With the most Black visitors coming to San Antonio, how does the 7th largest US city overcome issues of race and inclusion?
Part 1 of SA Observer series: Race in San Antonio
This year San Antonio is receiving more Black conventions and conference attendees than any other time in the city's history. According to Christopher C. Herring, SA Observer's Chairman of the Editorial Board and Chairman of the Texas Black Chamber of Commerce, "This is greatly attributed to former Mayor Ivy Taylor and to organization leaders who thought the timing was perfect to align their organizations with a politician who made history, and a city that emerged as the 7th largest in the nation. There is a mystery to what San Antonio, Texas looks like, and how is a majority Hispanic city governed." However, no one would have predicted that the first Black female Mayor of San Antonio would not win her re-election. Now the city stands on its' own merits as a top US City.
The Governor's Office
"As the Chairman of the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce (TAAACC)", Herring said "we selected San Antonio because it was very attractive to Black Texans who wanted to engage with our former Mayor and to understand our city story. In September, the 26th thru 28th, 23 Black chambers of commerce, who represent 250,000 plus Black owned businesses will come to San Antonio to witness Bexar County/City of San Antonio messaging during the 300th year of our City's formation. We are bringing Texas state agencies to San Antonio that we are in partnership with to speak to our business community. On our website, TAAACC.org, members and nonmembers can see the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreements that signify what state agencies want to increase doing business with Black companies.
The President of our organization, Mr. Charles O'Neal works very hard to ensure the relationships are maximized considering Texas underutilizes our Black firms. TAAACC's agreements with the state highlight the problems with solutions of how do they increase effective utilization of Black businesses. When combined with an action packed agenda and great speakers, every Black business in Texas will make a choice to attend our annual conference based on where they are in the growth stage of their company. Lastly the Governor's Office approached our chamber, to be our collaborative partner, and to bring their Small Business Forum to honor African Americans or Blacks in businesses with our chambers and partners."
With the good news of the chamber conference coming for the first time to San Antonio, the planning process revealed areas of concern. "As I thought of the phrase "Honor African American Businesses, the Governor's Office, being helpful aligned some partners without our awareness. On a conference call, the executive leadership of our chamber REJECTED some of the Governor's Office suggestions to be a part of this recognition as event partners. The rejection caught them by surprise because they were not aware of the long history and past request for these entities to be more inclusive of Black people on their boards and within their missions. We are critical that the mistakes of overlooking who we are and what we have accomplished, as stated in multiple media sources about the exclusion of the African American contribution in the 300 Year Commission, is real.
We also know, we are not a fake people. When our leaders have historically asked the same questions to organizations to consider adding Black people or African-Americans to the respective boards, for the most part, they tend to exclude us, ignore our request to participate and enable their boards to reflect the true diversity of San Antonio's people. It is frustrating to have private and open conversations with people in power who gloss over request because they lack the will power to do what is right. When this is experienced, as a leader, I will reject and not align with fake sponsorship for a day that doesn't benefit our community for a lifetime. I have very negative feelings for organizations that choose to shut Black people out. Slavery is over, and Blacks should not be treated as second and third class people."
How Are Black People Shut Out?
When asked about what is the "shut out" on boards and nonprofits Herring says is a major problem. "I define shutting Black people out by:
A) keeping Blacks off their Boards as strategic decision makers
B) not hiring Black people for key staff/jobs
C) making excuses to why they choose to maintain the status quo despite having poor optics and
D) continually asking for Blacks to financially support their missions with our buying power."
'PRIVATE COUNTRY CLUBS'
The optics reflect boards are managed as a private country club. Private country clubs allow who they want in. The problem is many of the boards that are public, receive city dollars from the City Manager and county dollars from the County Manager. As citizens, we can and should ask for change, as some leaders appear to have blind spots on the issue. We can give them the benefit of the doubt until it is proven their blind spot is truly intentional. As such, if their behavior is intentional, we must mobilize to demand change or request for our taxpayer dollars to be pulled out of the organization or agency that is being sponsored. This is not 1964, this is 2018 and we are still having these ridiculous conversations."
"As we move forward, the SA Observer will start to contact and list nonprofits, government agencies and special appointed political groups too see if our representation should matter or if the lack of our lack of presence is an oversight. I think this is a special Town Hall to open up the conversation. If it is a brick wall to include us, the best avenue is to list and expose bad actors. I think that if I were White or Hispanic, chairing a board, any board today, I would ask the question, why don't we have Black people on the board, if I don't see any. The responsibility of the majority group should be to ask the question and not have to wait to be approached. The shut out is either deliberate or it's a blind spot. The absence of Black Board members should be asked of White Board members and minority members to change the big picture of what they call inclusion."
