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Promising Practices: An Interview with Darrell Johnson Jr. on DEI Efforts in Baton Rouge

Darrell Johnson Jr. is Manager of Diversity & Inclusion Programs at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber where he works to increase opportunities for historically underserved residents to access resources, programs, and support towards achieving greater economic mobility. 4E's Victoria Adams Phipps spoke with Darrell to learn more about the positive efforts underway in Baton Rouge, and get his take on what can be done to advance this work.


As the Manager of Diversity & Inclusion Programs at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC), what are your priorities? How are you and the organization thinking about advancing equity for your community?

I was thrilled to join the BRAC team focusing on the organization’s economic inclusion efforts. In this role, I lead BRAC’s diversity and inclusion initiatives by providing business services, advancing corporate and workplace diversity initiatives, and pushing for reinvestment and redevelopment of underserved areas through the efforts of BRAC’s business development and quality of place teams.

BRAC’s commitment to economic inclusion is grounded in the understanding that more inclusive opportunities for all people in the region will propel growth, attract businesses, and enhance the quality of life. As the lead economic development group for the Baton Rouge Area, BRAC is committed to understanding and removing systemic barriers to opportunity and success and realizing the genuinely inclusive economy and community that Baton Rouge deserves.

Why is it important for economic development organizations to implement a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy?

Implementing a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy positions an economic development organization to truly foster economic inclusion within their respective footprints.Strong performance across measures of economic inclusion, such as: poverty rate, educational attainment, household income; workers in management positions - are closely correlated with stronger economic growth. Data shows that cities and regions that embrace diversity and inclusion create an atmosphere of openness that improves their competitiveness in attracting and retaining businesses, talent, clients and customers.

How does historical perspective impact or inspire your work?

Historical perspective continues to impact and inspire my work every day. I’m reminded of Baton Rouge’s civil rights history, such as the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott in 1953. This was the first-ever organized protest of Jim Crow laws in the South, which later inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott two years later.

Baton Rouge has long had a diverse population that has not always been included in our economic growth. Part of our role and responsibility is leveraging that diversity as its advantage and working to accelerate equitable opportunity for everyone.

What challenges have you encountered? How are you overcoming them?

Systemic barriers have played an immense part in keeping groups of society marginalized. This is a reality in communities large and small, including Baton Rouge. I am reminded of The Groundwater Approach by the Racial Equity Institute (REI), which uses a groundwater metaphor to better describe the realities of systemic inequity. They base this metaphor on three fundamental observations:

  • Racial inequity looks the same across systems,

  • Socio-economic difference does not explain the racial inequity; and,

  • Inequities are caused by systems, regardless of people’s culture or behavior.

REI posits, “we have a groundwater problem, and we need groundwater solutions. Starting from there, we begin to unlock transformative change.”

We can overcome these challenges by understanding and successfully removing barriers, building to clear a bridge to opportunity and success through access to capital, access to opportunity, and access to information.

What resources, trainings, or tools would you recommend for organizations and individuals seeking to be better versed in this space?

We have the pleasure of housing staff with the Dialogue on Race Louisiana program in our building. Their organization is dedicated to eliminating racism through education, action, and transformation. Their original series program is an excellent tool for companies to explore with their board or staff to understand better race and how it impacts our systems.

I would also recommend researching the aforementioned Groundwater Approach by the Racial Equity Institute.

The next time we’re in Baton Rouge, what should we check out?

There is so much to do and see in the Baton Rouge metro. Our partners at Visit Baton Rouge have tons of suggestions, including a Black History Trail that spotlights our region’s gems, like the Southern University Museum of Art and the annual Blues Festival that takes place each Spring.

Baton Rouge's Downtown Greenway is one of many linear parks that link cultural attractions and add to the city's beauty.


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