Danya Perry, Triangle DEI Alliance and the Raleigh Chamber

Danya Perry from the Raleigh Chamber and the Triangle Diversity Equity and Inclusion Alliance is such an inspiration and powerful force for Diversity and Inclusion in the Triangle community. And today we talk about what he’s doing at the Alliance, what individuals and businesses can do to make an impact in the community as well, courageous conversations, and why sometimes just listening to one another can be so powerful.

Danya is making a difference, and hopefully this episode can be a small part of amplifying his message.

Danya Perry on Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast

Donald Thompson: Hey everyone, welcome to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast. I’m your host Donald Thompson, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and CEO of Walk West.  On this podcast, we share diverse perspectives from leaders in their industries, and we unpack why Diversity and Inclusion is not only the right thing to do, it’s absolutely imperative to the growth of your company. Essentially, why D&I is beyond the checkbox.

Before we get to the show today, for more diversity and inclusion content, including articles, podcasts, and our online course that I’m super proud of and is going to be a game changer for diversity and inclusion in business, head on over to TheDiversityMovement.com.

My guest today is my friend Danya Perry from the Raleigh Chamber and the Triangle Diversity Equity and Inclusion Alliance. Danya is such an inspiration and powerful force for D&I in the Triangle community. And today we talk about what he’s doing at the Alliance, what individuals and businesses can do to make an impact in the community as well, courageous conversations, and why sometimes just listening to one another can be so powerful.

Danya is making a difference, and hopefully this episode can be a small part of amplifying his message.

We’re going to dive right in – when Danya and I sat down, we started talking about our kids and the role models they now have…

Danya Perry:  it’s so awesome to see him- like last night we were talking about stocks.

Donald Thompson: Yeah, sure.

Danya Perry: Like, he wanted to understand stocks. The night before, he wanted to understand why can’t he do Fortnite as a career? I mean, it was like, you know-

Donald Thompson: That’s awesome.

Danya Perry: It was back and forth. I don’t know, like what is- where are we going with this? And I’m so ready for him- I’m trying to tell myself, be excited in the process.

Donald Thompson: Yeah.

Danya Perry: Right? But, I want him to be, like, I want to see like, what happens.

Donald Thompson: Yeah, and what the lane is.

Danya Perry: Yeah.

Donald Thompson: And a lot of times as parents, we want them to pick a lane sooner than is really required. And I know I’ve got four kids, so-

Danya Perry: Yeah, you told me that. Yeah.

Donald Thompson: I’ve struggled with that a little bit, but I’ve learned to, and Jackie’s still working on this one, but, to be patient with what they pick and just being supportive. And we both have a driver personality, but I’m-

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: But I’m okay with shoulder steering.

Danya Perry: OK.

Donald Thompson: This is how we’re doing it.

Danya Perry: Yeah.

Donald Thompson: But it’s- but kids are fun, man, but they definitely have so many more options, actually.

Danya Perry: Absolutely. So we were talking about positive racial identity, right?

Donald Thompson: OK.

Danya Perry: And were talking about how important—I was reading a book about how young boys of color need to have a positive racial identity as a precursor to achievement. So in other words, you have to get to that place where you see you are strong and resilient enough to see value in yourself, right? Before you can achieve said goals, whereas white children receive positive racial identity based on achievement.

Donald Thompson: Got it.

Danya Perry: And so it’s interesting because you’re talking about how does that kid of color navigate dominant culture because this goes back to the baby doll test back in the 70s—the 60s and 70s, I’m not sure if you can recall—where they had black kids. They gave them doll baby- a black doll baby and a white doll baby, and they asked him questions. They said, “which kid is the good kid? Which kid is a bad kid, which kid breaks the rules? Which kid is ugly?” And so you had black kids being asked the question, “which kid is a bad kid?” And they point to the black doll. “Which kid is does really well in school?” The white kid, the white baby doll. And it was an interesting intersection of their self value. Like, how I see- and so when they literally, you could see their eyes drooping as they connected the negative identity to having to point at the black doll baby. It was almost like, ’cause I see myself,’ you know? And so the question then became, where do they get the images of positive- like, where do you get positive racial identity? Like, where does it come from? And, and so for my son, we talk a little bit about how do you see yourself in the world? How do you see yourself in education? Like, do you, can you see yourself being an engineer, right? Can you see yourself being- now I can say I’m giving him as many examples and exposure as possible-

Donald Thompson: As possible. Like, we try.

Danya Perry: Absolutely. But- and I also, you know, have the context of, for his- for the majority of his life, he has had a black president. Like, the majority of his existence for eight years, and so he doesn’t understand why folks celebrated it. Because that was normalized to him. So it’s just an- I’m sorry to go off.

