Now Is The Time To Solve Diversity Issue On Boards

Members of the Hispanic community weren’t happy when the decision was made to end a Hispanic navigator position a couple of years ago. They weren’t happy two weeks ago when it became public that the Eastside YMCA may close. They were downright angry when they learned that Max Martin had been fired as branch manager of the Eastside Y.

We understand the frustration of the Rev. Alfonso Pagan and the dozens of people who attended a community meeting at the Eastside YMCA with the lack of diversity on nonprofit and foundation boards in the Jamestown area. Pagan told those present that he wasn’t going to be quiet about the lack of diversity on the boards of nonprofit organizations and private foundations anymore. He shouldn’t be quiet. How best to increase diversity on area boards and foundations is a problem that has been discussed in board rooms for years.

Linda Swanson, executive director of the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation, recently told The Post-Journal that organizations receiving grants from the foundation have expressed frustration when trying to diversify their boards. Those attending the city’s Strategic Planning and Partnerships Commission meeting decided to study and discuss various methods of improving life in the community and discussed reaching out to the African-American and Hispanic communities to get more racial minorities involved in civic organizations. That discussion didn’t just start last week; the same frustration was expressed by commission members more than a decade ago.

People of color are rightly frustrated because they aren’t represented in rooms where decisions are made. Members of nonprofit organizations are frustrated because they realize there is a void they have been struggling for years to fill.

Perhaps now is the perfect time to finally bring two frustrated groups of people together.

This is the time to build a pipeline into minority communities and find those with the skills and talent to serve on nonprofit boards. We’re sure many of those angry at recent decisions can make vital contributions to boards and bring a new viewpoint to our collective community conversation. We hope Pagan and others in a position to hear complaints from the minority community have kept the emails and phone numbers of those who have been in touch in the past couple of weeks. Their willingness to voice their displeasure is a sign they are engaged in the community and, perhaps, are willing to give of their time to serve on a civic organization’s board.

Perhaps this is the perfect time to bring back, even if only for a short time, Project Blueprint. The program was ended a few years ago because it struggled to reach minorities. That problem may be rectified if minorities are reaching out. Project Blueprint is designed to develop leadership for community organizations, promote voluntarism on boards and committees of the United Way, its member agencies, local governments and other community organizations. Tory Irgang, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County executive director, said recently the program may be restarted if it can be more effective getting minorities to participate. We would hope those successful Project Blueprint graduates form a roster that can be used to fill board vacancies in the community as they occur.

Our community will be stronger if the tables where decisions are made accurately reflects our community. There is no need to wait. The work can begin now.