Matching Word to Deed: Black retail professionals clear a path for minorities

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When it comes to matching word to deed, you can count on the Black Retail Action Group Inc. (www.bragusa.org), a New York-based, not-for-profit organization that promotes the participation of minorities at all levels of retail and related industries. For 33 years, the group has sponsored professional development programs, executive roundtables that tackle critical industry issues and those affecting minorities, and a summer internship that exposes minority college students to the nuances of working in an authentic retail environment. Equally important, it celebrates every year the achievements of African-Americans and other minorities in the unforgiving environment of the retail and related industries.

The 2003 Business Achievement Awardees were Terence X. Bogan, vice president/DMM, Women’s Co-op Barneys New York; Jeffrey Tweedy, executive vice president, Sean John; Edward Wilkerson, design director, Lafayette 148; June Horne, buyer/designer collection, Saks Fifth Avenue; Christine Meier, group vice president/Central Human Resources & Diversity, Macy’s East; and Everick Brown. owner and president, EB Home, who received the J.J. Thomas Young Innovators Award.

A record-breaking 14 scholarships were awarded in 2003 to students interested in pursuing careers in retail and related industries. “BRAG is experiencing a renaissance. Corporations and educational institutions are beginning to understand the rewards of a richly diverse work force. This rebirth challenges companies and educational institutions to create innovative solutions for complex problems and offer more extensive counseling and training to young professionals of color who have the skills and leadership potential to succeed in the retail and related industry environment,” says Gloria Hartley, president of BRAG and a professor at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Thirty college juniors participated in the 2003 summer internship, which BRAG co-sponsors with the Consumer Distribution Committee, a consortium of top retail companies in New York City. BRAG has partnered with the committee for the past 30 years to sponsor the intensive 11-week professional development program for students from around the country. Ann Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, Coach, Federated Merchandising Group, Foot Locker, The Gap Inc., Lord and Taylor, Macy’s East, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tommy Hilfiger and The Children’s Place participate in the program.

“This internship has proven to be a valuable learning experience for the interns and a great opportunity for the participating companies to evaluate potential talent for future hires. In fact, it has become a major resource for the participating companies to find minority talent to further their diversity recruiting efforts,” says J. J. Thomas, chairman of BRAG and executive director of the internship program.

Hired for the summer between their junior and senior years of college, students must demonstrate a genuine interest in retail or a related field and must have a grade point average of 2.8 or above. The coveted BRAG/CDC internship gives students hands-on experience in retail through assignments at the corporate offices of the participating companies. The interns are given executive-level assignments, helping their supervisors run the day-to-day operations of their companies. They also participate in professional development workshops and seminars facilitated by CDC professionals that are designed to empower them with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in the business world. In addition, they are grouped into teams, each of which is assigned a business case module that requires it to gather information, organize the data, put them in print and make an oral presentation before an audience of senior executives from the participating companies. During the first week on the job, each intern is assigned a mentor from BRAG.

To date, more than 500 former BRAG/CDC interns hold management positions in manufacturing, wholesale and retail.