In November, the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP), formerly known as the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, began making good on its new name by electing a board chairman who is not a meeting planner for the first time in the organization’s nearly 40-year history. Jason Dunn, group vice president of diversity sales and inclusion at the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau, was elected as the new Chairman of the Board for the coalition — made up of 1,000 members — during the 36th Annual NCBMP Convention in New Orleans last November.
In his role with the Cincinnati USA CVB, Dunn does more than sell to diverse groups. Dunn and his team connect organizations holding events in the city with local groups and businesses that reflect their mission and represent the visiting community. Dunn also works with the West Cincinnati public school system and local universities to create hospitality programs that introduce the industry to students at a young age. “People of color want to see persons who look like them in the industry,” Dunn said. “Most people believe that hospitality as it relates to people of color are limited to cooking and cleaning. But we want to show them that there’s more opportunity and there’s professional development pathways, if they’re interested, within the industry.”
Dunn recently spoke with Convene to talk more about his new role and the state of diversity and inclusion within the meetings industry.
As the first chair of the NCBMP who is not a meeting planner, what do you plan to bring to the role that is unique?
The history of the organization was that the convention planners got together to ensure that for some 37 years, there was equity in the conversation. That when they came to a city, there were professionals of color who were reflective of them. And in those 37 years, we have come a long way. Our members represent the first of many. We have members … who were the first African American presidents of their organizations. There’s many chairpersons, presidents, and executive directors who would not have had the opportunities that if NCBMP had not been created. So now that we’ve been progressing 37 years, now the goal is, ‘How do we open up the hospitality communities to all?’ And so the black planner association was literally a coalition of planners who got together and said, “We’re spending money in cities, but the cities have to also respect and reflect our communities.” And that was the premise of it.
Now as we broaden the scope of focusing on all professionals, African Americans and persons of color can be GMs of hotels, can be CFOs, marketing [executives], salespeople, etc. The broader name [allows the organization] to expand to all professionals of color who are in this industry. It is a show of growth since we were created. It shows foresight and vision that we’re growing as an organization, as a community, as an industry — that diversity now is in the forefront. And I think the equity conversation is real and it shows that cities really want to be diverse. Not because they have to — it’s because it is a good business decision, and it’s the right thing to do.
As long as I am in the seat, my Cincinnati role actually will transfer over to the NCBMP…. I want to ensure that our members have the opportunity to get access to education, because it’s one thing to have equity in titles, but we have to empower our members to access education. The goal is to ensure that they are allowed to have extra professional development opportunities within the industry. [Another goal] is to work with the collegiate organizations to ensure that some of the colleges that have hospitality programs know that we exist and there’s other opportunities outside of food and beverage — which, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you span out to hospitality, that covers a whole bunch of things. We want to ensure that we are aligned with that as well. And lastly, we want to empower our members to support cities that support diversity.
What do you think the greatest challenge is for the meetings industry in terms of diversity and inclusion?
I think the biggest challenge is dual understanding — that there are different strategies that come with [selling to] different market segments, however, we’re all the same in the end. And I believe that the challenge is that people who are at the top, although they want to be more diverse, the people who are actually carrying out the activations may not be versed enough to know what that means and not be threatened by progression.
In other words, we have to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, to get to being comfortable. And because in the past, persons of color may not have been in the room when the decisions were made and our strategies were created, then now that people were in the room, there may be some sense of a sense of fear…. But I think this has created an equity conversation and [shows] … that we all grow together as this country becomes more diverse; and it’s good for the industry if we broaden and strengthen what our roles are and come together in a comprehensive way.
Casey Gale is a Convene associate editor.