Derby Diversity & Business Summit LGBTBE Liaison Erica Fields on Why the Summit is For YOU

 
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Erica Fields has been to the Kentucky Derby many times, but last year, she attended as a Louisville resident. The president and owner of Brooks Grain is a second-generation international grain merchant. She and her family’s storied history, tied to big-name distillers, is rooted in providing quality product foundational to many of our nation’s home-grown businesses. 

With Brooks Grain launching a mill in Louisville that will cater to the local boom in the craft distilling industry, it made sense for her and her wife to make the move to the Derby City.

Serving as LGBT Business Enterprise Liaison (LGBTBE) of the Derby Diversity Business Summit for the second year running, she is struck by the power of building community within the world of supplier diversity.

To thrive as a diverse business, network expansion is key. Connecting with other diverse business owners means being linked not just to them, but with their networks as well. “I have a huge number of customers that are within a hundred mile radius of Louisville,” said Fields. “From Jim Beam to Brown-Forman to Wild Turkey, you name it. For LGBTBE’s wanting to connect with those people, I can help.”

“There’s strength in numbers,” she said. Getting the chance to know each other over the course of several days was priceless. There’s an unquantifiable value in “the ability to leverage everyone’s participation to create a greater sense of community as diverse suppliers.” 

The four-day summit is packed with workshops, roundtables, and unique events, including the Kentucky Derby. It also brings in diverse business owners of many backgrounds, including woman-owned, LGBT-owned, minority-owned, disabled-owned, and veteran-owned businesses together.

“Last year, it was amazing the amount of crossover.” Beyond the ample opportunities to engage representatives of Fortune 500 companies like Delta, Nestlé, and Procter & Gamble, attendees found common ground through diversion and diversity. 

DDBS’ board’s inventive approach removes much of the urgency that can belabor communications at larger conferences. Events are designed to engender camaraderie and conversation, to give everyone the space to appreciate and get to know one another.

Taking that time is an essential part of building unity, power, and mutual regard. It’s an opportunity straight, white men often take for granted. For decades in the grain business, Fields was seen as one of that crowd. As a supplier to many of the best-known distilleries in the region, with relationships that spanned decades, she felt coming out as a trans woman and lesbian might disrupt her business, but it was necessary.

She was met with acceptance. In fact, it was her clients at the traditional, rural Jack Daniels Distillery who suggested she get certified as an LGBTBE.

 Fields recognizes the power of representation. Prior to her recent move to Kentucky, Fields served with Quorum, Minnesota's LGBT and Allied Chamber of Commerce. Knowing NGLCCs are vital to any business community, Fields has joined forces with DDBS Chair Tawana Bain, and regional LGBT business owners, including DDBS’ Disabled Business Liaison, Cyndi Masters, to start Civitas, Louisville’s own LGBT Chamber.

“With the support of DDBS, we’re excited to really get this thing going,” she said.

Beyond being essential to the founding of Civitas, being part of DDBS has expanded Brooks Grain’s brand recognition and grown her network. “It probably accelerated our involvement in the community by years,” she said. 

As one of many diverse-owned business leaders at DDBS, the power to expand through connection is practically limitless. “Its uniqueness is in its inclusion... and you can find a huge amount of leverage within it,” she said.

Laurel Kemper