By Doni Glover, Publisher
Unapologetically Black: Doni Glover Autobiography
The Doni Glover Show on WOLB 1010 AM (Thurs. 11a-12p)
(HARLEM – December 24, 2019) – Regular readers of this column know that I am a huge fan of Black business. I think it is the backbone of Black America, just as small business is the backbone of any other community, city, or country. Recently, my eyes feasted on one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. And the timing couldn’t be more apropos.
Let’s cut to the chase: This is the 21st century. From its very beginnings, America was built on business. And if a person or community is going to ever evolve in these United States, then – really and truly – they must understand and master the realm of business. Period.
On Friday, December 13, 2019, this journalist served as witness to one of the most beautiful demonstrations of Black self-determination ever. And of all places, it was in Harlem. Granted, I wasn’t even alive during the Negro Silent Protest Parade of 1917 where W. E. B. Du Bois and 10,000 other Black people walked down 5th Avenue. That was huge! And of course, I was still a thought when the summer riots of 1964 unleashed in Harlem and Brooklyn. And so too did I miss the earth-shattering speeches of Malcolm X, the early world-class performances at the Apollo, and the re-discovery of the African Burial Ground. However, two Fridays ago, what I did not miss was something that for me was just as audacious, just as meaningful.
Zevilla Preston Jackson, a New York City architect, may have described this spectacle best: “On Friday, December 13th, 2019, sixty-plus Black business owners and Black business advocates, including New York State Senator Robert Jackson, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilwoman Inez Dickens and Councilman Bill Perkins gathered to discuss the state of Black businesses during an historic Black Business Empowerment Forum.”
The principal of JP Design continued, “Based on New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s ‘2018 Making the Grade Report’, NYC received an ‘F’ grade for contracting with Black businesses. This ‘F’ grade along with a BUZZFEED report that said NYC’s Black businesses decreased by 30% between 2007 and 2015 must not go unanswered by the Black community. The stakes are too high! WEG seeks to build a coalition of Black entrepreneurs, politicians, churches and civic organizations to put forth an action plan to remedy the dearth of economic opportunities available to Black businesses in NYC. Friday, December 13th marks the beginning, not a one-off, for this vitally important advocacy campaign.”
Few would argue the fact that Harlem is the center of African-American history and culture not only in New York City but in the entire United States. Needless to say, Harlem has historically helped set the tone for Black America. It is by nature, if you will, a trendsetter.
WEG, a group of concerned Black businessmen and businesswoman, aims to make Black business development a priority for any and all Black elected officials seeking to help lead New York City. And I think they are on to something!
I think that given the long and tenured history of Black business and development in places like Seneca Village in Manhattan (1825) and Weeksville in Brooklyn (1838), there is no better place to light the first spark on the re-invigoration of Black business.
Face it: Blacks have an annual disposable income of more than $1.2 trillion dollars. As an entrepreneur myself for the past 17 years, I can tell you that this is incredibly inspiring as much of my business comes solely from Black folks. That being said, only a very small portion of this trillion-plus dollars is spent with Black businesses. This, my friends, is a tragedy.
And that is why this Black Business Empowerment Forum is so on-point.
If anyone knows how significant this event was and what it can begin to catalyze across New York and the broader country, it is the incomparable Walter Edwards. I actually view him as today’s ‘Godfather of Harlem’. Take a walk with him across 125th Street and you will see what I mean. From the streets to the suites, Edwards is a seasoned advocate for Black business who doesn’t mind telling the truth. He has been on countless boards and commissions over the years fighting for Black business participation and his group is also responsible for one of the most remarkable Black-owned venues in Harlem on 116th Street. It is popularly known as MIST Harlem.
“I’ve been fighting the fight for Black economic parity for a long time,” said Edwards.
He added, “Whenever I feel like I’ve won something for my people, I read an article, see some statistic or talk to Black business owners and I know I’ve got a lot more work to do. In the summer of 2018, I brought together some Harlem business owners to think through a strategic Black Business advocacy campaign that would have an action plan at its core. WEG grew out of and from weekly meetings with this group. I feel like a proud father to see how these entrepreneurs have picked up the mantle and demonstrated a commitment to wage this fight. The fight is the same one that started when enslaved Africans arrived on the
shores of America. 400 years later WEG has formed a strategic partnership with the Harlem Business Alliance, We Are 400 Foundation and a host of other businesses and civic groups to speak with one voice. The birth of WEG is an historic moment for NYC’s Black community that can have reverberations around the country and possibly the world! I am happy to have lived long enough to see the fruit of so many seeds planted in the Black community.”
Jackson and Edwards both understand the severity of the plight of Black business and are imploring the help of all concerned persons. Another member of WEG is Regina Smith. Marsha Jews of WKIM Radio introduced me to Smith a few years back during one of our Black Wall Street events in Harlem. Since then, we’ve stayed in contact because I have always appreciated her efforts. Smith is the Executive Director of the Harlem Business Alliance (HBA). Established in 1980, the HBA has played a critical role in ensuring that Black businesses survive and thrive in New York City.
A bit of a quiet storm who has more than paid her dues to the struggle for Black empowerment, Smith said, “”When it comes to accumulating wealth in America, there has never been a level playing field for the Black community.”
She stated, “Shawn Rochester, author of The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America, analyzed the enormous financial cost from emancipation to present day to explain how after 400 years Black people only own 2% of U.S. wealth. Black-owned businesses in NYC are in a state of crisis. We currently own only 2% of the businesses despite making up 22% of the city’s population. The need to implement solutions to reverse this alarming trend is urgent and immediate.”
WEG’s mantra, thus, is #2to22by2022. They want to see all concerned parties – especially in light of the upcoming 2020 and 2021 elections in New York – make Black business a priority.
It is a well-known fact that Blacks can swing an election – locally, statewide or nationally. In New York City, Blacks comprise nearly a quarter of the population. Thus, with some strong organizing, I am confident that Black business will be an agenda item for any and all politicians seeking the Black vote from New Yorkers. I am also confident that Black business will be an agenda item in other cities, like my hometown, Baltimore.
So, a very big THANK YOU to Zevilla, Regina and Walter! They are champions who refuse to quit until Black businesses are eating and eating well … across New York City … and beyond!