Donald Thompson: No, keep going. This is it. This is good stuff.

Danya Perry: Well, and, you know, that kind of speaks to the larger conversation of diversity, equity and inclusivity. When you talk about us changing practices, programs, and policies, it becomes how do you navigate in this space—and as a person of color or as a person that has identified as not dominant culture—you know, to make sure that we get to a place where- that your personal identifier-  there’s no correlation to your success based upon where you stand.

Donald Thompson: And to add to that, it’s, what are the things that we can really do to help enhance those identifiers?

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? And I remember personally, as an avid sports fan, but I remember the Superbowl when Tony Dungy- was the first African American head coach and Lovie Smith in the same game.

Danya Perry: Yes, absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? And why that was such a pivotal moment in sports to see in the epicenter of sports, which is the super bowl.

Danya Perry: Right.

Donald Thompson: Right? People can talk about all the different sports that they want to, but one game, 60 minutes, winner take all, the entire world watching. That’s the NFL Super Bowl.

Danya Perry: That’s right.

Donald Thompson: And to have two African American coaches leading the charge in that moment, was really powerful. And to your point, with your son and Barack Obama, if we think back to the seventies the media portrayal of an African American man was vastly different-

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Than is today.

Danya Perry: Absolutely

Donald Thompson: Right? And he’s got more opportunities, at least, to see a successful portrayal of what he can be.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? And so, although we’re never where we need to be, the progress kinda from the 70s and that baby doll test—I’m going to read on that, that’s pretty interesting—we’ve moved the ball forward.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_and_Mamie_Clark – Baby Doll Test)

Danya Perry: In any type of change science, in terms of how we’re moving, right? You have people that are actively looking at social ills and social challenges, and we’re trying to actively and intentionally move the ball. We have folks that are sitting on the fence waiting to see the shift, right? Once our early adopters are able to show change, then the folks sitting on the fence are like, “you know what. I can definitely- I might’ve not maybe thought the world—and was a cynic—and just didn’t think that things could change, but now I see it. You know what? I want to help support it become an ally.” Now, on the other side of it, I’m looking at a bell curve. You have folks that are stuck in the mud.  Now, those are the folks that, whether it be, you know, maliciously or not, they just have made the decision that this is how it is and you just have to stick it out. You just, you just deal with it. By sheer pure influence of having the early adopters and the people on the fence that have moved and shifted a culture of thinking, those folks that are stuck in mud, I mean, invariably, have to follow. They just have to, because it becomes now the norm.

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Danya Perry: You know? And so I look at all of the changes that we’re seeing in society as like, the stock market. I feel like we’re trending up. We have some dips.

Donald Thompson: Yeah, sure.

Danya Perry: You know, we have some, and we have some opportunities where it doesn’t feel like it, you know? But we are ultimately trending up and I’m really optimistic about how we are really looking at diversity, equity, and inclusivity in our general economic ecosystem and landscape.

Donald Thompson: No, that’s awesome. So, tell me a little bit about how you got into this lane of diversity, inclusion and equity and made it, not just a career, but a passion that is your career.

Danya Perry: Yeah.

Donald Thompson: Right? Like the- I mean, because I can tell from knowing you a little bit, but also just in the power in which you speak about it. But, tell me a little bit about this journey career-wise that’s got you to this point.

Danya Perry: From the beginning. Well-

Donald Thompson: Well maybe not the beginning, but-

Danya Perry: Picture this-

Donald Thompson: You can cliff-note it if you want to.

Danya Perry: Sicily, 1989, right? Just Golden Girls reference for those that don’t know.

Donald Thompson: OK.

Danya Perry: Well it’s interesting my, my trajectory actually started, when I was at NC State. I had a chance to intern with the Attorney General’s Office. and I had a chance to serve on  the citizens’ rights section of their administration, which focused in on “how can we support the communities at large or whatever issue persisted with them?” So it was about almost like a continuous feedback loop of communities across the state, whether it was an issue with a road or a stop sign, or there was issues with litigating about some discrimination. This section of lawyers, what their goal was, is to figure out “how can we support the community and help support it from a legal perspective, but also from an advocacy- how do you litigate out of challenges?”

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: And, so I had an opportunity to sit as a sophomore in college and really learn and listen. And at the same time, I had amazing mentors that have been guiding me around, getting involved socially. You know, growing up, and I’m from New Bern, little, small rural community-

Donald Thompson: Eastern North Carolina.

Danya Perry: Eastern North Carolina, but we were the metropolis of Eastern North Carolina, all right? So, you know, we had rural counties around us, but we were the community with a mall. So we were- everybody came to us, right?

