If “a little black child from Muskegon Heights or Grand Rapids can look at me and see an opportunity to do something they didn’t know was possible, that is something for which I am eternally grateful,” said 22-year-old George Walker in an interview with the Business Journal published this week.
The city of Muskegon and Muskegon Rotary Club named Walker a recipient of a 2016 Outstanding Citizen Award. The graduate of the Culinary Institute of Michigan in Muskegon is a Level 1 sommelier, perhaps one of youngest to achieve the designation and certainly one of the few African-American students to pursue the designation in the beverage industry.
The Business Journal has opined previously in regard to the community conversation encouraging diversity and inclusion even while actions would speak louder as it pertains to reaching beyond “who you know” in business supplier, provider and staffing networks. Walker’s profession of forthright hope offers further encouragement.
His comment further underscores one of the basic merits of continued affirmative action programs in colleges and universities. Arguments presented to the U.S. Supreme Court this spring for the plaintiff in the University of Texas affirmative action program case contended, in part, that affirmative action by its current definition is outdated. The Court ruled otherwise, 4-3, in an opinion late last week. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion stating in part, “Still, it remains an enduring challenge to our nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”
The continued challenge to the business community is repeatedly outlined in the work of diversity networks, including the Lakeshore Diversity Alliance. Executive Director Gail Harrison noted in the Business Journal report this week that a part of what perpetuates racial stereotypes is not having relationships with people to disprove stereotypes, and business and community leaders must commit to crossing those relational lines. The 2010 U.S. Census revealed Michigan is one of the most racially segregated states in the country. Harrison noted that learning about these issues and reaching a critical mass will take time. Undoing the structures built on policies that racially segregated neighborhoods, schools and communities will require sustained attention and intention, she said.
This year alone provides a long list of examples, especially in those cases involving police and minority interactions.
Muskegon honoree Walker noted that his career path took a turn at Grove in Grand Rapids, where former general manager Jill Norris recognized his passion and urged him to pursue the sommelier certification. It’s an example of how simple interactions can have impact beyond the moment or for a single individual: Walker wants to pass it on.