There is a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. This was clear in the presentation of the 21st Century Partnership BusinessLink 2000 Roundtable. This was a group we had heard about only fleetingly from three small businesses in the neighborhood (none of it good) before receiving an extensive fax explaining their purposes, and inviting us to their meeting at the Pfizer building in midtown Manhattan.
From the cover letter signed be the Rev. James H. Daniel, Jr. Chairman /C.E.O., this group, purportedly is looking at “…identifying impediment (sic) and barriers to the growth, expansion and diversification of African-American and other minority businesses in the 21st Century and more particularily (sic) strategies for growth of these businesses as determined by the identified impediments and barriers.” This group, looking for what’s wrong with Black Businesses, has held three of it’s last 4 meetings at venues not owned or catered by African-Americans. During a question and answer period, we brought this up:
“It seems to me that one of the impediments to African-American businesses, can be found in organizations such as this one, with a history of holding its meetings in White-owned venues. You’ve held two meetings at a White-owned business on Dekalb Avenue in Brooklyn, and at least the first one was catered by Junior’s. I’ve already spoken with Rev. Daniels about this. One of my advertisers said it was like, ‘Holding the planning meeting for the escape up at the Big House.’ There are any number of places in Brooklyn that could hold meetings such as the one we have here and you can’t say they’re unqualified because you have to walk a few blocks. When you use venues like this, well these are dollars being taken out of Black pockets and being put into White pockets….We have to first tend to our own knitting. Physician heal thyself.”
In response, Reverend Daniels said, “I would respond to what you have said, and I say this with due respect, and I don’t say this flippantly, everything you said, ‘been there, done that’, and we’ll do it again. All those things, we’ve been in the community, we’ve done it over time, we’ve grown regional in our thinking, and we have to get the best that we can to be able to bring it back to that very community that you’re talking about. That is why these forums, in the subsequent venues, will be held in our own communities. So again, I say we’ve been there, done that and we’ll do it again. I’ve been doing it for fourteen years.”
Woman: “Something that he said, if we perceive African-Americans as not being trustworthy , or to do business with each other, then why would somebody want to go into business? So maybe it’s that perception that we have to start to change so that it has a positive connotation, and people will then say, ‘well I’m going into business because I know I have a market of people who will want to buy from me.”
It is a shame that these conferences have been held in white-owned venues. When the small business person on the front-lines sees that, they are so upset by the insensitivity, and the conflict between the stated goals of the conference and the actions they take and the money they spend, that it is virtually impossible for them to take the conveners seriously. Reverend Williams says that future meetings will be held in the community. We can only hope that these community venues are owned and catered by African-Americans, because a lot of the information given at the conference is critical for small businesses to have. The need for a business plan, the need to be self-critical and open to suggestions, the need to be educated across a wide range of areas, and the need for an appreciation of the business successes of the past. We expect the conveners will do better as time goes on.