One Phoenix-based organization, The Black Board of Directors Project, has been working for nearly 35 years to advance society by adding diversity to policy-making positions in the nonprofit arena and private and public sectors. 

“We found that there is a paucity of diversity on a lot of boards and commissions and that is because the number of people known out there is very thin,” said Marvin Perry, the founder of the organization. 

Perry said this became his motive behind founding the group in 1983. 

Perry assembled the Black Board of Directors Project because he felt there was not a group focused on getting members interested and active while still assisting in the overall advancement of society. 

Boards of directors in the U.S. are not known for their diversity. Last year, the Missing Pieces Report: The 2016 Board Diversity Census of Women and Minorities on Fortune 500 Boards noted that there were only 784 minority board members in 2016 out of the 5,440 total board seats within the Fortune 500. This was a 12 percent increase from 2010. 

In the early 1970s, immediately after Perry had moved to Omaha, Nebraska to take a banking position, he joined the Urban Chamber of Commerce. Perry then sold them on the idea of getting their members involved in civic affairs to promote their businesses while enhancing society. 

“Later in the decade I moved to Phoenix and tried unsuccessfully to sell the black leaders of the day on such an initiative,” Perry said. “It was in the 1980s when a black corporate attorney advised me that the black leaders in Arizona were not able to appreciate what I was promoting. Thus, I had to do it myself.” 

Finally, in October 1983, the Black Board of Directors Project held its first event in which they presented their first 30 members. 

Today, the Black Board of Directors Project has helped over 850 people advance their careers through locating and engaging its members in adequate board positions. 

“Members who go through the program—we’ve had so many success stories. And there are individuals who start with us and then go on to engage in various boards across the country,” said Perry. 

Today, the Black Board of Directors Project identifies boards for its members to participate in and connects its members through networking, conferences and meetings. The goal is to help advance all people in their careers as well as gain a better understanding of their communities. 

“I think there are special barriers to folks who are not traditionally part of the power structure, and the organization is sensitive to that fact,” said Christopher Houk, a long-time member of the organization. 

Houk said he was drawn to the Black Board of Directors Project because it offers an all-inclusive and open environment where members can express their pride for their origins. 

“One of the important highlights of the group are that a lot of African Americans new to the Valley have a hard time finding each other or places where their expertise can be put to use,” said Kendra Hassan, a member of the Black Board of Directors Project. “And Marvin’s activity over that past couple decades of finding people and paying attention to their capabilities and then being able to link them to other organizations is such a useful service.” 

The organization works to strategically match its members’ interests with various boards’ needs. 

Perry plays an essential role in this process by listening to his members’ needs and connecting them with multiple boards until they’ve found a comfortable fit. 

“You’re looking for a nice board to be a part of, and there’s so many options, but we all have our own passions and loves,” Houk said. “Luckily, there are so many boards available through the Black Board of Directors, whether that be civic organizations, government board, boards that help with the poor, or boards that help with art. There is something that everyone will find completely rewarding.” 

The organization runs forums and meetings on an on-going basis, with types of events varying from luncheons and breakfast meetings to retreats and cultural events. 

At a typical luncheon or breakfast meeting, there will be a credible speaker who engages in intellectual discussion. These speakers have included Judge Andrew Horwitz of the Ninth Circuit Court, NPR Newscaster Korva Coleman, Sen. John McCain, Ambassador Sharon Wilkinson, United Nations Ambassador Francis Deng, top level corporate executives, mayors, authors and scholars from major universities throughout the Nation. 

These events are an opportunity for members to engage in conversation, make connections and get in contact with boards and commissions. 

“One of the things about our membership program is the importance, as an effective leader, to know your community and be known in your community,” said Perry. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”