Project inclusion: Giving minorities a seat at the table


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — There’s an old saying that goes “If you want to have a say in the decision, you have to have a seat at the table.”

And, for 24 years, one United Way program has helped minorities get a fair share of those seats on boards of nonprofit agencies that directly impact their communities.

Project Inclusion has trained about 800 minority men and women on how to navigate their way around a board room, said program director J.R. Locke.

Tanya Frazier, who runs her own wedding decoration business, took the 13-week class back in 1998.

She says the knowledge came in handy when she volunteered to help the American Red Cross recruit minorities, like herself, to donate blood.

“Our plight was to increase donations because it impacted sickle cell patients,” who are primarily African American, she said. “We galvanized the board so that we can actively take that mission in hand to save lives.”

Reid remembers back in 1997, when Project Inclusion began, there weren’t many people who looked like Frazier in United Way agency boardrooms.

“We actually surveyed the boards of (about 65) United Way agencies,” Locke said, adding that the results reflected about 22% diverse candidates on those boards of directors.

Not such a bad number, Locke said, but, “it really fell below the 33% of African Americans that live in the Hampton Roads area.”

The percentage is now up to about 30%. Reid is aiming for 35%.

Olga Torres, a media advertising professional, took the Project Inclusion class in 2016. Serving as president of the Hispanic leadership forum is just one of the boards she’s on.

Antione Hines, who has his own small business and also operates a nonprofit agency helping veterans in need of housing, took the Project Inclusion classes in 2013. He also serves on the Chesapeake Human Services Advisory Board.

Aubrey Thomas, a manager with the insurance firm, USAA, couldn’t praise Project Inclusion enough.

“Individuals that graduate from the program, they come out understanding the importance of speaking up about diversity, equity and inclusion. And making sure that who you represent is at the table — that’s a huge responsibility.”

Individuals signing up for Project Inclusion will also hit the ground running after graduation. They are placed on a board when they finish the program.

Probably the most recognizable name among Project Inclusion alumni is that of the mayor of Portsmouth, the honorable Shannon Glover, Project Inclusion class of ’98.

“I can tell you, what I’ve benefitted from Project Inclusion was the opportunity to meet and expand my network of others who are similarly situated and who want to make a difference in the community,”

Project Inclusion is now taking applications for its 25th class, which starts in March. The classes run 13 weeks.

For more information, visit the Project Inclusion website.

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