Exelon executive Calvin G. Butler Jr. will serve as the next chair of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the business advocacy group said Wednesday, as he vowed to work to improve racial equity and inclusion at businesses in the region.
Butler, a senior executive vice president of the energy company and CEO of Exelon Utilities, previously served as vice chair of the business group’s board of directors. Butler replaces outgoing chair Paul A. Tiburzi, senior partner at DLA Piper, and will serve in the leadership role until May 2022.
During an address at GBC’s annual meeting Wednesday, its first in a virtual setting, the energy executive said interconnectivity among groups within businesses and communities has become as critical as the connections between customers and power sources.
“Favoring one group over any other causes societal challenges that limit progress for individuals, communities and cities,” Butler said. “We must all be in this together, interconnected.”
That notion was driven home in a personal way after George Floyd’s death in May at the hands of Minneapolis police, said Butler, who is Black.
Given social and racial injustices and inequities brought to the forefront since Floyd’s death, the GBC has a key role to play, he said.
“We at the GBC have to ask ourselves critically, are we engaging all segments of our city and region to really drive an agenda of equity, inclusion and opportunity," Butler said. "Are we really seeing ourselves as business leaders interconnected with all of our neighbors and all of our communities.”
Butler will lead the GBC in its 65th year as the 32nd chair to do so.
The organization presented its “Regional Visionary Award" to Diane Bell-McKoy, president and CEO of Associated Black Charities.
“2020 has been a year that has brought heightened awareness to structural racism, economic disparities and unequal treatment that exists in our country,” said Donald C. Fry, GBC’s president and CEO, introducing Bell-McKoy. “But 2020 is not the first year that Diane Bell-McKoy has taken on these issues. For years, she has been a strong advocate, working hard to educate business, elected and civic leaders about systemic racism and the need to address racial equity in the workplace and in the community.”
Acknowledging that she has called out the impact of structural racism for years as a root cause of the city’s economic challenges, Bell-McKoy said, “I’m not sure that qualifies me as a visionary. What we know is based on the facts, and what we know is based on our lived lives.”
Such racism is embedded in the city’s and nation’s histories and continues to play out in public policies and organizational cultures in business, government, higher education, healthcare and elsewhere, she said.
She pointed to reports by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and others showing that the United States could boost its gross national product significantly by dismantling structural racism, a process she said starts with individuals and organizations.
“It takes courage to be willing to look at one’s business and look at your practices and policies and culture,” she said. “The saddest part of not dealing with these issues is we all pay a huge price. We lose the talents, the assets and the greatness that are part of Black and brown people.”
The meeting’s keynote speaker Omar Jimenez, a CNN correspondent and former WBAL-TV reporter, talked about his arrest by Minnesota State Patrol troopers in May, along with his news crew, while reporting live on George Floyd protests in Minneapolis.
His time in custody, despite showing media credentials and reporting live, reminded him of the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, on which he also reported. He said he realized he may have met a similar fate if he had grown up in West Baltimore instead of the suburbs.
He also called on the business leaders to improve the inclusivity of their hiring practices.
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Butler said the city and region have the talent, energy, ideas and leaders to work toward resolving inequities and injustices. He added that the GBC can bring those elements together to fix problems within the digital divide, workforce development, education and fair housing.
The organization will take immediate steps including reviewing bylaws, policies and procedures to ensure they are inclusive, providing formal racial equity training for GBC staff and board members, creating a more representative board and adopting a code of conduct committed to practices of racial equity and social justice.
Butler also plans to conduct programs to help GBC member companies create more inclusive business environments and said he will strive to make public policy decisions through an equity lens.