Ninety guests were expected to attend the inaugural celebration of the St. Louis chapter of the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA) held February 24 at the Missouri History Museum to address “diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)” in the insurance industry.
Turned out, more than 200 people graced the event, aptly titled, “And Still I Rise: A Salute to Black Pioneers in Insurance and Investment.”
“It’s tough in this industry,” says Kathy Conley-Jones, founder of The Conley Financial Group, a multi-line independent insurance and employee benefits firm headquartered in St. Louis. Conley-Jones was one of the chief organizers of the event.
This event is hosted in partnership with Affinity Planning and Insurance Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 entity, the organization Conley-Jones founded, and the NAAIA St. Louis Chapter. Donations made to Affinity are tax- deductible and support NAAIA – STL Chapter and their works.
Affinity provides education, finance support, exposure and skill development to up and coming insurance professionals. The St. Louis chapter is one of 21 chapters nationally of the NAAIA, organized to create a network among people of color and others employed in or affiliated with the insurance industry. NAAIA empower African American insurance professionals currently in the industry as well as celebrating their trailblazing accomplishments.
Conley -Jones was one of the honorees of the Black History Month gathering, which included:
Raina Thomas-Walton, R.T. Thomas Agency,
Michael P. McMillan, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis,
Chris Hudlin, Hudlin Insurance Co.,
Ron Browning, Smith-Blaylock Capital,
Cathey Williamson, Williamson Financial Management Group,
Harry Ratliff, Merrill Lynch,
Larry D. Richardson, Benjamin Edwards and Company,
Lorraine Buck, New York Life,
David Boykin, One America,
James Tatum, Melvin Jones, Elvetta Macon, State Farm
Agency owner, Rick Gary, Diversified Insurance Group, Sr. Managing Partner,
John Reed, JRJ Services, LLC,
Carol Daniel, KMOX 1120 Radio, was the Mistress of Ceremony. “We are proud to be able to honor so many dynamic trailblazers and elevate their often-unknown stories of profound success and excellence,” says Tina Anderson, President of NAAIA-St. Louis Chapter and Director of Strategic Initiatives at AETNA, a CVS Company.
“These honorees and trailblazers have successfully built prosperous careers and helped countless of others secure their financial freedom and protect what matters most to all of us: health, wealth, property, business, family, and life,” Anderson says.
NAAIA is also committed to attracting talented individuals to the insurance industry. “In order the effectively provide a positive change in attracting and RETAINING Black folks and women in this industry, those in positions of authority need only do what they do for other people,” Conley-Jones says.
“That means support them, open networks and provide exposure at younger ages to all facets of the insurance industry.” Conley-Jones noted that the average of insurance professionals is 67 years old, predominantly male and overwhelmingly white.
Conley-Jones says the NAAIA STL Chapter has a great story to tell about the support of a young man who now is a “rising star” with the 2nd largest brokerage organization globally.
“Through internships in high school and apprenticeship programs, the barriers will reduce, and more women and minorities will enter,” she says. “The insurance industry has always approached colleges and universities to expose and explain the opportunities, but rarely at HBCU’s – Historically Black Colleges and Universities. So, the change must be intentional and ongoing.”
In recognition of the founder of NAAIA, Jerald L. Tillman, a successful independent agent in Cincinnati, Ohio, NAAIA established the JL Tillman Endowed Scholarship Fund awards scholarships to help African American students further their education in insurance, risk management, business, IT, actuarial science, finance or marketing.
“NAAIA was created to encourage people of color to consider the many different career opportunities in the insurance industry. Our scholarship provides the industry with another avenue to encourage our nation’s best and brightest to enter our great industry,” Tillman says.
Since its inception in 2013, this scholarship has seven award recipients from Howard University, Missouri State University, Georgia State University, University of Tulsa, and Butler University. “Our relationship with the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America’s InVest network has enabled us to reach out and find many of these students and we are very thankful,” says Tillman.
Keynote speaker for February’s celebration was Dr. Leroy (Lee) David Nunery II, President of Evolution Advisors, LLC., a joint venture of Acrisure, Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Ciara and nine-time NBA All-Star, Russell Westbrook.
Nunery authored a study, titled, ““The Journey of African American Insurance Professionals: Past and Present”.
Since publication in 2018, the study has been presented to insurance carriers, agencies, and trade associations, and is recognized as an industry standard for its deep analysis of the industry’s DEI dynamics and acknowledgment of the historic accomplishments of African American practitioners, professionals, and insurance company owners.
Watch program: NAAIA St. Louis presents Chris Hudlin honoree at Still I Rise”