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New Initiative Seeks More Diversity in Pensacola

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

In an effort to get more diversity in the city of Pensacola, the head of a local chamber of commerce is out with a new program.

“I do see a trend that we’re losing some of our top minority leaders that we have in numerous roles; and when you lose that diversity, you lose that ability to see that ‘reverse role models’ that our young professionals can look up to and emulate in our community,” said Brian Wyer, president of the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commerce and the force behind “I Love Diverse Cities.”

The initiative contains three challenges for the community.

“Challenge number one is: minority and small businesses should ‘in-reach’ for help; it’s a word I created, reaching into the businesses, the governments for help,” said Wyer. “Challenge number two: our local government should initiate outreach to our community. Challenge number three: thriving and successful businesses should [both] in-reach and outreach.”

Serving more than 10 committees, activities, and other panels, Wyer says he’s noticed that most other people don’t look like him, and vice versa.

“And no, gentlemen I don’t mean tall, dark and handsome like Denzel Washington [laughter]; I mean black. I go to board meetings, I go to activities and sometimes I’m one of the few black people there – one of the few minorities there,” said Wyer. “My whole main goal of getting on these boards [is] I want to add some diversity to it. I want to get in there, make things different, and hopefully be a role model.”

Wyer recounted what a speaker at a recent CivicCon breakfast — Jeff Speck — told the meeting about the lack of diversity in that particular crowd.

“He said ‘I came to an event last night in [Pensacola], and there wasn’t much diversity; there’s older white people, a few minorities.’ And that’s what he mentioned to that breakfast group,” Wyer said. “He said, ‘if you’re going out to meetings like that, go and round up a person who’s a minority, bring to the meeting with you, have them experience it; have them encounter it.’”

Another bump in the road to a more diverse city, says Wyer, is opening up dialogues about race and diversity – that is, becoming more comfortable with what he calls “discussing the uncomfortable.”

“We’ve got to the point now where everything’s so politically correct that you can’t even have a conversation,” said Wyer. “You can’t bring up the word ‘black’ you can’t talk about some of those issues. When you’re comfortable talking about the uncomfortable things, everyone grows with that.”

As part of the initiative, Wyer has created a “diversity matrix” of districts using the Escambia County Commission and School Board; and the Pensacola City Council.

“If you look up Escambia County Commissioners, we have zero diversity in gender; we have 20 percent diversity with race, and we have 20 percent diversity with Democrats vs. Republicans,” said Wyer. “That may seem alarming, but it’s really not. If you realize that, you may know what your unconscious biases are, and then you can find ways to incorporate diversity in your group.”

Wyer doesn’t want to go it alone. He plans to enlist the help of other area chambers of commerce and other groups. And he’s quick to add that the Pensacola area is not alone in wrestling with the issue.

In some of the stories that I heard that really challenged me, one of the black individuals at one of the main chambers said they give out these black awards to these individuals, and they’re running out of people to give it to,” Wyer said. “Because they can’t find any other black people to give the awards in that whole town. So they want to form their own black chamber or minority chamber.”

Brian Wyer with the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber wants to take about a year to gather the data and look at the area’s board members, metrics and staff in search of improvements in diversity. He also plans to contact other communities in the region and if all goes well, roll out “I Love Diverse Cities” on a national level.