"Listen, I have a problem when our Black conferences, that spend millions of dollars in the local economy, don't receive the same sponsorship or financial support to ensure we are successful. In the end, the millions of dollars spent on the River Walk don't end up in our bank accounts. This is the reality. On some days it's like pulling teeth because Executives will point to their budget cycle or defer to their Board with no Black representation to speak to the heart of our need. This is why we have an equity problem. TAAACC's conference is important to be championed, just as the NAACP Convention that will be the held the second week of July. The City of San Antonio and Bexar County finds ourselves on center stage to address the conversations on Civil Rights and Economic Justice. If I have a history of treating Black people in Military City USA as inferior to the rest of our citizens, I would be very careful of the narrative and the impacts of the narratives moving forward."
San Antonio - One of The Most Segregated US Cities
"The Texas Association of Real Estate Brokers just hosted their conference in San Antonio, and it was wonderful to hear the message of the American Dream of Homeownership. I appreciate the recognition of my work by the state Realtist - and look forward to their attendance in September. These business leaders are a key to the problems of housing inequity and the disparity within the San Antonio marketplace.
Dr. Christine Drennan, Trinity University
I applaud Dr. Christine Drennan, Trinity University, that boldly talks to her White peers (for the most part) to how did we get here and why was the city ranked as one of the most segregated cities in America. She covers in her presentation how certain San Antonio neighborhoods restricted Blacks and Mexicans from living in certain neighborhoods by the property deeds. Banks redlined Black neighborhoods so our buyers couldn't get bank loans to fund our American Dream. The rippling effects of these decisions haunt us today. In addition to those redlines, we see the same redlines in the governing of many of our nonprofits and government agencies. I have worked with the Fair Contracting Coalition (FCC) for years to ensure all people have a shot to prosperity in San Antonio."
As Herring reflected on the NAACP Convention and the Texas Black Chamber of Commerce conferences coming to San Antonio, he acknowledges something special about Military City USA. "We have deep issues of race in San Antonio. The Black and Hispanic personnel on our military bases do not truly understand what happens outside of the base gates and in the real world. As a retired Veteran, I have done the deep work for our nation in the areas of diversity and inclusion. As one of the first certified diversity trainers in our military, diversity manager at the National Security Agency, and chief of the military equal opportunity program, Herring was hand selected at the Presidential level to manage the Department of Defense "One America" initiative of President Bill Clinton. No wonder Herring serves on a number of nonprofit and governmental boards - and he speaks truth to power. While he is critical of his city, he is the Mayor's appointee and Chairs the Small Business Advocacy Committee and Diversity Action Plan Subcommittee. He is representing the third mayor since being appointed by Julian Castro. Herring was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young America Award by the US JAYCEES, the lifetime award from the NAACP's Roy Wilkins Renowned Service Award, and featured in Jet and Ebony Magazines for his work dealing with race issues, which probably is unknown for the most part in our city.
Night and Day for Military Members?
As a well-decorated Airman, Herring adds, "In the United States Air Force I was a Gold Bar Officer, and recruited specifically for Blacks and Hispanics to be recruited to become Air Force Officers. While we are able to fill our enlisted positions, the officer recruitment is different as you have to cultivate the opportunity for college graduates to see military service as an opportunity. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, then General Merrill McPeak, thought the key to solving the service's problem was to directly provide information to richly populated minority communities. The thought, widely accepted, is the all-volunteer service must be made up of the people it protects and serves. The service also understood its' officer corps must reflect the same diversity of the enlisted men and women. The issue of diversity is a national readiness issue. When I deployed into combat zones across the world, we had to work together with no exceptions. I retired from the Air Force, I saw so many companies, public agencies, nonprofits boards that have all-white clubs and they think this is natural. There is nothing natural about this if you are a Black person who understands the strategic thinking and planning - or decision making - comes at the top of an organization. The minority personnel who retire and settle down in San Antonio find themselves wondering why their qualifications don't match the opportunities in our city. For them, much of the racial and ethnic discrimination is not understood because their reality on the bases is night and day difference than what they are used too. This is a problem."
The SA Observer agrees when San Antonio thinks about the 300 years and how far we have come, they don't think about Black people in San Antonio. "The Observer showed the readership clearly the very staff assembled by the Assistant City Manager, the staff did not have one Black employee. When I look into San Antonio's Economic Development Foundation, I see leaders who represent our City and County, and each of them have a blindspot to the issue of having a Black business person to be on the Board where the future of our city is being shaped every day. I am being kind by calling the absence of Blacks as a blindspot. For every nonprofit leader reading this interview, I would much rather you to police yourselves. This drill maybe painful for some and personal to others. The reality is we expect much more."
On LeBron James Coming To San Antonio
On a light note, we asked Herring, if Lebron James would be a good addition to the Spurs roster. Herring said, "Lebron James' talent would definitely be a great asset, however, San Antonio may not be ready for the social activist James that cannot be controlled. Off the court, Lebron is admired for his stand for Black people and issues. The Spurs have a history of controlling their players within our city. I can't see the NBA's Lebron James fitting well within our very conservative culture nor would our fans appreciate a strong black male leader with an international voice."