Your Invitation to Help Us End Systemic Inequality of Opportunity by Uniting Florida Business for Good
Chairman of the Board
Florida Chamber of Commerce
President & CEO
Florida Chamber of Commerce
While we could be writing to you about the deep and lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global recession, the upcoming election, or the realities of hurricane season, we are writing to urge you to take action in a critical moment in our nation’s history. We believe businesses must initiate a strategic plan to making lasting, influential, and meaningful change for our neighborhoods, our state, our nation, and our shared beliefs.
As the world’s most diverse nation, America finds itself in a moment of immense opportunity to propel the principles of free enterprise and competition into long-overdue change with diversity, inclusion and equity of opportunity. One nation under God must mean freedom for all, and we must renew and propel our national values by ensuring every American has an equitable opportunity at earned success. We are far from the ideals we have created and the realities we are searching for, and we need the collective action and dedication of Florida’s business leaders now more than ever. America is the land of opportunity and we invite you to join us as we make Florida the national example of meaningful and lasting change.
We must reach beyond politics and acknowledge what can be done, one business, one person, one zip code at a time. The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Prosperity Initiative is uniting business leaders for change, and we hope you will accept our invitation and help us make Florida the national leader in championing diversity, inclusion and equity of opportunity.
We have witnessed tens of thousands of Americans of all races and ethnicities, of all statuses and perspectives, taking to the streets to protest institutional racism and calling for long overdue social justice reform. We were all horrified by the murder of George Floyd, as well as countless instances of senseless killings and racial injustice. A large portion of media coverage highlighted acts of violence and destruction overshadowing the majority of peaceful protests. These movements are demanding definitive action and immediate change, and they are largely right.
It is with new passion and perspective that we continue our pursuit of equity of opportunity for every Floridian, regardless of their circumstance. The challenges business leaders face are actually our opportunities. Our workforce seeks leadership from the business community to collectively effect positive and permanent change in the wake of more than a century of inequality.
The Florida Chamber Foundation is honored to invite you to join our collective efforts, which we began years ago, to create opportunity in every Florida zip code, for every Floridian, regardless of background, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, birthplace, or sexual orientation. There is continued distrust, pain, and disappointment over systematic racism and lack of social justice that is imbedded in some of our businesses and national structure. This must be addressed.
It is no surprise that many employees, shareholders, board of directors, customers, and stockholders are inquiring and demanding that companies join in the efforts to address these issues. As we write, 21.3% of Florida’s children under the age of 18 live in poverty. Of those children, over half live in just 15% of our zip codes. Residents of these areas are significantly more likely to be Black or Hispanic. The disparity in opportunities is even more revealing when considering that Florida’s zip code with the highest number of children in poverty borders a zip code with one of the smallest number of children in poverty.
In 2016, the Florida Chamber Foundation activated the Prosperity Initiative, creating a long-term business plan to break the cycle of generational poverty one zip code and one child at a time. The Prosperity Initiative identified ten root elements that either cause or keep individuals in generational poverty. Research shows poverty rates differ greatly along racial lines. Black Floridians are more than twice as likely to live below the poverty line as white Floridians. By unifying Florida through the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Prosperity Initiative, we can, must, and will do more to address the racial inequities that exist.
The Prosperity Initiative presents data and research to business partners, community leaders, and public sector officials to help them create a strategy for ending the cycle of generational poverty in each of our 983 zip codes. We are engaging with a statewide advisory board to develop a framework that addresses problems concerning all of Florida, followed by 67 county initiatives that focus on regionally specific issues, and ultimately 983 zip code level initiatives to replace poverty with prosperity at the neighborhood level. Every business in Florida influences equity of opportunity and we have created the Prosperity Initiative to ensure that this collective influence is the permanent game changer.
The framework is relatively new but there are already many leaders in Florida’s business community who have become zip code level advocates, building teams of businesses and nonprofit organizations to make a permanent impact. For example, in Leon County’s 32304, in Broward’s 33311, and in Volusia’s 32114, business leaders are “adopting” zip codes and focusing on specific root causes of poverty and acting as trailblazers of these efforts. Some companies, such as Florida Blue, are quarterbacking five zip codes including Duval’s 32206, Broward’s 33311, Orange County’s 32805 and Hillsborough’s 33612 and also 33613.
With your guidance and leadership, your company can initiate action in your community to make a real difference. As you may know, the Florida Chamber Foundation created the 2030 Plan, a detailed blueprint for success over the next ten years that can propel Florida from the 17th largest economy (if we were a nation) in the world to the 10th largest economy (which would make us larger than Mexico’s economy). The Florida 2030 Blueprint has 39 fully-researched and measurable action items we must achieve to be successful. In addition to cutting childhood poverty in half by 2030, another goal is to ensure all of Florida’s third graders are reading proficiently before graduating to fourth grade. Currently, only 58% of third-graders in Florida public schools read at a third-grade level. That means 91,066 Florida third graders are not reading at grade level. Studies confirm that children who do not achieve proficient reading skills are most likely to live a life of poverty, and the majority of these children are minorities. Progress is possible and we will measure our results as we go. We urge you to partner with the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Prosperity Initiative to assist your company in developing a plan of action designed to engage in the Chamber’s efforts bring Floridians out of poverty by leveraging all our free enterprise system has to offer.