A new “diversity inclusion effort” by the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce has the Northern Virginia minority-ownership business community abuzz, and apparently causing at least one national U.S. Chamber-linked association to rudely expel the F.C. Chamber’s executive director Sally Cole not once, but twice from its Facebook group because she said the outreach extended to Muslims.
Chamber treasurer Michael S. Diener, a long time Chamber activist who runs a local CPA practice in Falls Church, described the early success of the initiative to the monthly meeting of the local Chamber’s board of directors Tuesday morning.
He said that 10 people attended the first meeting of the group and already three have petitioned to join the Chamber as a result. They were voted in unanimously at the Tuesday meeting.
“We get to know them, they get to know us. It tears down walls. That’s the idea,” Diener said.
While the initial focus has been on reaching out to Muslim-owned and other Arab-owned businesses, the local Chamber has for decades sought to break down such walls to Vietnamese-American owned businesses based in Falls Church’s world famous Eden Center, with limited success so far.
But this latest push could form the basis for overcoming historic limits, and the active Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce, many of whose members are still reeling from recent years’ police raids at the Eden Center, are undoubtedly paying attention.
Cole told the Chamber board meeting Tuesday, “There’s a lof of fear and racism out there, but people are better educated here. The minority-owned businesses are really impressed when the Chamber cares to help them.”
“They discover that it’s not all bad out there. In fact, the response has been pretty amazing,” Diener added.
The first meeting of the group “really started to take off when they started bouncing ideas off of each other,” he added, giving long-time Chamber board member Gary Hughes credit for helping to get it going.
“The fact is that small businesses, which is who we represent and is what they are, face a lot of the same practical problems. As business owners we have a common history, and it is helpful when we can advise minority-owned businesses on how to navigate the permit process at City Hall, for example,” Diener added. “Sometimes they don’t know if delays are due to discrimination, or is just the way things are there.”
Cole said, “It is hard enough for anyone starting a business, but you can imagine the added barriers that arise from language and cultural differences.”
Cole, who is also in the thick of getting the Chamber’s annual gala event readied for April 2 at the Fairview Marriott, said that when she signed onto a Facebook group of Chamber of Commerce professionals from all across the U.S. last month, she was promptly removed from the group after she raised a question about her Chamber’s interest in outreach to minority-owned businesses, specifically Muslim-owned businesses.
She petitioned to get back on, and when she asked whether her earlier removal had anything to do with her question about Muslims, she was bumped off a second time. She said the facilitator of the group is based in Arizona.
Initial leaders of the new Chamber “Diversity Inclusion” group are expected to be invited to address an upcoming monthly membership luncheon of the Chamber in the near future.