Elected and business leaders met just after daybreak to attend the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga's annual Equal Opportunity Day breakfast Tuesday.
"You are here at 7:30 in the morning," said Gale King. "What that tells me is that this is important to you, that the work of the Urban League is important to you and that diversity is important to you."
King, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Nationwide Insurance, was the speaker for the Urban League's biggest fundraiser of the year. An estimated 500 people attended. Individual tickets for the breakfast, a plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and potatoes, sold for $100 per person.
Sponsors didn't just purchase breakfast, Urban League officials said. They invested in a vision of having a city that intentionally includes everybody regardless of race, gender, age or economic background.
The dream is that each individual feels vested, accepted and empowered regardless of their background, said Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson, Urban League board chair.
The goal is for Chattanooga to be "a city of inclusion, a city of opportunity and a city of choice," Thompson said.
Because of previous contributions to the Urban League, the nonprofit has helped 350 people get jobs through its economic empowerment programs. Another 800 youths participated in academic enrichment classes like after-school programs and STEM Academy. And more than 6,800 people got volunteer income tax assistance in the past year.
"We were able to serve 9,000 people," said Urban League's executive director Warren Logan. "Behind each one is an incredible story. Some of them were children, some had health issues, some had been unemployed for a number of years."
King said her company, Nationwide Insurance, is an example of what happens when a company is inclusive of all people.
"The reason I'm here today is because I am a part of a company that gave me opportunity to grow," said King.
She was raised by her grandmother and said she fit the stereotype of being a person who didn't excel or even finish school, but her grandmother pushed her to get an education and a city program allowed her to work filing papers in a courthouse.
The job gave her a paycheck and opportunity to see a different world. Seeing a different world helped her have a vision of her success, she said.
Nationwide is a Fortune 100 company that is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the United States, said King. The company progresses because it makes associates feel like they belong with the company and like they matter, as a result the associates do their best work and give their best ideas, she said.
Achieving inclusion will take leadership that is intentional about being inclusive, King said.
"What is your role in ensuring that you have a community for all," she asks. "It's about being intentional about what you want to be. You have Volkswagen here. I bet you were intentional about that. That's how you have to create a community for all."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.