by Starla Muhammad NNPA Newswire

Entrepreneurship is nothing new in the Black community. Black people have historically worked hard to establish, maintain and grow their own businesses to cultivate an economic base in providing goods, products and services to consumers. Despite obstacles including lack of access to capital, resources, connections and at times inconsistent support from the public, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to be alive and well in Black America.

That spirit coupled with the ongoing push by Black business advocates encouraging Black folks and others to patronize and support these businesses, can influence a Black business “boom” and be a catalyst for change and transformation in and for the conditions of Black people through jobs and community development.

“We can never solve our economic problems of the Black community while spending most of our money with the people that live outside of it. We can never control our community as long as others own most of the businesses in it,” said Chicago’s Taharka Shakur during the 2019 kickoff of National Black Business Month. 

Created in 2004 by John Templeton, a historian and Frederick Jordan, an engineer, National Black Business Month is an opportunity to recognize Black-owned businesses around the country and also a chance for consumers to make a concentrated effort to spend money with these companies.

“Once we have these businesses in our communities that will resolve our crime. That will give these youth some identity of what they can do so I encourage you all to encourage others to support this month and be a part of our ongoing agenda of buying Black,” said Revin Fellows, co-founder of National Black Agenda Consortium.

There are approximately 2.6 million Black-owned businesses in the United States. The number of Black or African American-owned firms grew 34.5 percent between 2007 and 2012— from 1.9 million to 2.6 million in 2012, according to the most recent statistics from the Census Bureau. Black women have been leading this charge of Black entrepreneurship. The number of Black female-owned firms climbed 66.9 percent, from 900,000 in 2007 to 1.5 million in 2012, noted the Census Bureau. Additionally, these 1.5 million Black female-owned businesses accounted for 58.9 percent of the nation’s 2.6 million Black or African American-owned businesses, the bureau reported. Of these 2.6 million in 2012, 109,137 had paid employees.

NORBCC issues call to action

In the wake of recent social and civic unrest resulting from the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce (NORBCC), which represents more than 500 Black-owned businesses throughout the Greater New Orleans region, has issued a call to action bringing attention to “the systematic disease of racism throughout America.”

In its open letter, the NORBCC states that “racism has permeated not only our educational, civic, and healthcare systems but has violently, systematically impacted the growth and success of Black-owned businesses.”

As the organization notes, while 32.6 percent of Louisiana’s population is Black, Black-owned businesses comprise only 22 percent of businesses overall and capture just a bit more than one-half of one percent of the state’s total receipts. 

NORBCC leaders say that is not enough.

In its call to the action, the organization writes, “As we continue the necessary discussions around equity, economic inclusion, livable wages, affordable housing, healthcare disparities, school improvement, and police reform, we must move from division and debate to steadfast commitments with sustainable solutions.”

Specific measures outlined in the NORBCC call to action include a renewed commitment to invest and support Black-owned businesses as well as the eradication of policies and laws created to limit the participation of Black-owned businesses.

We Need Each Other

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, annual receipts from Black-owned businesses totaled $150 billion, 2.5 million Black-owned businesses have no paid employees (95.8 percent) and only 109,000 had at least one paid employee. But with a consistent, targeted effort, those numbers and figures can grow.

Margaret Montgomery-Richard, chairwoman of the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, said she believes that effort is the key to building wealth and creating opportunity for Black communities.

“The research shows there is a substantial wealth gap between Blacks and other racial groups,” Montgomery-Richard said. “Studies also show Black consumers spend more than $1.2 trillion annually. Black buying power is REAL. Just imagine the impact that consistent, intentional spending by Black consumers with Black businesses would have on the growth and sustainability of Black-owned companies. This is the starting point for the development of Black wealth, as well as the creation of job opportunities for Black people.”

Montgomery-Richard’s sentiments are echoed by Black business leaders across the country.

 Averi Frost is executive director of the Central Ohio African-American Chamber of Commerce based in Columbus. There is a lot of hunger and energy around the idea of Black entrepreneurship whether it means ownership or supporting others in business, she says. 

“One thing that we’re definitely seeing is that because we know that there’s systematic and historical challenges with access to capital as far as financial institutions to our businesses, it is even more important now of an effort as far as consumers for us to make sure we’re supporting our businesses as does every other community frankly,” said Frost.

“If we are able to better circulate the dollar within our community it’s going to have a greater impact. Any entrepreneur is most likely to hire somebody and to invest in a community that looks like them or reflects their values,” she added. “Marcus Garvey through his Universal Negro Improvement Association and Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, taught economics is a key component of Black survival and prosperity in America. The Nation of Islam’s “Do For Self” program was transformed into reality with the establishment of successful Black Muslim-owned businesses in the 1960s and 1970s. He taught Black America to spend your money among yourselves, build an economic system among yourselves and unite to pool your resources.”

