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Dennis Kennedy Founder of the National Diversity Council: “If I could inspire a movement, it would definitely be providing more opportunities for youth in inner cities to reach their full potential, while focusing on education reform.”

If I could inspire a movement, it would definitely be providing more opportunities for youth in inner cities to reach their full potential, while focusing on education reform. The National Diversity Council is always spearheading ways to make college access a possibility, while ensuring that there is cultural competency when it comes to the college […]


If I could inspire a movement, it would definitely be providing more opportunities for youth in inner cities to reach their full potential, while focusing on education reform. The National Diversity Council is always spearheading ways to make college access a possibility, while ensuring that there is cultural competency when it comes to the college admissions process. We have a list of programs in which we are preparing youth from diverse backgrounds to have access to more workforce and college opportunities. We just wrapped up the ninth year of our Rice University Summer Youth Program that has provided students from underserved communities with the tools to succeed in high school and beyond.


As part of my series about “companies and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dennis Kennedy, Founder & Chair of the National Diversity Council. Dennis has an unwavering passion for people and works to ensure that all individuals receive equal opportunities in the workplace regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, physical or mental handicap, physique, gender identity or sexual orientation. In 2004, Mr. Kennedy walked away from his job to start the Texas Diversity Council, www.texasdiversitycouncil.org. He saw a very strong need to create an organization that would champion Diversity & Inclusion across the state. Four years later, Mr. Kennedy found himself launching the National Diversity Council (NDC) for the exact same reasons he started the state council. Currently, the NDC is made up of 16 state and regional Councils: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pacific Northwest (OR & WA), Pennsylvania, Texas, and Tri-State (NY, NJ & CT). His vision is to have state and regional diversity councils across the USA. Furthermore, Mr. Kennedy spent several years as a college professor in the business schools at the following universities: University of Houston Downtown, Texas Southern University and University of Texas at San Antonio. Some of the courses he taught included: Business Statistics, Economics, HR Management, Compensation Management and Diversity Management. He also spent 5 years working in a corporate environment in the field of Human Resources. Mr. Kennedy graduated from the University of Houston Main Campus with undergraduate degrees in economics, business management, political science and physical education; he also earned a MBA from University of Houston Main Campus as well. In addition, he was a scholarship athlete for football.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

What brought me to this specific career path was the opportunity to work on a team that looked at pay equity. This project opened my eyes to inequalities in the workplace and spearheaded my passion from teaching statistics to teaching about diversity and inclusion at a local San Antonio university. Being able to advocate boldly for individuals and provide companies with the tools to spark change in diversity and inclusion was imperative to me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Since leading the National Diversity Council, I would have to say that the most interesting experience would have to be getting the opportunity to interview President Obama in front of over 3,000 people. President Obama is one of the leaders at the fore-front of the diversity and inclusion conversation with his work to implement the “Government-Wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan”​. He has always made a conscious effort to increase workforce diversity, inclusion and sustainability. Never in my life would I have imagined that I would get the opportunity to interview the first African-American president of the United States of America. His humility and willingness to serve is inspiring to all.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I would say the funniest mistake I made when first starting was not realizing that I wasn’t that important. Important people want to talk to other important people. Not understanding that definitely led to a lot of frustration because a lot of my initial calls to CEOs didn’t get returned. I learned that in order for me to be successful, I had to create significance that resonates and brings about change in the diversity and inclusion space.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

From a corporate perspective, the National Diversity Council is making a significant social impact by championing diversity and asking companies to open doors that have been historically closed. We put on a hundred events each year focusing on multiple aspects of diversity such as the LGBTQ+ community, disabled employees, veterans, women and youth. For over a decade, we have worked to ensure that each person is a part of the conversation when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Having speakers like President Obama, Colin Powell, Donna Brazille, and Soledad O’Brien helps to champion conversations that need to be central in the workplace.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

At the National Diversity Council, our focus is improving companies as a whole. We have served as a resource for major companies such as AT&T, United Airlines, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Walmart by helping them to better understand the opportunities around diversity and inclusion and how they can convey this appropriately to their employees. However, the individual impact has proven to be extremely significant as well. I have traveled the world expressing the importance of diversity and have, in turn, had various individuals share how dialogue at our event has enlightened and inspired them to be a catalyst for change within their workplaces and communities.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

There are numerous ways in which companies can address diversity and inclusion issues. A great opportunity for business leaders to bring about significant change is by focusing on proactive versus reactive planning. At the National Diversity Council, our DiversityFIRST Certification Program trains current and aspiring diversity professionals to create and implement policies and procedures necessary for an inclusive work environment. We focus on topics like the business case for diversity and inclusion, cultural competence, measurement and accountability, leadership and general best-practices. It is always better to prioritize this because in the long-run, it costs companies thousands of dollars for failing to implement. To date, we have over 300 Nationally Certified Diversity Professionals. I am extremely proud of this program.

