Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is one of my modern-day heroes. I can still remember the night of his death when we lived outside of Washington, D.C. My father returned home early from Coast Guard headquarters and remarked that the burning and riots in downtown were exactly the opposite of what Dr. King stood for. His leadership of significant social change in such a courageous manner is why, in part, we celebrate today.

When researching the history of “Fair Plans” and laws banning property insurance discrimination, most will run across the story of insurance agent Ernesta Procope. She is the founder and CEO of E.G. Bowman, Inc., the largest minority-owned insurance brokerage company in the United States. She established her firm in 1953 with a small storefront in Brooklyn. It became the first minority-owned business on Wall Street.

Concerned about “red-lining,” a practice that denied coverage to the poor, Procope became a driving force in insurance reform. She urged N.Y. Governor Nelson Rockefeller to help counteract the problem. The Governor convened hearings on the matter, and the New York State Fair Plan was enacted. This important legislation guaranteed homeowner insurance to low-income families and has been adopted by more than 30 states since then. She also contributed to the creation of the New York Property Insurance Underwriting Association in 1968.

The National African-American Insurance Association recognized her with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. She is also recognized in the National Visionary Leadership Project. I suggest that those interested go to that site and watch the video regarding her perception of why the insurance industry needs better public relations to attract younger and more talented individuals.

In a post, “Ernesta Procope – Selling Service," Greg Boop noted in his blog about business insurance:

Mrs. Procope decided to focus on large corporate clients. Most notably, her firm was the insurance broker for the American section of the Alaskan Pipeline. In 1979, Mrs. Procope made history when she moved her firm to 97 Wall Street – becoming the first African-American Business on Wall Street. Today it is the largest minority-owned and female-owned insurance brokerage in the country. Mrs. Procope’s list of achievements includes her 2006 induction into the Minority Business Hall and Fame and Museum.

Dr. Dennis Kimbro, in an article for the The Black Collegian Online, writes that Mrs. Procope described success as: ”Continuous hard work. Stubborn determination. Faith.” When choosing an insurance professional to work with, consider whether your insurance professional possesses the same level of commitment.

I appreciate quotes from a Roughnotes article, E.G. BOWMAN CELEBRATES 50 YEARS OF SUCCESS, about her firm:

Our reputation as a quality organization that provides strong risk management services has helped us attract the best of the best. We’re also proud of the fact that we have consistently hired for talent and have people from nearly every ethnicity on staff. In fact, we African-Americans are in the minority now.

…Unfortunately, there remain vestiges of racism and sexism that continue to make our job more difficult than it should be. But significant progress has been made over the last 50 years.

Our hope for the next 50 years is that the doors of opportunity will be opened for all… We look forward to an America where people are only judged by their abilities and talents and willingness to work.