Black History Month Industry Spotlight: Phil Washington

February is Black History Month, an important occasion to recognize the achievements of black people across the country.

Throughout the month, we spotlight our black colleagues in travel and highlight the importance of their contributions to the industry.

Phil Washington, CEO of Denver International Airport, spoke to us about what Black History Month means to him and shared his thoughts on how the industry can continue to work towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future.

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What does Black History Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it?

I celebrate my black heritage every day. That said, I appreciate that Black History Month exists. Having a month dedicated to our history and celebrating our history is a blessing. I am proud of how far we have come and of our undeniable contributions to this country and to the world. I celebrate this month knowing that despite efforts to eliminate our history and diminish our accomplishments, our history and our contributions to the world cannot be denied.

Can you tell us about a model that inspired you?

My first role model is my mother. She is a single mother who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s and struggled to raise six children in public housing. She is a woman who worked desperately to get her children to college, then returned to school in her 60s to earn her own degree.

My historical heroes, however, are the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. Douglass is a hero for his fierce opposition to slavery and the way he worked diligently to end it. And Lincoln is a hero for his ability to convince the Union army to not only fight for the preservation of the Union, but also to fight to end the institution of slavery.

I also admire Lincoln’s decision to abandon his position of relying on the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery, which could be reversed after his departure from office by a later executive order, and instead to permanently enshrine the abolition of slavery in the US Constitution through the 13th Amendment. In this way, the government itself rather than its particular administration would be the guarantor of the commitment to free the slaves.

What are some of the biggest challenges you see for emerging black professionals in the industry and what are the recommendations to help address these concerns?

Among the biggest challenges emerging for Black professionals are overcoming existing racial biases, accessing capital, increasing generational wealth, and securing prime, joint venture and equity contracts.

Recommendations include persevering in the face of racial bias and doing the best job possible, banks and financial institutions extending more credit to minority businesses, and for infrastructure organizations to award more prime contracts and JVs to businesses. minority groups, especially black and brown businesses.

What would you like the travel industry to do better to elevate and embed diversity, equity and inclusion in corporate cultures?

We must, with all our intent, expand our reach to communities of color and recruit and hire more black and brown people at all levels, i.e. boards of directors, management, middle managers and hierarchical employees.

What historical destinations do you recommend for travelers who want to learn more about the Black experience in the United States? (African Diaspora, HBCUs, etc.)

I recommend two destinations for those interested in learning more about the black experience in the United States. First, I recommend the Museum of African American History in Washington, DC; and second, I recommend a state and place I went to after joining the US Army as an 18-year-old army recruit for basic training. During my basic training in Columbia, SC, I visited the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, SC, where approximately 150,000 to 200,000 Africans were auctioned off. It’s a sober place where I could still feel the souls and spirits of my slave ancestors.

Andrew B. Reiter