Project Inclusion works to give minority voices a seat at the table in the boardroom


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — “If you’re out there and you want to help your community and you’re not sure where to start, I would say that ‘Project Inclusion’ is for you,” said Ebony Artis, who works for USAA Insurance and is passionate about the issue of domestic violence.

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

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

Project Inclusion’s goal is to “advance diversity and inclusion on the boards of local nonprofits and institutions.”

Since its start in the 1990s, Project Inclusion has taken on 20 to 50 volunteers per session. Locke says there was a need for minority voices on boards and commissions that served minority communities.

“In 1997, we actually surveyed the 55 United Way agencies and board of directors to see what was the composition of diversity 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 those nonprofit boards,” he said.

And the effort has produced results.

“The last survey conducted, which was about five years ago,” said Locke. “We surveyed those 60-plus agencies and the results [are that] that diversity had increased from 22% to up to 30%. So, we are making a difference.”

“Currently I’m serving on a couple of boards, but the most recent is with the YMCA of Mt. Trashmore,” said Dr. Tonya Shell, a therapist and mental health professional who’s also with Old Dominion University.

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

“Many people talk about how things should be done, but we actually learn how to do them,” said Arnita Brooks, a health administrator with Sentara who also holds a doctorate in ministry. Knowledge gained in Project Inclusion classes have helped her manage her nonprofit agency, All Is Well Foundation. Brooks says the 501c-3 organization focuses on areas of housing, feeding the hungry, and other needs in the

Those who sign up for Project Inclusion can expect to work on day one. It’s 13 weeks of training leaders on topics such as multi-cultural sensitivity fiscal responsibilities.

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

“So, as a result of going through Project Inclusion and being informed, I got on the HER Shelter board, which is about domestic violence against women,” said Sebrina Brown, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service after 35 years.

The Rev. Dr. 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 serve as tomorrow’s leaders.

“One of the greater things that I learned was how do I also help the next generation become service-oriented,” Turner said.

The next Project Inclusion class starts in February. And, if you’d like to find out more, just log on to their website here.

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