News release: Upstate leaders graduate from the Riley Institute’s award-winning diversity program

Katie Quine
Marketing and Communications Manager
The Riley Institute at Furman University




Participants of the 41-person class join a network of more than 2,300 Riley Fellows across the state.

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Upon graduating this month from the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leaders Initiative (DLI), 41 leaders from across the Upstate have new tools and perspectives to help leverage diversity to improve organizational outcomes and drive social and economic progress in South Carolina.

These individuals, all members of the 29th DLI class in the region, took part in intensive discussions and scenario analyses that allowed them to openly examine sensitive issues related to diversity and inclusion with fellow leaders, explore “blind spots,” and gain tools to develop diversity strategies within their own organizations. DLI has become a cornerstone of Furman University’s Riley Institute as more than 2,300 leaders from across the state have graduated since the program’s inception 17 years ago.

Graduates of DLI become Riley Fellows, members of a powerful cross-sector of South Carolinians that includes corporate CEOs, legislators, superintendents, religious and nonprofit heads, and business and community leaders.

While the class was originally scheduled to conclude in the spring after beginning in January, it was put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed virtually in September. The pandemic, along with the current call for racial justice, underscores the need for such a program, said Dr. Donald Gordon, executive director of the Riley Institute.

“The extreme hardship brought on by the pandemic has exacerbated the existing social and economic divisions that we address through our Diversity Leaders Initiative,” Gordon said. “The road ahead will present its share of challenges, but our new group of Riley Fellows are uniquely positioned to create real-world solutions within their own enterprises.”

Classes are facilitated by expert Juan Johnson, an independent consultant who was The Coca-Cola Company’s first-ever vice president for diversity strategy.

DLI participants are selected through a rigorous application and interview process after being nominated by existing Riley Fellows. They are accepted based on their capacity to create impact within their organizations and communities.

As part of the program, participants work alongside classmates to develop a capstone project that addresses a specific community need.

One of the five capstone groups sought to address the learning gap for low-income elementary students who lack access to print materials at home. Participants organized a book drive that led to the collection of 1,000 inspirational books —double the group’s goal —for children attending Spartanburg County District 7 schools.

Combating the social isolation older adults are experiencing as a result of the pandemic, another group helped connect members of Active Day of Greer, an adult daycare center, with students of Riverside Middle School. Through video chats and letter-writing, older adults remain productive and valued in the community while igniting a sense of community responsibility in young, emerging leaders.

In addition to the Upstate, DLI classes are selected annually in the Midlands and Lowcountry. Each class is crafted to reflect the diverse demographics in South Carolina.

View all graduates from Upstate Class XXIX