Minneapolis business owners take virtual stage with U.S. Bank diversity executive at The Atlantic Festival 2020

September 24, 2020 | GET MORE : Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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The annual event put on by The Atlantic gathers leaders across industries to discuss consequential issues

In the Camdentown neighborhood of North Minneapolis, HMWR is a realized vision.

As a kid, Houston White would ride his bike through the neighborhood imagining that he could live there someday. As a teenager, he spent his time cutting hair, listening to music and designing shirts. As a young adult, he drove by the building that would later become his own and told his wife his ideas for its “vibey, cool” future. 

Today as a 41-year-old entrepreneur, White is doing all of those things and more. Since 2008, he has built HMWR into a barbershop, clothing store and coffee bar, and has plans to expand it with mixed-used development including a street café.

“Camdentown is a place of Black joy, Black pride, Black excellence… and Black futurism, ultimately,” said White. 

His vision – alongside those of fellow North Minneapolis business owners Flora Westbrook, Calvin Littlejohn and Sammy McDowell – recently took the virtual stage at The Atlantic Festival in a video produced by event underwriter U.S. Bank. The video featured U.S. Bank Chief Diversity Officer Greg Cunningham, who spoke about how the Minneapolis-based bank is working to address racial inequities in its home market and across the country. 

“Minneapolis is a community that, in many ways, is a tale of two cities,” said Cunningham. “It’s thrived and prospered economically overall, but for communities of color that hasn’t been the case.”

 

The region entered the national spotlight after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer on May 25 and the following protests that sparked an international movement toward racial justice. 

Racial justice and more broadly diversity were among the core themes this year at The Atlantic Festival, which for more than a decade has brought together newsmakers to grapple with issues facing society. 

Cunningham, who was recently promoted to the Managing Committee at U.S. Bank and now reports directly to the CEO, spoke in the recorded video as part of a session about how corporations can affect change. Other speakers in the session included Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, Google Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker, The Ad Council CEO Lisa Sherman and The Atlantic Managing Editor Gillian White. 

In the video, Cunningham shared three actions that corporations can take to help reverse inequities, “The first is committing to advancing minority talent in their organizations, the second is committing to supporting minority-owned businesses, and then the final thing is leadership needs to be vocal about denouncing systemic racism.”

Financially, U.S. Bank committed $116 million to addressing inequities, including $16 million in grants for local and national nonprofits and $100 million in incremental capital for Black-owned businesses.

This will help business owners such as Houston White, whose expansion plans have received $100,000 in funding from U.S. Bank Foundation and U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation. White hopes that HMWR can further serve as a catalyst in North Minneapolis, as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs across the country and as an example for how corporations work with communities.

“The idea is to inspire the future,” said White. “If I’m successful and if this partnership is successful – which I believe it will be – it’ll give other large corporations a playbook as to how they can really affect change.” 

He continued, “Because it’s entrepreneurs who provide the vision, the jobs, the know how – particularly, for communities of color.”