Donald Thompson: Got you.

Danya Perry: So, we didn’t feel like we were in a little town until we came Raleigh. So living in a community—small, rural— you know, obviously you’re dealing with some of the same discrimination and racial challenges and tensions that a lot of communities in the South were dealing with. And, I had a mother who actually was one of four kids that actually integrated the New Bern High School at the time and to hear their  stories. And, you know, to hear a story of integration is different than reading about it in a history book than hearing a person that actually said “I had to go to school with a letter opener to defend myself every single day because I was being threatened while I tried to learn.” That is a completely different construct. And that, right, may just help- had me thinking more about, just becoming more of an activist within my community. Started mentoring kids, when I got to college, and really saw the risk factors that these kids were dealing with, which then led me to figuring out, you know, what kind of change can we create in systems so that this young person that made a decision to join a gang—and I understand their story, cause before I was hearing kids involved with gangs and I just assumed, “Oh, they’re just this horrible kid.” But a lot of these young people were in the conditions that they made really poor decisions. They were not bad kids, inherently. And so it was the conditions around them-

Donald Thompson: The environmental factors.

Danya Perry: The environmental factors that led to it. From there again, just started- all we wanted to think about how can I create change? How can I be a part of developing a community?

Donald Thompson: Thanks for the background and now bringing it to present day, your current title is Director of Equitable Economic Development at Wake County.

Danya Perry: Yes, yes.

Donald Thompson: Describe a little bit- like, that’s a big title. If you go a lot of different directions and maybe that’s, that’s the case, you’re gonna share it with me. Give me the high level of what that means, what your day to day looks like.

Danya Perry: Yeah, absolutely. And Wake County Economic Development is a division of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. And my work focus is really on what we call inclusive prosperity. So from an economic development standpoint, you know, our community is pretty incredible. We are growing by 66 people a day. We have, businesses and companies that want to relocate and expand and grow here. We have an incredible entrepreneurial and startup community. And at the same time, when we see all this exponential growth, the question is “does everyone experience the same type of success? Do we have a community that has—and Dr. Scott Rawls, the president of our amazing, community college, Wake Tech, says that, you know, we are in, we are an amazing magnet, but we have a really poor ladder. And it’s that upward mobility ladder, the economic mobility to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to share in that success. So, my work really initially started out looking at, really- to be honest with you, you walk into the work, especially because, let me just say, this role is brand new in the economic  development world. We are- my role is the first in the country, to look at and have conversations from an economic development shop perspective of how can we help support our most vulnerable communities within our county. And our first goal was to figure out, one, where are we seeing the most growth disparities. We created—and I say, we, our County created—a vulnerability index and it looked at four or five different data points to create this index that showed us where we should target our work. And they looked at poverty, unemployment, housing vacancy, and so all of the different data sets helped us create, what we understood as, these are areas that we need to, one, figure out how can we incentivize companies to come in these communities and become transformational? So, we were actually able to increase our incentive package to create a tier that focused on incentivizing companies, sort of a carrot, for you to grow into our most vulnerable communities. But, we recognize that’s just one part of the equation.

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: Other strategies that we’re employing focus in on workforce development and talent development. How do we also support our historically underuntilized and underrepresented small businesses and entrepreneurs? I tell folks all the time, if I had to tell you what do I do from Monday to Friday, it’s consensus and community building. And it’s about knowing all the different people that are in our ecosystem and trying to align the resources that we have, trying to serve as a connector, and then asking a lot of why questions. Trying to figure out, you know, “Well, you know, I see this gap here, I see this exists. How can we problem solve towards it with an equity lens? How can we problem solve to ensure that there’s access? To ensure that there’s a connector?”

Donald Thompson: So, that’s super powerful. So, let me dig in with my business guy hat on. That sounds amazing, and is amazing. How do you know if you’re winning at work?

Danya Perry: Ah, I love that.

Donald Thompson: How do you know, if you’re succeeding?

Danya Perry: Absolutely. Well, one of the things—and we’re actually working right now—first, let me tell you that I’ve been in this role for two years.


OK? And, one of the first things that I can say, we have to create some measures for us that tells us that we are indeed an inclusive and prosperous community. So, at first, our measures were the numbers of jobs created in our most vulnerable communities.

Donald Thompson: Got it.

Danya Perry: And that’s good, you know?

Donald Thompson: It’s a good start.

