February is Black History Month—an important opportunity to underscore the accomplishments of Black individuals throughout the country.
Throughout the month, we are highlighting our Black colleagues in travel and underscoring the importance of their contributions to the industry.
Phil Washington, CEO, Denver International Airport, told us about what Black History Month means to him and shared thoughts about how the industry can continue to work toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future.
What does Black History Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it?
I celebrate my Black heritage every day. That said, I appreciate that Black History Month exists. To have a month dedicated to our history and the celebration of our history is a blessing. I’m proud of how far we’ve come and of our undeniable contributions to this country and the world. I celebrate this month by knowing that despite efforts to eliminate our history and diminish our accomplishments, our history and contributions to the world cannot be denied.
Can you tell us about a role model who has inspired you?
My first role model is my mother. She’s a single mother who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s and struggled to raise six children in public housing. She’s a woman, who worked desperately to get her children through college, then went back to school in her 60s to earn her own degree.
My historic heroes, however, are the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. Douglass is a hero for his staunch opposition to slavery and how he worked diligently to end it. And Lincoln is a hero for his ability to convince the Union Army to fight not only for the preservation of the Union, but also to fight to end the institution of slavery.
I also admire Lincoln’s decision to abandon his position of relying on the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery, which could be overturned after he left office by a subsequent executive order, and instead permanently enshrine the abolition of slavery in the U.S. Constitution through the 13th Amendment. In this way, the government itself rather than his particular administration would be the guarantor of the pledge to free slaves.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see for emerging Black professionals in the industry and what are some recommendations to help address these concerns?
Among the biggest challenges emerging for Black professionals are overcoming existing racial bias, access to capital, increasing generational wealth, and being awarded prime, joint venture and equity contracts.
Recommendations include persevering in the face of racial bias and doing the very best job you can, banks and financial institutions making more credit available to minority firms, and for infrastructure organizations to award more prime and JV contracts to minority firms, particularly Black and brown firms.
What would you like to see the travel industry do better to elevate and engrain diversity, equity and inclusion within company cultures?
We need, with all intentionality, to expand outreach to communities of color, and recruit and hire more Black and brown individuals at all levels, i.e., Boards, executive leadership, middle management and line employees.
What historical destinations do you recommend for travelers looking to learn more about the Black experience in the U.S.? (The African Diaspora, HBCUs, etc.)
I recommend two destinations for those looking to learn more about the Black experience in the U.S. First, I recommend The African-American History Museum in Washington, DC; and second, I recommend a state and place that I went to after joining the U.S. Army as an 18-year old Army recruit for basic training. While in basic training in Columbia, South Carolina, I visited the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, SC, where approximately 150,000 to 200,000 Africans were sold at auction. It’s a sober place where I could still feel the souls and spirits of my slave ancestors.