From schools to church buildings, offices to operating rooms, the energy grid connects—and impacts—communities of all socioeconomic, cultural, and racial backgrounds.
Yet, communities of color have often been left behind when it comes to ensuring clean energy options and solutions to our most pressing climate challenges. Those that have been historically under-resourced must have a seat at the table as we execute on our clean energy future, and this means empowering young talent to join the ranks of those who are innovating toward that future.
This was precisely the topic of the recent BLACK ENTERPRISE conversation, Investing in Tomorrow, Today, moderated by Editor-in-Chief Derek Dingle and featuring conversations with U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia; Georgia Power’s Chairman, President, and CEO Chris Womack; Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama and the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus; Dr. David A. Thomas, President of Morehouse College; and Anthony Oni, Managing Partner of Elevate Future Fund and Chair of the Propel Center.
The program highlighted the Propel Center, a global innovation hub for HBCU students focused on fostering innovation, expanding access to resources and funding, and providing ample opportunities for students to lead. The center’s co-design curriculum allows Fortune 100 companies leading the charge on innovation in areas such as artificial intelligence and the clean energy transition to collaborate with the Propel Center to create a unique curriculum for the students.
By providing economic pathways and access to resources and funding for students’ innovative ideas and offering leadership opportunities to complement opportunities provided by the colleges, the Propel Center can transform our nation’s talent pipeline and workforce.
Sen. Warnock provided opening remarks, acknowledging the role that representation plays across each sector, including within the energy industry. He emphasized the importance of programs that support innovative Black leadership to close the wealth gap in America.
“Today’s summit is a testament to the vital role that diversity and inclusion play in every area of our society, including our energy sector,” said Warnock.
“BLACK ENTERPRISE has long been a beacon for Black business and entrepreneurship and has inspired countless people into tech, financial, and energy sectors. And as a Senator for Georgia, I commend Georgia Power’s deep commitment to prioritizing diversity in the talent pool and keeping the talent pipeline strong.”
Following Warnock’s remarks, Dingle spoke with Chris Womack, President, Chairman, and CEO of Georgia Power, one of the largest energy providers in the country. The discussion centered on how the energy sector embraces innovation and encourages Black entrepreneurial advancement to increase representation within the industry. “At Georgia Power and all across Southern Company, diversity, equity, and inclusion are key focus areas for our company,” said Womack.
“We’ve done a lot of work putting together a real, structured framework that makes sure that we’re doing a lot of listening and engagement with our employees, and with our communities, [which] puts us on a path to make sure we’re making the right kind of decisions for the long haul,” as Womack presented the business case for investing in diversity and inclusion.
“There are a lot of demographic shifts in place, and we must address that and accommodate that inside of our business. It’s a big commitment, but it also reflects the demographics of the communities we serve, the states that we operate, and all across the country.”
BLACK ENTERPRISE was then joined by Dr. David A. Thomas, President of Morehouse College, for a one-on-one conversation that emphasized the invaluable diverse talent pipeline that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) contribute to the workforce not only in energy but across industries in the U.S. and globally. “Our nation has shown time and time again that we are [at our] best when government, business, and great educational institutions all come together to move forward on any singular task of national importance,” said Dr. Thomas.
“The conversation about race in our nation has become much more central, which has elevated the attraction for these institutions among young people. Southern Company has realized that there are more HBCUs in their geographic footprint than almost any other company in the country, and it’s a [valuable] business decision to invest in HBCUs because these institutions invest in the people that will eventually be the workforce.”
The event closed with a dynamic panel featuring U.S. Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama and Anthony Oni, the Managing Partner of Elevate Future Fund and Chair of the Atlanta-based Propel Center. We discussed Rep. Sewell’s leadership as the Vice-Chair of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus and its work to invest federal funds into critical infrastructure and resources for HBCU students and campuses, stressing the importance of public-private sector collaboration.
“Our job in Congress is to utilize [federal] dollars in the best way possible to encourage innovation, better educational opportunities, and closing the wealth gap,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama.
“Currently, as a top priority for the HBCU Bipartisan Caucus, we’re working on legislation that will promote better infrastructure and research development opportunities on campuses, which pairs really well with Alabama Power’s efforts in promoting Black entrepreneurship and innovation.”
During the panel, Anthony Oni talked about the development of the Propel Center, located in the Atlanta University Consortium. Oni contributed to the launch of The Propel Center, which was created to provide resources and opportunities for HBCU students with an interest in pursuing cutting-edge careers in technology and business.
“Education runs deep for me, and I think we’ve all come to appreciate the fact that HBCUs are key to the fabric of our nation,” said Oni as he described the importance of combining innovation with the power of our diversity.
“I can’t think of a more noble profession than preparing the next generation of students to tackle the world ahead.”
About Southern Company
Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is a leading energy company serving 9 million customers through its subsidiaries. The company provides clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy through electric operating companies in three states, natural gas distribution companies in four states, a competitive generation company serving wholesale customers across America, a leading distributed energy infrastructure company, a fiber optics network and telecommunications services. Southern Company brands are known for excellent customer service, high reliability and affordable prices below the national average. For more than a century, we have been building the future of energy and developing the full portfolio of energy resources, including carbon-free nuclear, advanced carbon capture technologies, natural gas, renewables, energy efficiency and storage technology. Through an industry-leading commitment to innovation and a low-carbon future, Southern Company and its subsidiaries develop the customized energy solutions our customers and communities require to drive growth and prosperity. Our uncompromising values ensure we put the needs of those we serve at the center of everything we do and govern our business to the benefit of our world. Our corporate culture and hiring practices have been recognized nationally by the U.S. Department of Defense, G.I. Jobs magazine, DiversityInc, Black Enterprise, Forbes and the Women’s Choice Award. To learn more, visit www.southerncompany.com.