How to Build the Capacity of Black Businesses.
I believe Dr. Joy DeGruy best explains the bomb our nation has been sitting on. She refers to it as Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). PTSS is “a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery. A form of slavery which was predicated on the belief that African Americans were inherently/genetically inferior to whites. This was then followed by institutionalized racism which continues to perpetuate injury”. “Multigenerational Oppression”, “Inferior”, “Institutionalized Racism”, “Injury”; really absorb those words and visualize a ticking time bomb.
You would be forgiven for assuming you have seen this picture before, but something is truly different this time. Other nations are actively participating, laws are being written and/or changed, budgets are being reallocated and even some of the “bad apples” are being held accountable unlike any other time that I can remember. I will not be naive and believe that all have learned their lesson. I believe “bad apples” will remain bad no matter what we do or say. No new tricks for that old dog. However, this cannot be cause for distraction, deterrence nor complacency. We must forge ahead and find ways to coexist without unnecessary obstacles. Life is hard enough as it is. But that ticking bomb has exploded, and we need to realize that things cannot and will not ever be the same. We also need to take a look at what our business community can do to help heal our community so we may have a mutually good partnership.
In my limited time I would like to focus on just a portion of all of this: Black Businesses. A good framework to begin comes from Killer Mike when he recently addressed the citizens of Atlanta, Georgia: “It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization and now is the time to plot, plan, strategize and mobilize”. Now a strategy on the scale referred to by Killer Mike will take a lot of analysis and discourse requiring the deconstruction and reconstruction of our communities and ourselves. We must also be mindful that whatever solutions we arrive at will not fit all people perfectly. Comb through all of this data and let it lead the strategy. Let’s not operate in a vacuum either. We can learn a lot from others that have dealt with traumatic events. Some even found a way to heal and build lasting wealth within their own communities.
So, for the purpose of this article let’s assume this change we are seeing today is sustainable; meaning new laws and business practices are adopted. Also, for this article I will specifically address the African American community. Our nation can only be as strong as the sum of its components and our African American communities are not as strong as they could be. Assuming equity is the end goal (and luckily for those in power it is not revenge), we can reverse engineer a little and chart a path to it.
First, we will need to define “equity” in America post 2020 and determine what are the gaps to fill. To do so we must not ignore the wealth, health and education gaps that exist. Today, in America, African Americans make up more than 13% of the population, but only own 7% of the businesses. According to the Federal Reserve, median white wealth is $171,000 and median black wealth is $17,600. At the time of writing this article, the Labor Department shows black unemployment at 16.7% while white unemployment is 14.2%. The Census Bureau tells us 20.8% of blacks live in poverty vs. 8.1% of whites. US Vital Statistics also tell us that African Americans are more likely to die before the average life expectancy from all causes including stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure. We also know that a person earning at least a livable wage will improve all of these metrics. Yet, if we are talking about “equity” we will need a much higher percentage of people far exceeding a livable wage. Central to achieving this has to be black ownership. Therefore, we will also need to see more black businesses that can compete in just about every category of business. So, a strong component for building a healthy, well-educated, politically active black owned businesses that have the assets and capability of employing black people who make a livable wage and more. This will also create an environment for more black businesses to partner and do business amongst themselves further increasing the circulation of black dollars. In this scenario, we could even see the formation of black private education and financial institutions that are able to further improve on all the aforementioned metrics.
But how do we get there from where we are now? What are some things the collective “we” can do to assist growing the capacity of black businesses and black wealth in this country? If reparations fell from the heavens today, are we mentally prepared for them? What would we do with that influx of capital? Would we use it to build? Would the dollars circulate in our community? Do we even have a community we own to circulate the dollars in? Would we use it to own and create the things we need or spend it on the things we want that we do not make nor own? These questions also highlight the lasting impact of the trauma we must address. The PTSS I spoke of earlier has had some deeply damaging consequences including TRUST. Not just a distrust of the system but also a distrust of us. As a community, we must become more comfortable and adept at doing business with each other. If we are going to be deliberate about circulating black dollars, we must team up. We cannot fight others and ourselves at the same time and expect a healthy outcome.
For those at large companies, you are uniquely positioned to assist with growing the capacity of black businesses. Let’s make a pledge to be even more patient and diligent about REALLY helping black businesses. If you have a budget, be mindful of black vendors for everything from hotels, to wine and caterers. Look at your programs and find even more innovative ways to identify and communicate your opportunities to small and black-owned businesses. Also, ensure your existing infrastructure is set up to incentivize your employees to help small businesses as much as they are with assisting large businesses. The days of saying “get prequalified” and forgetting about them must be no more.
For black business owners, remember the lessons of our elders and be twice as good just to matter. Prepare your businesses for growth. Bi-annual business plans, succession planning, SWOTs, any and all training that is possible and actively seeking out programs that exist to help you build are all necessary things to do consistently. Herman Russell, the founder of HJ Russell Construction, said you will need three things to be a successful business owner; a lawyer, an accountant and a banker. Take the time to nurture and cultivate these relationships. Whenever you need help, ask, and keep asking until you get it. Have your financials in order. Become more comfortable with having your legal documents reviewed and prepared by a lawyer. Then, seek out other black businesses and partner up. Invent your own opportunities by pooling money and resources together. Any trust issues can be circumvented by utilizing your lawyers and accountants. Finally, remember to invest in your staff whenever possible. Make sure they consistently represent your business to the best of their ability.
I am encouraged but I am also skeptical, exhausted, numb, disappointed, hurt and angry. Yet, as the protests continue, I find myself recognizing that this time really does feel different. We need to capitalize on this momentum and energy, because no one will save us but us. So, each one, teach one and let’s be the change we want to see. It is going to take our entire village to reach equity. I paraphrase Michael Jackson, let’s start with the person in the mirror.
If you are looking for a great organization to support, consider the 100 Black Men of America. Well known for their mentoring programs, their mission is to improve the quality of life within our communities and enhance educational and economic opportunities for all African Americans.
For buying products and services from black companies including but not limited to banks, hotels, HBCUs, beauty and common household goods:
Black businesses and services can also be found in your local NMSDC Chapter:
Black Contractors – National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC):
Black Architects – National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA):
National Association of Black Accountants: