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Beyond the Rhetoric


It is time to get real about Black  business

It dawned upon me back in 1992, that there was no sincere movement or interest in developing Black owned businesses. Even though Booker T. Washington wrote books about it there was no sincere movement to push forward the thought and reality of “BLACK BUSINESS”. It was like the term was too rich for American society. That is silly. We used the Spanish pronunciation of Black, Negro, for decades, centuries in fact. It was that old stereotype that Black is bad and White is good. Angel’s Food cake versus Devil’s Food cake.

It took the Black Power movement to settle the issue for most. But even today we have organizations with descriptions of “colored people”, “urban”, “minority” – which is a misnomer of the world’s racial makeup. That is why Kay and I proudly announced the formation of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. The name was never reserved, and we immediately applied for patent rights to it. Since then groups like the National Minority Supplier Development Council and National Association of Minority Contractors considered us rivals or competition. How silly? They represent corporate America and provide cover for them in terms of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (for example, no discrimination in business practices such as procurement).

When they were started in the early 1980’s, Black owned businesses were doing no more than 2% of procurement activity with white owned government suppliers. Today, after decades of public relations, media activity, conferences, and trade shows, they are doing no more than that same 2%. They try to “run” from that with claims of the “Billion Dollar Round Table” and other jazzy implications of doing much more. In the end, we are still at that same 2% if that.

Strangely, the only rhetoric about Black business development has come from the Republican Party. I guess that should not be strange as it was the Republican Party that was co-founded by one of the greatest Black advocates of all times, Frederick Douglas. It was newly elected Black republicans that lobbied for the Homestead Land Grant program after the Civil War that allowed freed Blacks to apply for free land grants (160 acres each). My great grandfather, Cicero Alford, (freed slave) participated in that program along with his son, my grandfather Thomas Alford.

Yes, it was under the aura of Republicans that Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. (Martin’s father) and others fought for economic parity in our great country. Slavery, itself, would not have ended without President Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president. The Ku Klux Klan, on the other hand, was populated with Democrats.

You might say that when we broke out with the National Black Chamber of Commerce and demanded Black business participation here and there it kind of “shook up” the status quo. First, they laughed at us but when we started winning victories for increased Black business participation from United Air Lines, City of Indianapolis, State of Indiana, U.S. West telecom, etc. they tried to fight us. When they could not knock us off our game they started coming up with ruses. The ruses did not work, and we have never changed our devotion for Black business

Harry Alford is the co-founder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.