This blog was contributed by J. Matthew Williams, Director of Communication for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Wake Forest University.
My grandfather was a blind, black man reared in a small Georgia community during the Jim Crow era. Unfortunately, his disability combined with racial segregation practically eliminated opportunities for work. As a result, he relied on bootlegging alcohol and farming while my grandmother worked multiple jobs, including years as a nurse’s assistant and weaver in a textile mill. Eventually, the two worked and saved enough cash to open a small grocery store for local residents in the community, but they were not short of challenges.
Similarly, my sister, a formerly incarcerated woman with a felony record is often denied employment because of her status. And more recently, the loss of her teenage son in a tragic accident makes working a nine to five challenging because of unpredictable moments of grief and depression. She’s relied on her creative talents as an event planner to make ends meet, but would benefit from resources and programs that equip her with the entrepreneurial skills and assistance to develop her “hustle” into a thriving enterprise.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs are primarily responsible for the jobs and innovations that grow economies, strengthen communities and solve societal problems. To establish a strong and resilient economy, there must be a startup culture that welcomes all people in a community. Inclusive economies enrich the lives of everyone by bridging divides with community collaborations and strengthening residents’ understanding of business, government, and society.
Fay Horwitt is the Founder and Executive Director of InnovateHER, a nonprofit in Winston-Salem, NC dedicated to helping women launch, fund, and grow successful businesses. Horwitt maintains, “Community members exposed to inclusive entrepreneurship express that they have more opportunity to exercise creative freedoms, develop higher self-esteem, better financial literacy and an overall greater sense of control over their own lives.”
Inclusive economies help attract and retain top talent from all backgrounds. Such diverse talent enhances intercultural skills and understanding for families, while advancing innovation across sectors. More importantly, a diverse, engaged and empowered community remedies systemic disparities in educational attainment, access to technology, housing, and healthcare in neighborhoods by helping promote an equitable distribution of community resources.
As we consider the future, let’s remember the success of our communities is contingent on how inclusive our economies are. The legacy of my grandparents along with the trials and promise of my family and our neighbors serve as reminders that each of us adds value to the communities in which we live. How will you help develop an inclusive economy in your community?
About the Author
J. Matthew Williams is the Director of Communication for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Wake Forest University. He works alongside the university’s senior leaders to elevate the institution’s efforts to build a community that respects all its citizens. He also works with individuals committed to business development and creating opportunities that cultivate inclusion in entrepreneurship. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Wake Forest and completes his Master of Arts in Communication from Wake in December. His research focuses on how community organizers are using social media to challenge anti-black racism and sexism.