Black lives do matter.

To disagree with that statement supports the opposite: “Black lives do not matter.” Of course all lives matter, but human compassion calls on us to uplift those who need it most. When a house in a neighborhood is on fire, you don’t immediately worry about all houses. You tend to the one in need. Right now, we’ve been called to focus on seeking, promoting and securing equality for our friends and neighbors who do not have it. I am grateful that this national conversation has sparked local discussions on the larger issues around race, sexual orientation and cultural diversity. All lives do matter, but when we focus our energy around improving some of our societal inequities, we will find the way, working together, to even the playing field for all humans.

The national “Black Lives Matter” movement emphasizes the inequity toward the largest minority population in the U.S. (12.7% of the population is African American). In Montana (according to the United States Census Bureau) our population is 89.2% white; 6.5% Native American; 0.7% Asian; 0.5% African American; and 2.5% are two or more races. Latinx, and other races, as well as LGBTQ+ and diverse populations, are part of our community fabric.

Collectively, we must do more to be a welcoming and inclusive community. Recently, 248 of you responded to a Billings Chamber survey about Billings being a welcoming community for diverse populations. 72% of our membership agreed “Billings must do more to allow people of color, differing religions and races and LGBTQ+ populations to feel welcome and safe.” We are grateful to everyone who thoughtfully responded to our survey by providing specific actions that we can accomplish to become better.

Now what? Recently during a Zoom call with our membership, we were encouraged to “just start.” This is a large, passionate issue touching healthcare, housing, morals, social services and hundreds of years of history. We are bound to stumble, make a misstep, and correct our path as we move forward. But we must start somewhere. Now!

The Chamber Board of Directors last week unanimously voted to adopt “Diversity and Inclusion” as one of the Chamber’s top priorities. This is a statement to our commitment to become a stronger and better organization and help our community to do the same. We’re digesting the information you shared with us in the survey, we are developing a diverse steering committee to provide direction, and we have partnered with 500 other Chambers of Commerce and Business Associations across the Country to support the U.S. Chamber’s Equality of Opportunity initiative. This partnership began our discussion around concrete actions that can be taken by government and the private sector to address inequality through education, employment, entrepreneurship, and criminal justice reform. As a partner on this important initiative, the Billings Chamber will host local dialogues to further the discussion.

If you proudly belong to an under-represented minority population in Billings (race, sexual orientation, cultural diversity, etc), and/or if you’re passionate about playing a positive role in this movement, please let us know how to best reach you by clicking here:

Accepting all people is an issue of human decency. It’s also an economic imperative. We are working toward a post-pandemic community where businesses thrive; its resident-workforce is healthy, happy and successful; and a place where families and individuals want to relocate. Many across the country may be looking to relocate to communities that are healthy, safe, accepting and less crowded destinations. Being under the Big Sky can be a motivating factor, but it’s not enough. To become nationally competitive for talent and entrepreneurship, Billings must be “Open for All.” The path forward requires our community to do better by seeking to listen, learn and improve, and securing equality in all areas of work.


John Brewer