Another way to see improvement is to address the issue by advocating openly and loudly for workplace inclusion. Often times, this requires leadership to be open to the idea of having their workforce be trained in this subject matter. As more people advocate for this, the more people will understand the significance of leading an organization forward in a multicultural global environment.

Finally, only so much work can be done in the diversity and inclusion space alone. Organizations need to partner with each other to provide the opportunity to amplify messages. Our recent partnership with SKYY Vodka and John Cena on the #sparkchange campaign provided us an opportunity to amplify the importance of diversity and inclusion, along with support from other celebrities including Amara La Negra and Trixie Mattel. Being able to showcase firework photos from various audiences and converting that into this concept of sparking change, led to a lot of powerful conversations on the importance of a diverse and inclusive country.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define “leadership” as the ability and willingness to serve first and foremost. In order to lead, you must first be able to serve your community and advocate for those that have been marginalized. Through my journey with the National Diversity Council, I have realized that the mission of diversity and inclusion comes before my own aspirations. There is still so much work to be done to bring attention to inequalities in and outside of the workplace. A leader should be able to inspire others to leverage resources to improve access to opportunities for all.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Oh wow, there are so many things I wish people would have told me when I began this journey. I stated before, I wish someone had told me that I was not as important as I thought was. Most people have this grandiose sense of self and believe they are this hero that has to save everyone with their innovative idea. I believe one should always remain humble because there is always room to grow and learn. I have met thousands of people working in the diversity and inclusion space over the years and have always learned something new each and every time. I try not to take myself seriously and love to exchange different ideas.

I also wish someone would have told me that I wouldn’t be able to do all of this on my own. When I started in this space, I realized that there were so many different initiatives that I wanted to carry out. I quickly realized that I did not have the resources to carry out that vision on my own and so I found people that could help me along my journey. I had to set priorities and grow the Texas Diversity Council before I could think about diversity and inclusion on a national level. As we work to expand our reach from 16 states to all 50 states, I am constantly reminded that what once began as a small organization has blossomed into one that serves thousands of people annually.

Another thing is simple Non-Profit Business 101. As a person that had never gone through the process of setting up and running a non-profit organization, it was definitely hard work. I think most people do not understand the comfort in having a typical 9 to 5 is lost when you start your own organization. Non-profit management is vastly different from for-profit business management. Having a supportive group of people help me in areas where I was not as versed definitely would have made the transition from the corporate to non-profit a little easier.

I also found it very shocking that people were not as receptive to the diversity conversations as I thought they would be. I thought people would have an experience similar to my own and immediately be inspired to take action after their “ah ha” moment. We had to work hard to showcase the business imperative of diversity and inclusion in order to break down the resistance and lack of support. Understanding that leadership is looking for the business impact, while employees are often looking for a sense of community, is essential to convey the benefits to both groups.

Something that was almost as shocking as the resistance to the conversation, was the fact that so many leaders didn’t even recognize that there was a diversity issue within their company. Most companies have multicultural workforces, but monolithic executive teams which can remove the diversity of thought needed to recognize shortcomings. Often times, people live in a silo or do not realize that there are disparities happening when they are not on the receiving end. Due to their limited experiences, they do not understand the issues faced by others. It is not because they are bad people, but rather that they have not received the proper training to understand the issues affecting the American landscape. Activities like the privilege walk can help to visually depict this for people. I am always personally working to expand my knowledge base by connecting with others from different backgrounds and experiences from myself.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, it would definitely be providing more opportunities for youth in inner cities to reach their full potential, while focusing on education reform. The National Diversity Council is always spearheading ways to make college access a possibility, while ensuring that there is cultural competency when it comes to the college admissions process. We have a list of programs in which we are preparing youth from diverse backgrounds to have access to more workforce and college opportunities. We just wrapped up the ninth year of our Rice University Summer Youth Program that has provided students from underserved communities with the tools to succeed in high school and beyond.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is definitely “Dream Big.” Dreaming big gave me the opportunity to meet President Obama and a host of other advocates that continue to do the hard work of making their communities more inclusive. Dreaming big allowed me to see a vision that was not yet realized with the National Diversity Council. I was so passionate about this dream that I left the comfort and stability of my job in corporate America. No one should ever put limits or boundaries on anyone’s vision and dreams because it just might make the world a more inclusive and fun place to live.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Given that I have already met President Obama, I would also like to meet Denzel Washington, Jordan Peele, Donald Glover, Beyonce and Robert F. Smith. All of these public figures have worked in their respective spaces to advocate for what is right, while helping underserved communities have a seat at the table. It is inspiring to see how they have leveraged the power of their voices and pocketbooks to not only speak about inclusion on a surface level, but continue to work tirelessly to implement change on a fundamental level.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The National Diversity Council can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and YouTube at www.nationaldiversitycouncil.org.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much

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