Our 2014 Black History Month Celebration at MillerCoors was a total slam dunk thanks to our keynote speaker … two-time pro-basketball champion Kenny “The Jet” Smith.
Kenny runs a number of philanthropic programs, so as a true champion for the cause, his stories about inclusion and growing talent really resonated with the hundreds of employees who watched live in Chicago and remotely across the country.
The African American Employee Network (AAEN) hosted the annual Black History Month Celebration event. AAEN is one of our many employee resource groups, and it focuses on the hiring and development of African American employees. The group shares cultural insights that support the business and also develops programs that benefit the community. Its membership is pretty diverse and is a great example of how MillerCoors encourages inclusion and employee engagement. Our annual Black History Month Celebration is just one of many ways the group brings people together.
From a boy on the court to a broadcaster in the studio, Kenny shared a number of stories about race, leadership and community impact. Here are three stories and lessons that stuck with me.
The Best Teams are Inclusive
Smith mentioned that during his early days in the NBA, Hall of Famer Bill Russell had a significant impact on his life as his coach. He talked about how Russell was combing the globe for quality talent. “It was the time when a lot of European players were joining the NBA. And I told him, ‘you guys are flying all the way to Siberia to recruit and scout. There’s got to be a guy in Mississippi or something who’s just as good.’ He stopped me right there and said, ‘Kenny, as an African American, how could you not want inclusion?’ He would always share lessons within basketball that made me look at life in a different way.”
Recognizing Talent is a Winning Team’s Gift
He talked about a player from his Aim High Foundation, which creates athletic and social programs that help young people become educated, productive and caring members of society. The player isn’t the highest scorer on the team but makes an impact by his ability to lead ten players. “That makes him the best player on the team. I rather him do that than score four more points in a game. There are qualities you may not know you have until someone pulls them out of you. Everyone leads in different ways. The toughest part about basketball or running a business is talent recognition.” He mentioned that it’s even harder to have a vision for someone’s potential three years down the road, which is critical for any winning team or business. “When you recognize talent, you are a special person.”
We All Can Make a Full Court Impact in the Community
During Black History Month, Kenny is taking on yet another role as spokesman for a new program, “Coors Light Full Court Refresh. “I thought it was important to have a safe haven and a place where people get together. Basketball courts often give communities a sense of unity, and nice courts give people incentives to develop their skills. I’m excited to work with Coors Light on the program to make a difference in communities around the country.”
For me, it was an absolute blast working on the planning team for the event. At MillerCoors, our vision is to create America’s best beer company, and the annual Black History Month Celebration helps us all to recognize our shared history. That’s the beauty of inclusion as we build the workforce of tomorrow, innovate and engage our diverse consumers … and that’s what makes the celebration significant for everyone.