DAVIE — Burger King Corp. executive Pat Williams recalls a time when black people in business were insulted simply because of the color of their skin.
“People would say, ‘You must have gotten that job because you are black,’” said Williams, who is Burger King Corp.’s inclusion and supplier diversity manager. “Yet you had the same diploma or degree that everyone else had, received the same grades or better. You were qualified. You just happened to be black.” Williams was recently on a panel of four South Florida executives and entrepreneurs at Nova Southeastern University dubbed “Being Black in Business: Past & Future.”
Participants in the Feb. 18 discussion talked about their experiences and viewpoints at the university’s H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship in Davie.
Others on the panel were Preston Jones, executive associate dean of the Huizenga School of Business; Miramar City Commissioner Barbara Sharief; and Catherine Minnis, president of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA), South Florida Chapter.
The NBMBAA is a non-profit organization of minority MBAs, business professionals, entrepreneurs and MBA students.
Minnis, who is also the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee’s director of business development and community outreach, said that if someone asked whether she was placed into a position because she is black and a woman, “I’d like to say, no. I’d like to say that it was hard work. I’d like to know that I wasn’t a statistic and that someone didn’t need a black person to fill the role.”
Others on the panel echoed Minnis’ views.
When Williams received her MBA from the University of Southern California, she said, “affirmative action was still the word [used].
“We did not talk about diversity or inclusion,” she said. “At the time, we were less than 10 years beyond EEOC [the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] first being passed; there was a federal mandate to provide opportunities for people of color.”
She continued, “We weren’t even worried about women then. We [women] just fell short.”
When she began her corporate journey, Williams said, “you were a Negro. Black is where we came to.”
Sharief, who is also an Urban League of Broward County board member, has worked in both the corporate arena and the city commission. As president and CEO of South Florida Pediatric Home Care, she spoke about her unexpected path to entrepreneurship.
“Life just takes different curves,” she said. “I wanted to practice pediatric medicine and was gung-ho about it.”
But when tragedy struck, it altered her course in life. Sharief’s father was shot and killed by a young man who attempted to rob him.
“I was 15,” she said, “and in the 11th grade. Suddenly, I had tough choices to make.”
Sharief’s plans to attend the University of Miami to study medicine had changed. She could not afford the university, and instead enrolled in what is now Miami Dade College.
“I finished my prerequisites within a year and then enrolled in the nursing program at Jackson Memorial [Hospital],” she said.
Sharief was one of the youngest registered nurses to pass the board in the state of Florida.
But after years of working for someone else, she said, “it was not enough.”
She said she wanted the flexibility to spend more time with her family, “and I was tired of making someone else a lot of money, bringing home such a small part of what I was actually making for them.”
Sharief’s website boasts that her company is considered one of the top home health care agencies in Broward and Miami-Dade counties for care of “medically complex” children and adults.
“What I’ve accomplished still hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “I have the life I always wanted, just not in a way I imagined it to be. Sometimes, you have to push through adversity. Get past tragedy so that you can move forward and triumph.”
For more information on the National Black MBA Association, visit nbmbaa.org.