Chamber Says Chattanooga “Systemically Racist” According to Coercive CEO Pledge

Published April 28, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

On Thursday, April 22nd, Christy Gillenwater, President and CEO of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce (423.756.2121 or cgillenwater@chattanoogachamber.com) sent an email to many CEOs and managing leaders in Chattanooga urging them to sign the ‘CEO Pledge for Racial Equality.’

Chattanooga, Tennessee At Night

Four Members of the Board and several other Chamber members contacted the Tennessee Conservative directly voicing their concerns.

They felt they were being accused of being racist and being pressured to admit to things they do not agree with regarding unproven theories of systemic racism.

They also felt as though they were being asked to discriminate against European Americans for coveted hiring and vending positions by using race instead of merit. 

Since the Chattanooga Chamber is funded in large part by taxpayer dollars for economic development efforts, taxpayers are calling for the Chamber to account for their statements on discriminatory hiring practices and provide verifiable proof that the community is systemically racist.

Legislators and policy-makers often think that what they hear from the Chamber represents the beliefs and desires of local businesses, but that is far from the truth since the vast majority of Chamber funding comes from large, often left-leaning corporations – not small businesses. 

This is reflected in an anonymous statement from one Executive Member of the Chattanooga Area Chamber that replied to our inquiry. 

The member stated, “My great grandmother was 100% Native American Cherokee and we have never asked for anything special.  I believe you should treat everyone with as much respect as they allow you to. I’m not a racist and I’m not apologizing for the mistakes of earlier generations. Nothing could ever right the wrongs that were done to many of our ancestors. Short story long, I will not be signing the pledge as drafted.”

Chattanoogan Anne Allen Hannah, said, “The Chamber has lost its collective mind. This document essentially hails every business as racist regardless of its history and offers the solution of separating people by color? It’s sure not the Chamber I remember that promoted the city and offered opportunities to network with local businesses.”

The Chamber wokeness pledge includes statements like the following:

“We will educate ourselves and share the history of systemic racism in Chattanooga and Hamilton County and the barriers that continue, so that as we recognize them, we can find new ways to overcome them.”

“We will use our influence and position to amplify unheard voices and support policies that lead to racial justice.”

“We will evaluate contracting and procurement efforts with the intention to grow and expand business participation of marginalized businesses of color.”

“We will continue our work by engaging in CEOs for Racial Equity meetings to address the issues of racism, injustice and bias in our organizations and community.”

The call to potentially alter business practices in favor of racial preference in the workforce comes at a time when Tennessee is still trying to recover from COVID-19 small business closures and struggling to survive in the COVID economy.

According to an online tracker managed by Harvard University, 24.4% of small businesses are still closed compared to January 2020, just prior to the onset of the pandemic.

Other concerned Tennessee residents voiced their opinions.

Karen Melton stated, “CEOs need to think long and hard about WHO this benefits. Does it just pacify the woke culture to give in to it? Or does it cut down their business in the end. Can they afford to make that sacrifice?”

Directing her comment to the Chamber, Tommye Coburn stated, “When the [Chamber] membership drops to zilch and you have no revenue to operate where/what will Chamber Wokeness do for you?”

Vicki Nesom expresses that this will affect her willingness to spend money in Chattanooga. 

Nesom says, “I live in McMinn County, and used do major shopping in Chattanooga about twice a month, which stopped due to the asinine mask mandates and idiocy I encountered not wearing a mask. Wokeness is just another nail in the coffin of shopping, eating out or enjoying favorite tourist spots. So, count me out. I will go ANYWHERE BUT Chattanooga, and my family, will, too. This is ridiculous.”

The Tennessee Conservative reached out to the President and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber, along with other members, and Council members.  We also reached out to the Hamilton County Commission due to the fact the Chamber receives funding from the County.  Most chose to remain silent on the issue despite call for accountability. 

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Check back here often as this is a developing story.

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