Danya Perry: That’s a great start, but does that really tell the whole story? When we started to really unpeel this, you know, this onion. So, we’re looking now at bringing in a third party to help us understand, what are the metrics that we should be zeroed in on? Because as an economic development shop, you know, whereas we have a lot more control over economic development projects and companies—we have four being industries that we focused on—but the larger societal challenges do not reside just in our office. So, it becomes something where we have to coalesce with partnerships across the board and we all have to work off of a shared playbook. So, some of those can be not only unemployment rate, GDP, looking at how do we support the underemployed? Looking at how do we help support the returning citizens from the criminal justice system? There are literally—and I’m working with RTI on identifying data points—they’re literally a hundred or so data points that we could choose. The question is, us creating some consensus around the top 10 data points that we can all say, “this is our report card for our community around inclusive prosperity.” So, that’s what we’re working towards right now. But, I will say one of the earliest identifiers for us – we worked with a gentleman from the Brookings Institute and he came into our community to do a conversation on, foreign and direct investments. And within that conversation, I had him come work with my Equitable Economic Development Task Force, and one of the areas that he said that we really need to dig deep into is understanding and interrogating the types of jobs that we currently hold, and they have categorized the jobs in three areas: good jobs, promising jobs and other jobs. And so, right now, we have a disproportionate number of other jobs, and other jobs is synonymous to dead end jobs.

Donald Thompson: Gotcha. No upward mobility.

Danya Perry: No

Donald Thompson: upward mobiliy.

Danya Perry: Now, our targeted industries that we tend to focus upon tend to lean towards your good jobs; jobs that you need a four year degree, maybe get $100,000. Now, is that missing middle class, those promising jobs that we need to focus in on with our business recruitment strategy and also our workforce development strategies and talent strategies. It’s how do we- because if you can really support that missing middle class, those promising jobs, statistically, it is easier to go from promising to good than from other to promising.

Donald Thompson: Right? That’s really powerful because that, for me- what a success looks like is when people can not only take care of themselves today, but they can prepare for tomorrow.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: And it is hard to prepare for tomorrow in an “other” job.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? So you create a cycle of living day by day, and it’s hard to look outside of that environment because you’re just struggling. You’re just barely making it.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: And so, I appreciate that definition, right? The promising jobs, right? The good jobs, and then those other jobs. And so that’s really, really powerful. Now, when you look at that construct of those job categories, like what are some of the specific things that you’re asking of companies to do? Our educational system to do? Business leaders to do? What’s the ask to then contribute, right, to that goal of having more people in promising jobs?

Danya Perry: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s interesting because the first part of that ask is really knowing the resources that are there. It’s about truly recognizing the assets that we have that support a strong ladder. So, one of the first things that we did was to do an asset map and we identified over 270 odd resources. First before that, let me just say, research tells us that there are 13 critical areas that we need to have to have a community that has a strong ladder. There’s 13 main areas. I mean, from affordable childcare to robust transportation to job skills and creation to substance abuse and mental health support and resources-

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: It’s 13 components that if a community has those components, then your most marginalized can still go up that ladder. So, the question became, how can we, one, let’s see  what resources do we have and where are the gaps? And then once we identify the gaps, then the ask becomes, or rather, I am involved in those conversations with the folks that are leading those areas. So, for instance, transportation. Joe Milazzo, our executive director for the Regional Transportation Alliance. I talked to him tirelessly about it, and he is a huge advocate of equity. And so the conversation becomes, the first conversation we had was how do we, how do we support free bus fare for all?

Donald Thompson: Got it.

Danya Perry: Right? And it started out with free bus fare for kids in the summer. Now, why is that important? Well, now you have kids that can get on bus and find employment.

Donald Thompson: Got it.

Danya Perry: Right? So, and at the same time, trying to remove the social stigma of who uses the bus, and trying to promote that, you know, we want to become a very mobile community. We want to be accessible to everyone, and that these resources aren’t just for folks that don’t have.

Does that make sense?

Donald Thompson:  It makes perfect sense.

Danya Perry: So, the school system becomes a part of that conversation. We do a lot of work with them around workforce development and talent recognizing that our public school system is absolutely amazing. One of the top school systems in the country. The question becomes, are we able to support those kids going directly into the workforce that are not going to get a four year education? And a lot of that becomes not only like, let’s say some of your target growth industries like IT and coding. How do we help gain access with young people that aren’t engaged in that space? But then at the same time, how do we support the gap of our skills trades? Construction and plumbing, and how do we- and to be honest with you, and I’ll tell you what a kid told me, straight up. He said, “the reason why I don’t want to get into the plumbing is ’cause it don’t sound sexy.” I mean, it was just wasn’t attractive. It wasn’t that he was afraid of work, it just had never been presented to him in a way that was appealing.

