Advancing Opportunities for People of Color: In Conversation With National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals CEO Jason Dunn

June 21, 2024

In honor of Juneteenth, we want to celebrate and highlight the efforts of African American leaders and organizations in the business events industry. Designated a U.S. federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth commemorates the day on June 19, 1865 when a Union general read orders in Galveston, Texas, stating all enslaved people in the state were free according to federal law.

Back in 1983, the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP) was officially established by six founding members. Forty-one years later, the non-profit boasts 1,500 members and is led by CEO Jason Dunn, who credits the coalition with helping him to become the first black individual to serve as VP of VisitCincy, the destination marketing organization (DMO) that promotes Cincinnati.  

The NCBMP’s mission then and now: “Develop opportunities for persons of color in the meetings and events industry,” said Dunn.

After speaking on the stage at Connect Spring Marketplace 2024 in Las Vegas, Dunn joined us in our podcast booth on the show floor at the Venetian Convention & Expo Center to share his experience promoting diversity and helping other colleagues learn and grow in the business events industry.

Read highlights from our conversation or listen to the full interview here. 

Where based: Cincinnati. The NCBMP offices are in Alexandria, Va.  

Backstory: I started my career in 2004 at the CVB in Cincinnati and moved my way up for 18 years there. I came over to the coalition as the executive director in 2022, and I was promoted to the CEO last year. I've been with NCBMP since 2004 in different roles. I was the board chairman in 2020. I credit this organization with the success I have been afforded in my career. One is being the first black vice president of the VisitCINCY in history. 

Top issues facing people of color in 2024: Opportunities for advancement, comparable wages and work-life balance.  

C-suite representation: I don't have a stats on the percentage of people of color within the industry because it's our industry is so vast. But I can say there are less than 2% in the C-suites. I can also say that less than 5.5% of those are women of color. We know there are more opportunities to grow the pathway to the executive level, but sometimes we're not given an opportunity to do that. Our organization has been focused on empowering those individuals who have the talent, making sure there are connections with those who are hiring and also being in the boardroom to ensure policies are welcome and open to allow people to really compete.

Wage gap: There are several wage discussions, particularly around black women and the difference between CEOs who are not of color and those who are of color. There is a dramatic difference. Frankly, some would say it’s disgusting. So that's why we advocate to expand the boards, change the policy of how people are being selected and how they're being hired, making sure there's advocacy in the room and holding people accountable for diversity.

Jason Dunn
Dunn and Danica Tormoholen at the TSNN podcast booth at Connect Spring Marketplace 2024.

Looking back: In 1982, the organization’s founders were traveling together on a fam’ trip in Atlanta and noticed there wasn't a lot of diversity when it came to hotels. At that time, the DMOs didn't [employ] a lot of people of color. They decided to have a conversation. They all flew to New York, and in 1983, they came back and established the coalition.

Mission: Developing opportunities for persons of color, specifically those within the African diaspora, for education and professional development, as well as to establish pathways to do business and support those who support equity.

Membership: We have about 1,500 members. We have been growing our numbers back since COVID. Not all members came back to the industry for various reasons, but we're growing. Our base includes faith organizations, corporate planners, association planners, sports, and many other historical organizations. On the other side, suppliers range from airlines and DMOs to hotels and cruise lines, as well. As our base expands, our numbers expands and our influence expands.

Events: We partner with PCMA and Destinations International (DI). We do an activation during Business Industry Week in Washington, DC. We have an event called the State of Black Tourism during the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, DC on Sept. 12. Our annual conference is Nov. 13-16 in Birmingham, Ala. Throughout the year, we also have activations and webinars with Connect, MPI and EIC. 

Collaboration: What we learned during COVID when I was chairman is that no association is bigger than the other. We all have to come together to create an atmosphere where our industry is protected. And so those collaborations came out of that time of dire need for us to kind of come together to make sure that we support those who represent our associations.  

Association leadership: Link to this year’s board of directors

Need to know: I would invite people to join NCBMP. If you can't, join a member organization that is a partner of ours. 

More CMPs: We are dead set on increasing the amount of people of color who have CMPs to ensure they are able to compete on an equal playing field. 

Last words: I would encourage folks … if you're in the room, and you don't see diversity around you, speak up. If you need tools or people to help you with doing that, we're here to support that. Get involved. Stay involved. Stay engaged. Speak up. Speak out. Don't be afraid to walk in your power. That's what we do, and that's how we roll. 

What’s next: See Dunn on the stage at Connect Marketplace, Aug. 27-29 in Milwaukee.


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