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Voices of Diversity: Standing Up to Bigotry and Discrimination

By Pamela Hilliard Owens

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a transformative effect on business organizations as they navigate the racial inequities that persist today amid a nationwide push for social justice.

As the Black Lives Matter movement helps focus attention on addressing the racism against African Americans, leaders in other minority communities are supporting Black Lives Matter while raising awareness about addressing discrimination against other minorities and women that also requires attention to achieve a more inclusive, welcoming region.

“I am a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, but Brown Lives Matter, too. The people who are working those low-wage jobs are just trying to make a better life, and locking children in cages away from their parents is an atrocity,” said Ideal Group CEO and founder Frank Venegas, Jr. expressing frustration with the level of discrimination and bigotry people of color are facing today, including people from Mexico and Central America.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to speak up and speak out. Equitable opportunities and outcomes for all are goals we all must embrace and promote,” said Fay Beydoun, the Executive Director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to overseeing the largest Arab American business organization in the United States that serves more than 1,200 companies of all sizes, locally and internationally, Beydoun helped to establish the Council of Ethnic Chambers of Commerce to build a united stronger voice for common issues.

“Being a woman of color and a moderate Muslim, I had to face many barriers, both within my community and in the broader Metro Detroit community. The experience also showed me that not only Arab women, but all women of color face similar challenges.”

Throughout her career, Beydoun and her colleagues have called for action in three distinct areas: systems change, including advocacy for better enforcement of anti-discrimination laws; organizational change to address internal bias and bring transparency to pay scales; and individual peer support for women of color in their industries.

“Women of color often report that they were sometimes left out or ignored and sometimes hyper-visible under intense scrutiny, with both conditions creating burdens,” Beydoun said.

Venegas points out that it is rare to find a minority business that is over forty years old and has also successfully integrated the children into the family business.

“The only thing you should concentrate on is to be better than anyone else. And it takes time. But this is more important than anything else you’ve got to do,” said Venegas, whose mother, a seamstress, taught him how to be an entrepreneur. He ultimately built the Ideal Group, a Detroit-based, multi-million dollar enterprise employing over 500 people that has provided award-winning services in construction, manufacturing, indirect material management, and innovative solutions.

Running a long-time successful business and improving the community around his company headquarters in Southwest Detroit while also supporting minority business enterprises’ longevity is Venegas’ way of dealing with the inequities and injustices  of the people around him experience every day.

Beydoun believes that when combatting racism and sexism it is very important to have a strong network and credits the leadership of American Arab Chamber of Commerce Chairman Ahmad Chebbani with helping her to gain access to, and excel in, multiple organizations within the Arab-American community.

Her experiences gave her the ability to likewise mentor other Arab women such as Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and State of Michigan Director of Appointments Ghida Dagher, helping them to forge the skills and confidence needed to successfully advance
their careers. •

Pamela Hilliard Owens is a Detroit-based entrepreneur, small business owner, and writer.