Papa John's and Churchill Downs - Chatting it up on 2019's Derby Diversity & Business Summit in Louisville, KY.


This time bigger. This time - more magic. 

Tawana Bain the Founder of the Summit, Tonya Abeln, the President of the Churchill Downs Foundation and Victoria Russell  Chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Papa John’s Inc. share in the excitement for what 2019’s Summit has in store!

“We hope that what was once referred to as the ‘sport of kings,’ can be celebrated as the sport of every man” ~ Tonya Abeln President, Churchill Downs Foundation

“To be visionary is to imagine a better future. To be a leader means putting that vision into action.” said Tawana Bain, the founder and visionary behind the summit that drew an international group to Kentucky during the week of the Kentucky Derby – all  focused on the “Power of Intersectionality”. Bringing all Diverse groups together under one roof to build our businesses and connect with Corporations dedicated to the utilization of Diverse Business Owners and promoting Diverse Executives within the workforce. Business Leaders who attended the inaugural Derby Diversity & Business Summit in 2018 saw something many might have missed while the cameras panned the crowds gathered in their finery for the Kentucky Derby: each other. The Starting Gate Suite, where we celebrated at Churchill Downs, showed the changing face of wealth. 

“We’re excited to be a leading sponsor of the 2019 Derby Diversity & Business Summit,” said Victoria Russell, Chief of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Papa John’s. “As a brand rooted in bringing people together, we have a lot of work ahead of us as we strive to be a better community partner and employer. We are committed to developing relationships around the communities we serve and deepening our commitment to diversity and inclusivity inside and outside of our organization.”

“Our mission for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Papa John’s is to empower and nurture our team members to make a difference for our customers, our company, and our communities by embracing the global nature of inclusion – because together, we are better.”

Bain shared that the original goal was 65 attendees, yet 106 people attended the Summit. 40% were women, 35% LGBTBE, 20% minority and 5% veteran business leaders. “Through the connections we made, we will continue to represent a prosperity that leads with respect, where our differences become our common ground. Leaders who attended estimate that we generated more than $100M in contracting opportunities over the three short days we convened,” said Bain.

“We hosted 66 matchmaker sessions. We made connections between the advertising, logistics, manufacturing, staffing, and legal worlds, and we had a great time doing it. We worked hard, but we played hard too, attending two galas, enjoying both The Oaks and The Derby, and cementing the bonds we made through celebration.”

“Our diversity isn’t an afterthought; it’s foundational to our work.” said Bain. “Corporate America is being called to answer to an ever more educated consumer base about sustainability and inclusion. As we move into a brighter future, what we bring to the table becomes more main course than side dishes. Together we add the spice of fresh perspectives, community leadership, and an ethos of lifting ourselves and our communities through our shared values.”

Andrew Butler, Associate Director, Supplier Diversity, Sustainability, & Innovation at Procter & Gamble called the event transformational. “Our attendees experienced a present that’s a glimpse into a stronger and more sustainable future. While corporate America is really only starting to recognize the necessity of diverse leadership within and at the top of its supply chains, we are already there.”

“The 2019 Derby Diversity Business Summit promises to be even grander. While 95% of DDBS’s attendees expect to be back in 2019, the connections made this year are sure to bring their wider networks to us as well” said Bain. “While I expect growth, there is no desire to become a massive event. We will close registration at 250. We don’t want to lose our magic of intimate relationships being formed.”

There was a buzz of excitement among us at this year’s event, moments of kismet, jokes that landed in the hearty laughter of mutual understanding. The building of a diverse community of business leaders during one of the U.S.’s most prestigious events reflected our position in the wider world: integral, necessary, and innovative, but also perhaps a little ahead of our time. The overall demographic of the event itself was less reflective of our diversity, but from our perspective, that really shows us how much room there is to grow.

“While the Kentucky Derby is the oldest continuous sporting event in America, it is, in fact, an international affair. When Kentucky takes the world stage, we believe it is important that Churchill Downs reflects back what the world looks like,” says Tonya Abeln, President of the Churchill Downs Foundation. “We strive for the same goals as the leaders of the Derby Diversity & Business Summit and applaud your efforts in emphasizing the power of representation. As we look to a future that embraces differences, innovation and inclusiveness, we hope that what was once referred to as the ‘sport of kings,’ can be celebrated as the sport of every man,” shared Abeln.

Co-founders of Louisville’s IDEASxLab, Theo Edmonds and Josh Miller, spoke of making invaluable connections with diverse corporate leaders at the conference. The event, they said, provided an unprecedented opportunity. “The platform DDBS provides for changing how we leverage our collective networks to economically impact businesses owned by LGBTQ+, women, minority and veteran individuals was missing in the U.S.” That is, at least, until now.

We send a hearty thank you to our 46 summit and 12 corporate sponsors who made the 2018 Derby Diversity Business Summit an overwhelming success. Each and every speaker, panelist, and attendee brought their A-game. The energy among us was undeniable, and the feedback we’ve gotten shows us that feeling is reflective of actionable success and connections that will pay dividends for years to come.

We’re already hard at work on the 2019 Derby Diversity & Business Summit. Don’t miss the opportunity to be part of it. Sponsorship packages are available now. Save the date: April 30th through May 4th of 2019.

Raechele Gray