrow.

“One of the most important things I learned was how to help the next generation move into service as well,” said Turner.

The next Project Inclusion class starts in February. And if you want to know more, just log onto their website here.

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James C. Tibbs