The seed for the Derby Diversity & Business Summit (DDBS) was planted over ten years ago as business person and entrepreneur Tawana Bain traveled to attend various conferences on diversity. She couldn’t help but notice the conferences focused primarily on individual diverse populations. Tawana wished to see all diverse groups converging together to strengthen the entire diversity network. She was ambitious enough to think this could be achieved in her relatively new home state of Kentucky.
Tawana was born and raised in upstate New York, but came to Kentucky by way of Miami. It was there that she was given an opportunity with her job to transfer to Louisville. She was reluctant at first; but by Derby Week of 2005, she was sold. “I never thought I would become so involved in Derby events. But I’m not surprised given that is what made me decide to stay.” As another decade passed, Tawana held on to her vision for a truly diverse diversity conference. “I made the decision to stop waiting for others to pave the way and to create a platform for intersectionality - the act of bringing all diverse groups together.” She knew she would not be able to go it alone, and was prepared to meet with some resistance at first.
In order for her to get this event off the ground, “It took an out-of-state company with DNA of diversity woven into the fabric of its overarching business strategy to step up first.” That company was Proctor & Gamble of Cincinnati, Ohio. While Tawana would have preferred to begin building the original event with a local partner, she was unable to get the local leaders she approached to rally behind the concept “because we were just not there yet.” But once the dam broke, so to speak, it started a flood of enthusiasm and cooperation with corporations from all over the country joining in, excited to establish intersectionality in the South. Tawana is determined to work with “people who are stepping up because they believe it’s the smart thing to do, who deeply care about breaking the cycle of cultural silos and inequities and not only changing lives but wanting business to be good for everyone.” She’s not willing to settle for those “window-dressing with or paying lip-service to diversity.” So not just any partner will do. “DDBS is about serious business folks leveraging differences to move our community in a positive direction for the next generation and for the betterment of our economy.”
One such local passionate partner is Churchill Downs. Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen, VP of Partnerships Kristin Warfield, and Communications Director Tonya Abeln have been of great help to Tawana in expanding the reach of DDBS. She recalls Bill and Tonya attending last year’s Derby Sneaker Ball during their busiest week of the year and Kristin serving on panels and giving welcome remarks during the opening reception. Churchill Downs maintains an attitude of “We should be doing more. How can we roll up our sleeves?” In addition to their financial support, Churchill Downs is all in, actively sponsoring and facilitating various aspects of DDBS.
DDBS has grown from 100 attendees two years ago to over 200 last year to who-knows-how-many this year. Held April 28 through May 2, 2020, the Summit will be based at the Kentucky International Convention Center, but has ignited all over the city with major events that have taken on a life of their own. Derby Fashion Week’s “International Derby Travels the Runway Fashion Show” will be held at 4th Street Live! (Visit derbyfashionweek.com to purchase tickets or to sign up for the invite-only model call) The Derby Sneaker Ball and DDBS Awards will be hosted at the Muhammad Ali Center. Exclusive morning Primp & Play parties will help attendees get gussied up for Oaks and Derby at Churchill Downs.
Derby Diversity & Business Summit converges culture, business, fashion and entertainment while changing the lives of those involved. It was the springboard for the Ohio River Valley’s first regional LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, CIVITAS. High school students got the added boost they needed to create a business plan to introduce more inclusive history education programs in Kentucky middle and high schools that has since morphed into pending legislation. DDBS also gives back with an annual grant to support nonprofits who contribute to supply chain and workforce diversity.
People often ask Founder/CEO Tawana Bain how she has had such good fortune or achieved so much success. “The tables I occupy at home, at work, and in my social circles reflect diversity and increase my chances of meeting opportunity. I bring them all together to move the world in a different direction.” If you feel so moved, Tawana invites you to “Register for the conference! Get involved! Become a Financial Contributor!” There is always room at the DDBS table: derbydiversity.com.