Minister Louis Farrakhan reintroduced Muhammad’s Economic Blueprint calling on not only Muslims, but all Black wage earners—the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy—to make affordable contributions, on a regular basis, into a single “national treasury.” Some of this money could be used to open new Black businesses or invest in existing ones to make them stronger. 

The Nation of Islam continues to promote the need for Black-owned businesses and land. If 16 million Black wage-earners contributed a nickel a day, seven days a week that would equal 35 cents per week. In 52 weeks or one year that totals $18.20 which multiplied by 16 million people equals $291.2 million.

“We can say whatever we want about (Donald Trump). His personality doesn’t matter. The context of the environment matters and there have been opportunities that we haven’t taken advantage of as producers and as employees,” said Cedric Muhammad, an economist and CEO of Hip-Hoppreneur Inc. Black people must have an agricultural and manufacturing base, he argued.

“There’s no way out of this condition other than to go to the land and other than to popularize building trade professions and to develop some type of a manufacturing base in the inner city or the more rural areas which can be done,” he said. Agribusiness will feed into manufacturing and that would create a significant level of employment then entrepreneurship if Black businesses could be financed.

Black businesses must do a better and more intentional job of strategically marketing themselves to increase visibility in their communities, said Frost. “Not just like being on Facebook or doing random radio ads; making sure your customers are hearing what you’re talking about. And that can even go a step further by being involved in a trade organization, a Chamber of Commerce or like signing up (in a directory).”

Efforts to create directories of Black-owned businesses in New Orleans have grown in recent years. And for more than 30 years, McKenna Publishing has produced The New Orleans BlackBook, the city’s most comprehensive directory of Black-owned businesses, professionals, and service providers. Production of the 2020 edition of the directory was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, publisher Beverly McKenna says production will resume once operations across the city and state begin to normalize. 

“Tools like The BlackBook will be more vital than ever,” said McKenna. “We also have expanded and have a digital presence. And there is room for every one. We know that Black-owned businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the economic fallout of COVID-19 because our lives, our businesses and our communities are historically and consistently disproportionately adversely impacted in times of crisis in America. Coronavirus is no different. We could not get PPP loans. We struggle opening and re-opening amid the pandemic. McKenna Publishing has been promoting Black-owned businesses and urging Black consumers to support them, and we won’t stop now.

It is important to bridge the gap between Black businesses and consumers. There are several avenues promoting Black businesses folks can find via apps, online and print directories and of course, word of mouth.

And while Black businesses must do their part, so must Black consumers. 

“The consumer is always going to do their part which is to spend but unfortunately they’re not aware of our existing Black-owned businesses,” said Cedric Muhammad. He touted Maggie Anderson, who made headlines several years ago when she and her family only patronized Black-owned businesses in Chicago for a whole year. “Maggie Anderson laid the blueprint for what every person in the city has to do. So we need to know where to go, where the existing businesses are, so we can do better patronizing them and then we have to support them not just with our consumption dollars. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad didn’t want a nation of consumers, he said he wanted a nation of producers. We should be a nation of producers and employers and so these businesses need loans and they need equity investments, they just don’t need consumption though consumption would help a lot,” said Cedric Muhammad.

“As consumers, we have to do a better job spreading the word, not just the bad experiences but the good experiences, too, and doing a better job of spreading the good gospel that way more of us can support these businesses,” said Frost. “We’re not in the beginning stages of it but we’re trying to get back to connecting with each other so it’s happening in silos. For the Chamber we’re trying to make it kind of an umbrella effort to pull together everything we own so that we can all support each other.”

The We Buy Black Convention aims to do just that. The convention is a marketplace of over 120 Black-owned businesses and will be held Aug. 23-25 in Atlanta allowing consumers an opportunity to spend money with these businesses. “Currently in America, Black people have the highest rates of poverty, of homelessness, of joblessness, of crime, and imprisonment. However, Black people spend more money than any other ethnic group, with an annual purchasing power of $1.3 trillion. Of all these funds, less than 2 percent is spent within the Black community,” noted convention organizers.

Observers are optimistic that there is a Black business “boom” and it can continue to grow and expand with targeted and deliberate work and effort.

“It’s really reenergizing because for those of us who’ve been at this, and I’m young. I’ve only been in this type of spirit for 10 years. But my peers and those ahead of us, for a little bit it seemed like we were just kind of fighting a losing battle in doing this work but there wasn’t a collective energy and conscious effort to support each other. It seems like the tide has spun on that and it’s really refreshing,” said Frost.

Stop asking God to bless us with a prayer he has already answered, said Mark Allen, chairman of National Black Wall Street Chicago. “We’ve got the economic power to turn our communities around. It’s up to us. Everybody can be a leader in their own right. If you’re concerned about the violence, how do you spend your money?”

The New Orleans Tribune contributed to this report.

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