As America struggles with how to move forward with discussions, policies and actions to address diversity, equity and inclusion, the hospitality industry has tapped into its Black leaders to provide their perspective. A recent webinar titled "Leading by Example: Lessons in Race and Antiracism," was hosted by U.S. Travel and led by Elliott Ferguson, President and CEO of Destination DC. Mr. Ferguson was joined in this candid conversation by Michelle Mason, President and CEO of Association Forum, Ernie Wooden, President and CEO of the LA Tourism and Convention Board and Brandon Meyers, Chief Revenue Officer of ADARA. 

Travel Lane County has a number of Black business partners, so we turned to them in order to provide their thoughts. David Penilton, Owner of Americas Hub World Tours, LLC. and Travel Lane County board member, sat down with his son to discuss how to respond to the day’s events:

The United States of America once stood as a beacon of hope, a land of opportunity, a country where individuals have the rights to: freedom of speech, of the press, and the right to assemble.

For 244 years immigrants from around the world have made the United States their home. People from every ethnic background and people of all faiths have sought the promise America has to offer. Unfortunately, as many Americans know and many immigrants have found out, those rights and freedoms this country has stood for since its inception are not meant for every American. 

Our country has promoted the idea of equality, opportunity, and freedom for all since the day of its independence in 1776. Unfortunately, as most of us are aware, that idea is a fiction, a fantasy...a LIE. This country was based on fighting for our rights and for equality, one must only look to the Boston Tea Party in 1773 where colonists protested and destroyed property. The fight to abolish slavery, which we finally managed in 1865 when the 13th amendment was ratified.

The fight for the right for all women to vote that was brought into law with the 19th amendment in 1920. The Trail of Tears, Jim Crow, segregation, Japanese internment camps, "no Irish need apply," Emmett Till, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and on, and on, and on. The amount of injustice, and hurt, and death that Americans have had to suffer at the hands of other Americans would almost be unfathomable, if it had not been happening since long before July 4,  1776.

Today, we face words and phrases such as: Redlining, Measure 11, Three Strikes, "Build that wall," THUGS, travel bans, gerrymandering, and much more. The situation has not changed, as Americans are still fighting for social justice, for legislative reform, for basic equality and freedom.  

As a minority owned business we see the struggle, but we also see the hope. We see men, women, children, people of all races and religions coming together and marching for change. We stand with our fellow Americans in remembering George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and others who have lost their lives because they were seen as lesser by their fellow Americans. We stand for equality for ALL, no matter one's color of skin, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.

We as Americans must do better, we need to adapt and change and become more understanding of our fellow Americans. We need to actually live up to the ideals of freedom and equality this country was founded on and to do that WE NEED CHANGE.  David Penilton

Robin Brown-Wood is owner of Alma Catering. For those who don’t know Robin I’m here to tell you that the shadow cast by her 6-foot plus stature is only overshadowed by her love for people. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get away from Robin without a big hug!  In Robin’s words:

“Embrace Diversity”......that is the message I was greeted with on bumper stickers everywhere when I first moved to Eugene about 21 years ago.  My first thought was “oh, that's cool; these people are liberal and accepting of ALL kinds in the community”.  It didn't take me long to realize that their message was easily delivered because there was NO diversity. It's very easy to 'embrace' those that look like you.  Looking around, I saw very little diversity, especially the further one ventured away from the University. In fact, if it wasn't for the University, this town would have very little diversity.

Where are they—the minorities---in this community? There are only TWO times that I have EVER seen a large representation of the Blacks who live here.  One was when the Boys Choir of Harlem came to the Hult; the other was the dedication ceremony of the new Black Student Union at the University.  Wow!!  What a vision of all shades, sizes, occupations at both of these events.  And then, wham! They disappeared just like that!  Where did they go? Back to 'the Black neighborhoods'? Well no because we don't HAVE 'Black neighborhoods'. 

Integration...amongst the variety of neighborhoods around Lane County.  Black, white, some Latinos, some Asians...but mainly white.   You know it's bad when you get WHITE people asking YOU, 'hmmmmm where are all the people of color around here?'  What am I supposed to say to that?  I've had doors shut in my face(literally), been pulled over by the police (it went well), been denied because of my race ( the radar is always UP) but I decided a long time ago that I “live my Life independent of the good opinion of others”.  I refuse to internalize every negative interaction I encounter; that's THEIR story, not mine.

My desire to build, the Black community and a business, propelled me to attempt forming an entity whose mission was to promote Black-owned businesses in Lane County.  I had great support from Dave Hauser, then CEO of the Eugene Chamber and Marvin Revoal, then President of the Eugene Chamber Board.  I came to realize that there were internal issues within our own community that impeded the success of that venture and so I passed the torch. But I can honestly say that I had the support, of both certain Blacks AND Whites of that mission in this community.

I started my catering business about 14 years ago now and reflecting on my early years to get it started, I had the help of plenty of people across the board.  All ages, colors, genders, stations in life. If there was any racism directed at me it was not evident to me. I believe that when you show people that you are willing to work for your goals, they are more willing to help you reach them. That doesn't mean that their expectations of me didn't probably come into play but I don't have control over how they think. I only have control over my intentions and that was, and still is, to do what I love (feeding people) professionally and with exceptional food and customer service. Those are MY standards regardless of anyone's expectations.

While I realize there are issues within our own Black community, I also realize that there are a core group of Blacks whose intentions are sincere, disciplined, hard-working and wanting to empower the Blacks in our community to even the playing field on so many levels.  But we need to enlist the aid of the Whites in this community to play on the same field because let's face it, majority rules. We need to be seen as HUMAN, no other labels. 

The systemic racism that pervades 'our little town' is camouflaged behind a 'liberal' guise that makes White people feel better about themselves but does little to further the understanding of the REAL story of what's happening. Why does it take so many incidents shown on TV of the inhumane treatment of Blacks at the hands of Whites to effect a change?  The overused, tiresome phrase “my condolences go out to so and so's family” has become meaningless, gratuitous, and lacks real empathy.  Enough already with the condolences!  We need to open a dialogue---painfully HONEST, no holds barred, no bullshit PC ('I don't want to offend anyone'), with ALL parties at the table. 

STOP THE MADNESS!! Walk the talk and that means that we ALL need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves who WE are and what have I contributed to the situation? This systemic racism is a learned behavior and attitude so how do we, as a community, as part of the HUMAN race change the pattern? When we individually and collectively answer those questions HONESTLY, only then, I believe, can we come up with concrete, impactful plans that will FINALLY resolve the issues we ALL face.  Robin Brown-Wood

We appreciate and value all our business partners and are committed to continuing our efforts to be, as Travel Lane County’s president and CEO Kari Westlund penned in our June 9, 2020 Industry Newsletter, “…an industry that delivers service and hospitality through the grace and dedication of a very diverse and multi-ethnic workforce, travel and tourism businesses large and small have a real responsibility to actively participate in stamping out hatred and ignorance and championing equitable justice.”

 Some steps you can take our industry move forward are:

  • Reach out to your black peers, both professionally and personally, to have frank conversations and learn more about how you can support efforts to end systemic racism.
  • Use the video referenced in this blog to discuss this issue within your organization. Whether your staff is currently diverse or not, honest discussions about racism are necessary.
  • Take the conversation home and engage your families on this important issue.
  • Support Lane County’s Black-owned businesses.