Annett James, NAACP Boulder

Annett James: Private sector plays key role in combating racism

BOULDER — NAACP of Boulder County president Annett James believes that the recent protests across the U.S. against racial injustice and police brutality have opened the door for America’s business communities to examine their own role in breaking down systemic racism.

To help them, the local chapter launched a corporate membership program in late June for Boulder-area firms. Its lowest levels of membership give businesses access to the NAACP’s company directory, events and memberships for its employees. Starting at $5,000, local NAACP members offer guidance for companies to build and maintain a more diverse employee base.

James said the goal is to have businesses rethink how their companies are structured to recognize the value people of color bring to the organization and offer a neutral perspective on an internal conflict.

So far, at least five Boulder companies have joined the program, and several more have inquired.

Recruiting to Boulder

The chapter can also provide a link between a member company and job seekers from historically black colleges, indigenous groups and nearby communities of color. It also seeks to connect the few people of color in the professional community.

“Boulder might have a few black people who work in a business, but they go to work and they come home,” she said. “There’s no hub where African Americans or Black people in this community are able to congregate. We believe part of being a good employee is also having a community that’s affirming.”

There’s some inherent difficulty of building a diverse workforce in Boulder County, where the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 90% of residents are white. While 14% of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino and 5% as Asian, just 1.2% of the county is Black.

But James doesn’t believe the area became overwhelmingly white by pure luck. She recalled a time years ago when Boulder’s Black population was growing because IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) was at its peak and actively recruiting families to move in.

Recruiting from large metro areas is a key part of diversifying the Boulder area’s workforce and broader population, she said, along with making changes in how a company launches a national search for new executives.

Business’ role in ending systemic racism

The protests that swept through the country last month came about in response to the slaying of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May but has long been fueled by the deaths of Black people, including the recent killings this year of Breonna Taylor after Louisville police conducted a no-knock search of her home and Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging near his southeast Georgia home when three white men stopped and shot him.

While those protests have mainly demanded police reforms, James said the private sector is not just obligated to help eliminate systemic racism; it is among the most powerful entities that can help do so.

She pointed to “The Half Has Never Been Told,” a 2014 book that uses historical records from the American South to argue that slavery was the main engine that powered capitalism in the newly-independent U.S. and later denied African Americans and Black people the ability to participate fully in the economy by not giving funding or small business support.

James also pointed to the NFL franchise in Washington, D.C., which frequently rejected efforts since the 1960s to retire the pejorative against Native Americans as its team name. In the wake of the George Floyd protests and pressure from major sponsors FedEx and Nike, the franchise announced in June that it would retire the name and introduce a new one in the coming weeks.

She acknowledged some businesses may be hesitant to take a stance on racial justice issues and take blowback from customers, but she views now as the time where employers need to build their understanding of a more diverse culture both within America and within themselves.

“The demographics of the country are changing, and if you want to build your business in a way that has longevity, then it’s going to be important for that business today to understand norms and values and cultures that are not white, and not from a white point of view,” she said.

BOULDER — NAACP of Boulder County president Annett James believes that the recent protests across the U.S. against racial injustice and police brutality have opened the door for America’s business communities to examine their own role in breaking down systemic racism.

To help them, the local chapter launched a corporate membership program in late June for Boulder-area firms. Its lowest levels of membership give businesses access to the NAACP’s company directory, events and memberships for its employees. Starting at $5,000, local NAACP members offer guidance for companies to build and maintain a more diverse employee base.

James said the goal is to have businesses rethink how their companies are structured to recognize the value people of color bring to the organization and offer a neutral perspective on an internal conflict.

So far, at least five Boulder companies have joined the program, and several more have inquired.

Recruiting to Boulder

The chapter can also provide a link between a member company and job seekers from historically black colleges, indigenous groups and nearby communities of color. It also seeks to connect the few people of color in the professional community.

“Boulder might have a few black people who work in a business, but they go to work and they come home,” she said. “There’s no hub where African Americans or Black people in this community are able to congregate. We believe part of being a good employee is also having a community that’s…