We had the opportunity to speak with Tara Melvin of Perfect Planning Events and The Signature CEO Conference about Minority Business Support &Diversity & Inclusion in the Creative Industry. It was a great interview. Although we didn't cover each of the questions in detail via the webinar, we wanted to share the full interview here.
How can you be unapologetically black and still be respected as a viable and professional business owner?
I believe that a person never has to defend or apologize for their race, culture or beliefs. However one chooses to represent or “wear” their blackness is up to them and they need not always feel the need to offer explanations. The history and struggles of the Black race have placed members of the Black race in a unique position in that we feel as if we are constantly on trial in America and everything we do is another piece of a case that we are constantly building to prove how “American” we are. That same sentiment spills over into the professional world and executives and business owners are constantly faced with the decision to be themselves or to “fit in” with the majority that surrounds them. This majority sometimes places pressure on the individual and other times the pressure is invisible but the individual still feels it.
Is there one solution? Seemingly, no. However, there could be and that short answer is to be one’s self. If you’re black and you’re proud own that, but be willing to face the risks that may accompany that boldness. If you know you’re black and don’t feel the need to prove that to your peers or to the majority, own that and be willing to face the criticism from your own kind as well as the possible acceptance from the majority. If you float somewhere in the middle, own that and be willing to ride the waves that come along with riding the fence and know that you can be up in one moment and down the next. Either way, be who you are and don’t apologize for it. Being black is not a disease, not a plague so its beauty doesn’t owe anyone an explanation and definitely not an apology. You started your business so you became viable the moment you inked the dotted line. Walk in both of those respects.
Example: Black History Moments on IG
Do you feel that there is a lack of support in the African American business community? What factors affect this stigma? How can we bridge the disconnect and unite together?
There is a lack of support in the AA business community, but it is not isolated to the wedding industry nor is it isolated to business. The lack of support within the African American community dates back to slavery and the divide that slave masters placed between slaves to compete against one another. Additionally, slave owners tore families apart and many of these families never reunited. Once slavery ended, many members of the Black race had to learn how to survive and instead of banding together, they used the “survival of the fittest” principle and this further divided the Black race. Unfortunately throughout history, the eras of division far outweigh the eras of unity. This stigma has forced its way into every aspect of Black life- education, business, entertainment and culture.
How do you fix centuries of division? Religious leaders, philosophers and educators have been in debate for years over this one. Martin Luther King, Jr. did a great work. Barack Obama becoming the first African American President of the U.S. would seem to have fixed a sea of problems, but it didn’t. I do feel that on a smaller scale we can do a few things to make our tighter communities more cohesive.
- Build teams that are more educated in their crafts so that we can become skilled professionals and not just people entering the field, creating a multitude of amateurs that are not prepared for work.
- Understand that there are a plethora of clients who are celebrating various life events, be it weddings, birthdays, retirements, etc, so there is so much work going around. Know YOUR client and pursue that client, don’t pursue another colleague’s client because the deal won’t work anyway.
- Believe that quality is worth more than quantity. It doesn’t matter that you have events every weekend if those events are not done with skill and precision. If you are trying to outdo someone else or changing prices every week just to book clients, then you are not running a quality business, you are only seeking to gain competition. Know your worth and build a business on that worth, not on price slashing or overbooking.
I read an article that minority owned businesses do encounter problems to raise money or to start a business; they encounter road blocks to sustain their businesses because of lack of support. Do you agree or disagree?
I agree that minorities run into obstacles or roadblocks when trying to raise capital to start a business but I’m not sure if I would attribute it to a lack of support. I believe that some of these issues stem from lack of financial counseling, less than positive credit or financial history and improper knowledge when it comes to the tools needed to start a business. I also believe that as wonderful as the Internet is, it cannot be the sole resource for anyone. It is a good starting point for research, however when persons are looking to start a business, they should invest in hands on help from people who have been in business for a number of years and who have experienced hurdles as well as successes in business. Too often minorities start a business and after one year, instantly they are an expert. In addition, in order to gain support, we must provide a platform that is worthy of support. It is not fair to expect people to invest in us when we are not showing a return on their investment. Perhaps you aren’t starting a business, perhaps you are putting on a conference. If you expect people to invest in the conference, make the conference worth the time and the money. No, not all conferences are alike, but all educational ventures should be valuable and should not just be social gatherings.
How has our industry changed in the past five years with the rise of minority businesses and what percentage of the economy do we reflect?
There are over 8 million minority owned businesses in the U.S. which represents a 39% increase over the last decade. President Obama increased funding for minority business owners in his fiscal budget clearly identifying the importance of ownership by minorities and recognizing the challenges that minorities face when securing funding. I believe that our industry has changed and improved with the increase of minority business and has created more opportunities for exposure. I’m not sure that the industry has “grown” because of minority businesses but I think we have allowed more of the world to see that African American cultures, Hispanic cultures, Asian cultures and other minority cultures celebrate in the same manner that Caucasian cultures do. This exposure places us in position for even greater opportunities so in that respect, it is a step in the right direction.
How can individuals connect with other minority businesses in our industry- are there formal groups, networks or directories?
There are so many ways! While I am a huge advocate for social media, I am also a strong believer in old-fashion networking. What happened to aligning yourself with another person whose business morals and beliefs agree with yours? We shouldn’t be afraid to connect with other people to gain knowledge or build relationships. In addition, we should seek to attend conferences that are going to help our business and our relationships. Sometimes the solution is not to create a conference but to help someone else build or improve theirs. The key is also not to continue to saturate the industry with persons who are not properly trained thereby making it harder for those of us who are skilled to get clients to hire us and trust us.
I also believe that supporting magazine ventures, authentic groups, and reputable conferences can all be a means to connect with other minorities and ways to build mutual relationships. We as a community of business professionals should have a safe space and if we don’t have a place where we can come together and “talk shop”, we will never mend the divide.
Being accepted and included- most people of color want to be accepted by other communities, however, forget that they need support within their own community. Do you feel that the power within is the key to gaining support from other communities?
I believe that we are stronger together, yes. I believe that we can conquer great feats if we work together instead of apart. I also believe that iron sharpens iron so it helps to see greatness among our own and apart from our own because it forces us to be the best that we can be. The support that we gain from our peers is invaluable and while it does not “validate” us, it often becomes the wind beneath our wings. The support that we gain from outside of our community and even within comes from the work itself. I don’t think that anyone supports a business just because a race has it all together. The work should always speak for itself. I do think however, that if we can lay aside the issue of trying to always fight the battle within our own race of trying to discover who is for you and who is against you, then we can solely focus on our work and that will allow us to gain support from outside of our community.
How do we change the conversation to have end results in making a change in the minority community?
I think that what we are doing now is a good starting place- having a conversation. Sometimes, a lot of times, those conversations have to be uncomfortable and maybe even painful. I think that coupled with conversation needs to be education. We cannot begin to make evident change without proper knowledge and how to apply that knowledge. And then there’s action and that final step rests with the individual. We can talk about it, we can supply a person with the tools they need, but at the end of the day we cannot force a person to act differently. Until each person, each professional makes conscious decisions to attend the conference, support the business, buy the magazine, connect with their colleague, these conversations remain just that- conversations.