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Danya Perry: And so I thought that was interesting.

Donald Thompson: Well, it’s, it’s both interesting and a clear indication of what has to be overcome.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? Because plumbers, right? At least when they come to my house, charge $150 an hour before they fix anything.

Danya Perry: Before they touch.

Donald Thompson: Before they touch anything, right? And when you need a plumber, you need them quickly. And so it’s something that as our, as the Triangle continues to grow,  those types of crafts or professions are going to continue to be needed at a high level.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: And the way that I, you know, talk about it when I talk to young people is you can be an entrepreneur in any arena you develop expertise.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: So, if you develop expertise as a plumber, then you can be an entrepreneur and run a plumbing company. And so it’s not really whether or not that particular skill has the cache, but being a business owner does.

Danya Perry: That’s right.

Donald Thompson:  Right? Being able to chart your own course and different things like that. But I think it’s, you know, we have social norms in this country that are breaking a little bit, and one of them was to be successful, you need a four year degree.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? And I think a four year degree is valuable for those that need it. If you want to be an engineer, if you want to be a doctor, if you want to go on Wall Street and need a series seven, all that stuff is good, but that’s not the only way to make your way in the world.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? And I think that we’re being better stewards of the futures of our kids because that stigma is dropping a little bit.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? Going to a community college is more accessible and more cache.

Danya Perry: Yes, it is.

Donald Thompson: Right. Than just the Duke or the Carolina or the ECU, et cetera. And so I’m definitely, I’m hearing what you’re putting out on that, on that point.

Danya Perry: Well, you know what’s interesting, I was just thinking about our most rural communities and, we are such an amazing magnet, you know, we are getting the best and brightest from all the communities surrounding Wake County. You know, we are having folks that want to come here.

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: And so our rural communities that are having that missing middle where you could graduate from high school and then go right into an industry and make a great living wage and can retire off of that job. You know, those jobs are, are just really shrinking. And so I think the lore of communities like us is a huge magnet to that talent, and a lot of it has to do with, you know, the fact that we have six amazing colleges in our county.

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: Six. I think we sometimes-

Donald Thompson: Take it for granted.

Danya Perry: Take that for granted. No, absolutely.

Donald Thompson: So, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk to me specifically about the Triangle DEI Alliance.

Danya Perry: Yes, sir. Well, this is our focus in on how do we accelerate diversity, equity, and inclusivity within our regional business community. And that is our vision. The vision is to become the most diverse, equitable, and inclusive business community in the country. And our goal is- and originally, and it’s a funny story actually, how it started. We launched back in March 2019 so it was relatively new. Before that launch, we had convened a group of DNI practitioners just to talk about the challenges in this space and to see if there was an appetite to have a deeper conversation and to build and learn from each other. And so we pulled these folks together, maybe 30 people, and after that conversation they said, “you know what? I think we should have an event. And pull other people because this was really, this was great for us. Let’s invite other people and let’s have a deeper conversation.” Well, we decided at that moment that we were going to have a conference and we were going to do the conference in two months. And now the conference, we were hoping to bring a hundred people.

Donald Thompson: Yeah, sure. Which is a succesful conference!

Danya Perry: Oh, that’s a great conference. A hundred people in two months? We would have been elated. We ended up with 400 people registering for this event, and that told us two things. One, we have to have a second conference. That’s the first thing, right? And then the second thing it told us was that, and especially from my background in community development, I recognize that while the conference is a great stage setting, launching opportunity to get people excited and to get people really entrenched in the work, we needed a mechanism to support the work in between conferences.

Donald Thompson: That’s right. After the pep rally.

Danya Perry: After the pep rally. You know, my father’s a minister, AME Zion Church, and he would tell me after his  most fire and brimstone sermon that he got everybody to come to the altar to change their lives. He had 48 hours to get to them after that sermon to help them implement the strategy that will actually become sustainable. And so when you think about that, the conference is one of the- I mean, we’re adult learners, right?

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: How much did we really retain after events like this? I mean, it’s tough. Well, 19% I think data tells us, that when we have trainings like this, you retain. But that feeling of movement, how can we really build on that? And so the Alliance created us the space to have programs that support not only our existing industries and their own DEI journey, such as, not only just a conference, but we have DEI round tables for practitioners of investors that have become a part of the Alliance- that’s really getting to the nuts and bolts of their work. We have provided courageous conversations, which is a quarterly, I would say, evolving conversation that really is provocative in itself to keep us being comfortable being uncomfortable.

