Facing the nation: Making inclusion a priority in Baton Rouge aviation
Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport and its commission chairman Cleve Dunn Jr. are facing two national nominations for being catalysts for diversity inclusion. This first-time praise comes from the Airport Minority Advisory Council, the only national, non-profit trade association dedicated to promoting the inclusion of minorities and women in contracting opportunities within aviation and aerospace industries. Dunn has been nominated for the AMAC Advocate of the Year Award and the AMAC Inclusive Leader Award. As a result, the airport earned the nominations as well. The advocate award recognizes an outstanding spokesperson, educator, innovator, advocate, and strategic partner with AMAC for diversity inclusion. The leadership award honors an organization for demonstrating diversity inclusion within its corporate structure of procurement and employment.
Earlier this week, Dunn discussed the nominations and the airport’s work with minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
THE DRUM: Since this is the first time you and the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport have been nominated, what does this nomination say for the BR Airport?
DUNN: It simply says that the leadership has changed and the culture at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport is changing and becoming more inclusive.
THE DRUM: What were the specific actions/programs you initiated or completed that encourages minority opportunities at the Baton Rouge airport?
DUNN: During my time on the Baton Rouge Metro Airport board of commissioners there has been no new program rollout to encourage minority opportunities. What I chose to do as a commissioner for the past 5 years and now the chairman of the board is to aggressively advocate for inclusion and diversity in every thing that we do at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport (BTR). That includes assuring that minorities receive jobs and career advancement opportunities at the airport, making sure minority owned and disadvantaged businesses are in our pipeline for contracting opportunities, and making sure that we are exposing children from our community to the aviation industry. As a result, our administration is more culturally diverse than it was five years ago, BTR is much more visible in the community and BTR is supporting more North Baton Rouge businesses, organizations and non profits than ever before.
Sean Joffrion, director of fine arts at the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, said, “Because of Mr. Dunn’s passion for showcasing Baton Rouge and what it has to offer, he advocated for one of Baton Rouge’s premier schools, McKinley Middle Magnet, to have a wall space in Baton Rouge Metro Airport. This space allowed our diverse multi cultural population the opportunity to showcase art work which depicted the students interpretation of Louisiana and its culture. It also gave travelers the opportunity to get a first hand look of what our school and school district could offer to prospective students/parents. This amazing partnership between the school, district, and airport allowed McKinley the opportunity to recruit students to our program. Cleve is an amazing guy who knows the importance of having relationships between our community and business.”
THE DRUM: What had been barriers for diversity inclusion at the airport when you arrived as a commissioner? How are you leading or assisting the commission and the airport leadership in removing those barriers?
DUNN: In my opinion leadership sets the tone and creates the culture for any business or organization. The leadership team has to be passionate about an issue or project and get buy in from the rest of the staff and/or team members in order for that initiative to be implemented successfully. Our barrier at BTR was that our leadership was not passionate enough about inclusion and diversity as we needed to be to bring about a culture of inclusion at BTR. That is why I lead the charge in advocating for a national search for us a new aviation director. I felt it was very important for us to evaluate the best and brightest aviation professionals around the country; who could develop the land surrounding the airport, grow our air service by adding airlines and destinations and work with our board of commissioners to create a culture of inclusion at the airport. The airport’s aviation director search committee, made up of three metro council members and myself as one of four airport board commissioners concluded our work on July 9. After vetting the group of 39 candidates, conducting video interviews, reviewing their resumes and several in person interviews; we narrowed the group down to three candidates that the committee chose to recommend to the metro council. The metro council is scheduled to choose a director from the group of three finalists in the weeks to come.
THE DRUM: You are now in your second term on the commission and first term as chair, how do you plan to continue building business capacity for the airport? Plans for supplier diversity?
DUNN: Supplier diversity has been and will continue to be a top priority for me. One of the first things I proposed as chairman is a board retreat where the commission and the staff could meet and develop the annual mission and goals for the airport. During my previous five years on the commission we had not been given the opportunity to have this level of input prior to budget review. Our first retreat will happen in the next 30 days or so; it is during this retreat where we will create and assign action items to board members and staff that will help us to build business capacity and increase our supplier diversity numbers.
THE DRUM: Do you or other commissioners help develop aviation or aerospace career interests among local students? K-12, technical school, or college students? If not are there plans to do so?
DUNN: Yes, I do help to develop aviation career interests among local students. I often times bring young people to the airport, give them a tour of the airport and let them sit in on our commission meetings. I also work with Big Buddy and local colleges to give students internships at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport.
The program operations director for Big Buddy’s LevelUp program, Lauren Smith Marrioneaux said, “After finding out that Cleve served on the Baton Rouge Metro Airport Board, I contacted him about the airport becoming a host site for the Big Buddy Level UP! Summer Internship Program. He committed to making it happen and he did just that! He made it happen and helped increase the employability of the youth in our program. Because of Cleve’s help and support the Level UP! Summer Internship Program and the Baton Rouge Metro Airport has exposed several teenagers in the Baton Rouge area to the aviation industry. After this experience some of our students later gained employment in the aviation industry.”
THE DRUM: What is the status of the airport as a growth opportunity for businesses and North Baton Rouge?
DUNN: I’m a native of North Baton Rouge, and I’m very passionate about the areas growth and development, as well as the people of North Baton Rouge being benefactors of that growth and development by improving their quality of life through jobs and contracting opportunities. We have some 4,000 jobs at the airport and hundreds of contracting opportunities there as well. I will make sure that people living in and around North Baton Rouge are aware of the job and income opportunities and do what we can to help them get those opportunities.
As director of programs and events for the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Black Chamber, Troy R. Lee, said, “it was imperative that I secured sponsorship for our Inaugural Minority Business Conference and Expo. I called Mr. Dunn and explained the need to have a successful expo and without hesitation he made sure we had sponsorship from the Baton Rouge Metro Airport. Without his timely assistance our expo would not have been the success that it was. BR Metro Black Chamber members and myself are eternally grateful for Mr. Dunn’s kindness and belief in the fact that it does take a village to make things happen especially in underserved communities.”
THE DRUM: Who are you acknowledging as you receive this nomination?
DUNN: I am honored to receive the Catalyst award nomination from such a prestigious organization like AMAC. I want to thank the AMAC Catalyst award nominating committee for valuing and recognizing the work that many of us do around the country to promote minority-owned businesses, increase contracting opportunities and professional advancement for minorities in the aviation industry. I do not accept this award nomination alone. I also accept it on the behalf of all the current and former Baton Rouge Metro Airport board of commissioners who have advocated for minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses while serving on our commission. Finally, I’d like to thank the Baton Rouge Metro Airport administration and numerous staff members who have been committed to inclusion and increasing the participation of minority owned and disadvantaged business enterprises.
Winners of the AMAC awards will be announced during the 34th Annual Airport Business Diversity Conference in Seattle, Washington, Aug 21-25.
By Zenobia Reed
The Drum contributing writer