Other panelists included Clifford Clarke, who chairs the board of the Fort Wayne Black Chamber of Commerce, John Dortch, its CEO, and Melissa Rinehart, lead organizer for Welcoming Fort Wayne. Clarke and Dortch are local business owners.
Founders Spark was created to strengthen connections in the entrepreneurial community and help provide aspiring entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed.
“Power Circle is Founders Spark’s attempt to help create more diversity and inclusion, and educate people on what those mean and how we can become advocates for other people,” Robles said at the outset of the event.
The subject is one he cares very deeply about as an immigrant from Mexico and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, he said. DACA provides undocumented residents who came to the United States as children with renewable work permits and protection from deportation.
“The conversation is never over. There’s always more that we could do to educate people on race and gender and all these other types of entrepreneurs and people in our community that have certain hurdles that they have come across,” he said.
“What we want to do tonight is educate and figure out how we can all walk out of here empowered to help those people that need more help and how we can become more understanding and helpful neighbors to one another.”
Robles kicked off the discussion by asking panelists why they believed it was important to talk about diversity and inclusion.
“The data is overwhelming if you look at empirical studies,” Clarke said. “Diverse, inclusive organizations — companies and cities — outperform those that are less so. Strictly by the numbers, you should be looking for diversity and inclusion.
“The other thing that I often reference is that if you don’t have diversity and inclusion and you don’t pay attention to all the PhD studies and all the data, if you are a student of history, there is a tipping point where the disenfranchised cannot take it anymore, and that’s usually never good for society,” he said.
Conversations on the topic need to take place in Fort Wayne because too many of the city’s residents don’t understand the subject and its importance, Dortch said.
“I really think we have a job trying to educate people. We need to sit down and have a conversation about race, what is race and why is it the way it is,” he said.
The fact that the Nov. 5 election was the first in Fort Wayne’s history to vote three African Americans on to the City Council shows “we have an issue,” he said.
When most members of a person’s social and professional network value diversity and inclusion, even women who have endured gender discrimination can benefit from reminders about the amount of education still needed in the city, said Rinehart, a cultural anthropologist.
“Diversity is reality in the world today — cultural diversity — because biologically, we’re all related. So, it’s hard for me to pause and … see that not everyone thinks like that. So, I have to check myself that that person over there is not educated or experienced in the same way that I am,” she said.
Public officials who fail to properly acknowledge disadvantages imposed on a group through historic oppression and actually celebrate a symbol of that oppression need to give much more serious thought to the value of inclusion, Rinehart said.
From that perspective, establishing a local July 16 holiday celebrating the birthday of Gen. Anthony Wayne in a 6-3 vote this summer was not a proud moment for the Fort Wayne City Council, she said.
“There was a lot of criticism from myself and others — scholars from all around the country who have worked with the historical era with Anthony Wayne and the Miami,” she said. “A lot of tribal members have spoken up.”
Another proposal will be brought before the City Council to celebrate Native Americans, and Rinehart encouraged everyone at the Power Circle to attend that meeting in order to show support for the proposal in person.
The resolution celebrating National Native American Heritage Month was to be introduced on Nov. 12 and go to a vote on Nov. 19.
It would acknowledge and honor significant contributions Native Americans have made to the Fort Wayne community, including the more than 200 Myaamia citizens living in part of their ancestral homeland.