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Danya Perry: And really push our sensibilities. You know, our first courageous conversation was on racial equity. Our second one focused in on, LGBTQ inclusivity. Our last one, was around bias and artificial intelligence and really talking about the bias in algorithms and how do we mitigate that debris. And so, the Alliance has really given us a space to really help support our existing industries. But in the same breath, we also do programming that helps support our historically underrepresented and underserved small businesses as well.

Donald Thompson: That’s super powerful. So in any kind of movement, you have those of us that are part of underrepresented groups and the things that we need to learn, how to navigate an arena where we’re not the dominant culture so to speak-

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: How do you get the white guy to care about diversity? How do you get somebody that’s in the dominant group not to be threatened, not to feel uncomfortable that the numbers and statistics around the browning of America means less opportunity for the middle aged white guy? How do you deal with that fear or in some cases just apathy?  I’ve heard people say, well, “we’re post racial. We had a black president. We’re all good,”  right? How do you deal with some of those insecurities and build those allies with people that are in the dominant culture?

Danya Perry: Well first of all, there’s no blaming. You know, that’s the first thing is all of us that are sitting around this table now, all of us that are within this community, we are not blaming the inequities on anybody around. The question becomes, how can we all be a part of the solution? How can we all be a part of either building a bridge or removing a barrier to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be successful? And you know, the interesting part about that is that- and you can imagine, I mean, we’ve seen it and you go into a conversation on bias and your defenses go up, you know, immediately it’s, “are you saying that I’m racist?” Right?

Donald Thompson: Right.

Danya Perry: And that’s human nature. That’s absolutely human nature. So we’ve tried our best to disarm what we’re talking about when we talk about equity and the conversation around DEI, for the most part, we talk about- we sit on the intersection of- there is a business case for DEI. There’s a return on your investment if you decide to have a diverse and equitable and inclusive workforce. Your bottom line will be better. And then another part of that intersection is it is a right thing to do. And we still to this day have a question about what HB2, the bathroom bill-

Donald Thompson: Yeah.

Danya Perry: Did to our community and what we lost in terms of businesses and-

Donald Thompson: That’s right. To our state.

Danya Perry: But let’s just say beyond the businesses that we lost, there was also a sense of we have a community that was- completely felt excluded and those that had no clue about what North Carolina or this community had to offer immediately felt like that is the narrative of your community. And so, either one, I don’t feel wanted. I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel connected. And so we are rewriting a narrative that stands on the shoulders of other narratives that created this deficit thinking. And at this point, the question of allyship is really about, you know, one, recognizing that we all don’t know what we don’t know.

Donald Thompson: Yup.

Danya Perry: We recognize that there isn’t a maliciousness associated to some of the inequity. I mean, I tell folks all the time, well intentioned people create inequities every single day. We do.

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Danya Perry: Right? So we have to give each other grace, and we have to make sure that we feel, from our perspective, until the unimpacted are outraged, we’re not going to see any change. So, I have to rely on our allies. I have to build partnerships. I have to build coalitions to move this, because if I’m the only one outraged, and I’m the only one in the corner trying to work on this, then I’m not gonna move nothing.

Donald Thompson: No, that makes perfect sense. I was, you know, as I’m going through some of the training that I’m involved in to broaden my educational level on DEI, one of the videos- there’s a middle aged white guy that said, “I’m all for equal opportunity and creating equitable opportunity for all, I don’t want to be made to feel ashamed of being white.”

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: And it was at that moment I got him.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: Does that make sense?

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Because it wasn’t that any of the topical items were wrong in his view. It was, why do I have to feel badly?

Danya Perry: That’s right.

Donald Thompson: Right? In order for someone else to move forward.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Right? And it created- just hearing it in that way, just created a level of humility that, you know, diversity and inclusion can also create exclusion.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: Right? Unintentionally.

Danya Perry: Unintentionally.

Donald Thompson: And so we have to be, we have to be careful that, in moving in a positive direction, we don’t leave others behind that can powerfully help us as well.

Danya Perry: Absolutely. And that’s one of those things where I don’t think there is- when I say a right answer, that’s not the right way of saying it. It is a continuing conversation that we all need to have because no one’s perspective is the right perspective, you know, is our perspective collectively. I can say, you know, there’s some fragilities across the board, you know, for those that have had to be, you know, subjected to, you know, the inequities. And that’s tough. That’s tough to be in a space where you are- you have historically not been at the table. And then to say, I have to also be conscious of another person’s fragility.

So my point is, we are both right, you know, to feel hurt and then also to feel defensive. And how do you reconcile? How do you work across difference? That’s where you’re gonna find the magic. And to be honest with you, a big part of the change and all the work that we’re talking about, it really stems to one single action.

