WNY Conversations About Race: Stephen Tucker and Paul Vukelic

Jul 30, 2020

Making businesses across Western New York more racially inclusive is not an overnight process, but for Northland Workforce Training Center President and CEO Stephen Tucker, “It’s critically important.

Stephen Tucker, CEO, Northland Workforce Development Center
Credit Provided photo

"I don’t think we will be able to reach the full potential of our nation unless we have a diverse, inclusive and equitable workforce. That’s the only way we can all really live up to the American Dream," Tucker says.

Try-It Distributing President and CEO Paul Vukelic believes change must come from the top down.

“As business leaders, I believe we lead by example,” he said. “We need to support organizations of color and organizations that serve these communities. We also need to prepare our management teams on what it means to be Black in American. I think that is really important.”

Tucker and Vukelic shared their thoughts on their upbringing, the challenges they have faced, and what white privilege means to them as part of WBFO's series WNY Conversations About Race. 

The 5-part radio series includes Black and white activists, clergymen, educators and business people talking about racism, empathy and diversity in Western New York on-air this week, with extended versions of those edited  conversations available online each day or as a bonus afternoon edition of the WBFO Brief podcast.

Both Tucker and Vukelic grew up in households that stressed the “can do” spirit.

“I was always taught to treat people fairly,” said the Cincinnati-born Tucker. “I was in the military, the United States Air Force for four years which also re-emphasized those values which my parents instilled in me. I also grew up in a church household, so do unto others do unto you, the golden rule, has really been something I’ve tried to live my life by.”

Paul Vukelic, CEO, Try-It Distributing
Credit submitted photo

Vukelic was similarly raised in a religious household, but not in a very racially diverse neighborhood.

“I grew up primarily in Orchard Park, New York,” he said. “I can say basically your typical white suburban environment. Respect others, hard work, attention to detail, respecting other’s beliefs, the whole nine yards.”

As one of the few Black C.E.O.’s in Western New York, Tucker said white privilege is so ingrained in the structure of business that he has difficulty defining it.

“I actually didn’t really, I don’t want to say understand it,” he said. “But it wasn’t necessarily a situation where I saw white privilege, because that’s just the way it was. When that’s the norm, you really don’t have a name for it.”

Vukelic credits his wife with helping him come to terms with the fact he is a beneficiary of white privilege.

“I know it’s hard for me to accept it,” he said. “It’s just hard to accept that you’re privileged, especially when you relate it to the color of your skin.”

The WBFO Racial Equity Project is funded by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. If you’d like to participate in future conversations, email news@wbfo.org.