Can we listen. Just be honest- if we could sit and, I mean, we are busy. First of all, we are just busy.

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: I mean, we are busy doing the work, changing the world, building businesses, building an incredible, robust economic ecosystem, but to listen, to be able to put myself in your shoes and to grow some empathy to grow some empowerment opportunities, I think that’s where we really going to see some shifts.

Donald Thompson: So one of the things that I was a part of with Earfluence is we launched a podcast series to where we had a group of diverse investors and a group of diverse startup entrepreneurs.

Danya Perry: Which that’s amazing, by the way.

Donald Thompson: Right? Pitching their ideas.

Danya Perry: Yes .

Donald Thompson: And one of the things that it taught me in practice is, number one, we all need to do what we can with what we’ve got, right now. And a lot of times we wait for a silver bullet with your talents or my talents or Jason’s talents, when there’s something that we can do tomorrow. And so, when I’m talking about inclusion and diversity and equity, a lot of the challenge is not racism like you described earlier, it’s proximity. It’s the fact that we’re siloed in our own group—whether it’s our church, whether it’s a country club, whether it’s the school we went to—that creates this false barrier.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: That’s actually easy to step through.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: But until you do, you think it’s this huge barrier.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: And so, you know, I was thinking in my mind, what are some steps that I could do or I could recommend to people when I talk to CEOs or different things, and one of them is go to a church that’s different than your church.

Danya Perry: Yes. Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: Just show up!

Danya Perry: Number one.

Donald Thompson: Right? Just show up. Listen to music that’s different. Go to a concert that’s different, but put yourself in the way of interacting with different people.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: And then what invariably happens is, and this I’ve experienced personally, people are good. People are welcoming.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: The TV shows and the media and all that stuff, they hype us up to be mad at each other. But there’s been several people that you know that— I’m an African American, that are white, that are Asian-Indian—that have helped me in my career in ways that there’s no way I’d be where I am-

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson:  Without people that look different than me opening a door for me.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: And so my experience of racism is real, but my experience of goodness of my fellow man is also real.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: So then it’s not fair to only focus on the negative impact piece.

Danya Perry: That’s right. I mean, can you imagine if you- one example, the one situation you had of being discriminated against, then skewed the rest of your experience and you never opened the door.

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: You never opened your heart. You never were open to other experiences. How that would’ve changed your trajectory.

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Danya Perry: Right? And, to be honest with you, it takes a lot of us personally to say, let me step outside of my comfort zone. And for me, I love breaking bread with people that have a different lived experience than me. I do, and that’s probably one of the one areas outside of church that I get as chance, and space, and intentionality to learn somebody else’s story. And, I mean, there’s nothing better than to say, you know what? You pick the restaurant. Where are we going?

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Danya Perry: Let me- why did you choose that? You know, because my, I was- this one lady was telling me, “Oh, I’m taking you to this Mexican restaurant,” and she just went into this story of how her mom used to make this enchilada, right? And it was- we were ordering and she’s, “Oh, but my mom,” you know what I’m saying? “My mother, she did it so much differently” and just went into- and it was like, wow. You know? And I had worked with her for three, four years and have never heard that story, never heard the reverence of family. I could’ve created this whole narrative of her that was completely different than the narrative that she gave me.

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: And I would have never known the richness or beauty of that relationship without being able to break bread over enchiladas.

Donald Thompson: That’s awesome.

Danya Perry: And it was good too.

Donald Thompson: I like to eat, so I’m open diversity through food sharing.

Danya Perry: There you go, absolutely.

Donald Thompson: What I would like to ask as we kind of wind down a little bit, there’s a lot of positives that we’re pushing through. What are some of the challenges of this work, right? In the DEI space and the economic development space with that equity lens that you have, and then what are some things that we need to get done to overcome those challenges?

Danya Perry: Wow, that’s a great question. I think one of the first challenges is continuing, you know, educating ourselves about the levers to change it. And because this is a new way about going about the work, the work of supporting our marginalized communities has been, you know, has been something that our community has done a great job in, but I think it’s just rethinking how we support our most vulnerable. The challenge of it becomes us reverting back to the status quo.

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Danya Perry: And you know, the only thing that’s going to challenge our evolution is, to me, it’s being passive and not continuing to push ourselves. And there could be a fatigue effect that occurs when you’re trying to change stuff and it becomes very incremental and you may not see the change because you’re really driving it hard. And so from my perspective, the way that we overcome that potential fatigue of this work is about bringing people along who are strong supporters and allies. So they get- it’s not just held in one person to be the champion of this challenge. It becomes something that we all collectively can see and envision, and that’s why the metrics are important.

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: That we all see what we’re driving towards and we all take a shared responsibility in dealing with it because, as you can probably imagine, the burnout is real, you know, being a cynic is real and saying, can we really make a change?

Donald Thompson: That’s right.

Danya Perry: Especially if you’re recalling that trending up comment, you hit one of those dips? That can be demoralizing.

Donald Thompson: Yeah.

Danya Perry: And in lot of different ways, but how can we bounce back and recognize that the work that we’re doing is impactful, is meaningful. What I try to do is to make sure that I stay a listener to those that are most marginalized in our communities because those stories drive me.  I recognize that whether we’re trying to change data points such as on employment, investments in our community, number of jobs created—which are great data points—every data point is a story. And by knowing those stories or hearing those stories and listening, that stuff just truly recharges me, and I think our community has a collective spirit of change that I- I’m just incredibly optimistic about the direction we’re going.

Donald Thompson: That’s awesome. All right, so if you had the magic wand,

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: What would you change about our society? What would you do if you had a magic wand?

Danya Perry: What kind of question is that? If I had a magic wand- give me the context because I can go everywhere with this.

Donald Thompson: You go wherever you like. If you had a magic wand, what would you do with that magic wand?

Danya Perry: Oh, wow. Well this is going to sound cheesy, right? But as soon as you said that, the first thing I thought about was the Hands Across America ad, you know. Was it Coca Cola or something?

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry: I guess- was it was 80s?

Donald Thompson: Yep.

Danya Perry:  Or whatnot, and everybody was attempting to hold hands across America. So, that symbolism, right? I think is the picture of this utopian society to me. You know? So I’ve had a magic wand. It’s the ability to have the space to connect with people that you hadn’t connected with before.

Donald Thompson: That’s awesome.

Danya Perry: And to me, in that space, when you share a lived experience, when you connect with somebody that’s not like you, when you understand, I mean, truly understand who they are. I think it’s almost like what Stephen Covey says about speed of trust. You know, he talks about, professional trust is if I hire you and I trust that you can do your job. But personal trust means that once we build a relationship, I will run through a brick wall to help you be successful in your job. And so to me, the underlying piece of it is if we connect with each other and know each other’s story and we build a personal trust and relationship? Ah. Can you imagine what society we could create?

I mean, seriously, can you imagine? There would be no challenge, that we could not overcome.

Donald Thompson: The personal trust in my life, the people that, you know, Grant Williard comes to mind, my mentor and very good friend, but our personal trust that we develop supersedes the fact that I’m black and he’s white.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: That personal trust became bigger than anything that was superficial.

Danya Perry: Absolutely.

Donald Thompson: And therefore we were able to fight battles together in business and lean on each other personally to help each other through tough times because that personal trust was the dominant part of the relationship. And so I agree with you 1,000% that a lot of times we don’t help one another because we see something happening to a group on TV, but we don’t have personal trust—that personal  relationship— with anybody in that underserved group.

Danya Perry: Yes.

Donald Thompson: But when you develop that, now you’re looking at that category and saying, I don’t want John and his family to experience that.

Danya Perry: That.

Donald Thompson: Versus just a group of unknown people on a television set.

Danya Perry: That’s right.

Donald Thompson: So that is super powerful. Well, Danya, I really appreciate you taking time.

Danya Perry: My pleasure.

Donald Thompson: It has been informative, educational, and inspiring. And when I listen to people- one of the things I enjoy doing on these podcasts is I get so much from the talented people I get to listen to.

Danya Perry: Same here.

Donald Thompson: And every time we do this, I’m better, stronger, and how do you go backwards, right? When you learn some new insights. And then the other piece is the more responsible people that you talk to, the more responsible your imagery of what you’re supposed to be becomes.

Danya Perry: That’s right. I love it.

Donald Thompson: And so I’m very appreciative of the time that you’ve taken to spend with us. Yeah, and look forward to continuing to work with you and anything I can do, please feel free to let me know.

Danya Perry: Thank you, sir. My pleasure.

Donald Thompson: That was Danya Perry, and you can find more on what he’s doing by visiting TriangleDEI.org.

Thanks for tuning in everyone. Like I mentioned at the top of the show, to find more diversity and inclusion content including the online course, head on over to TheDiversityMovement.com.

And if you like this show, one way you can help with the movement is to subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and leave us a rating and review as well.

This show was edited and produced by Earfluence. If you’re looking for information on full service podcast production, head on over to Earfluence.com.

I’m Donald Thompson, and we’ll see you next time on Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox.

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Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is presented by The Diversity Movement. For more information including the online course, head over to TheDiversityMovement.com. Podcast production by Earfluence.

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