25 Years and going strong, Part I

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Harry Alford

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford

Starting and running a Black business association during the early 1990’s was more than a dream or a challenge.  It was almost impossible.  The concept was hardly credible back then.  Most people could not conceive of a group of Black people starting a new organization centered around Black business development.

Sure, there were plenty of Black organizations, most of which would use code names like “National” to imply the activity of Black people.  Colored and Negro were all right but to say “Black” apparently was taboo or dangerous.  So, Kay and I clung to the title of “Black.”  We had our attorney do a search on the viability or availability of the term “National Black Chamber of Commerce.”  To our surprise there was no official group that used or officially laid claim to the term.  So off we went with the term National Black Chamber of Commerce and began the incorporation procedure and the application process with the Internal Revenue Service.

We did this in Indianapolis, Indiana – Kay’s hometown.  Little did we know that all “Hell” would break loose.  How dare a married couple living in Indianapolis, Indiana start an organization like that in conservative and passive Indianapolis. It didn’t take long for various groups and individuals to challenge our use of the name, let alone expound on the concept.

We eventually had to debate and challenge others who laid claim to the name before we officially registered it.  There was a guy out in Oakland, CA who challenged us verbally, but he never had any official documentation of the rights to the name.  Within six months all of those who challenged the name backed off.

As of May 23, 1993, the National Black Chamber of Commerce was incorporated in Washington, DC.  Kay and I had plans to officially move to Washington, DC by 1996.  However, our founding attorney, Derrick Humphries, had other plans.

He knew we had a big concern about placing our sons into a decent school in Washington, DC.  We proudly had our boys in public school in Indianapolis but in Washington, DC that wasn’t a good option.  Luckily, and through the efforts of Derrick, we got our sons accepted into St. Albans School for Boys.  Unbeknownst to us, it was the Number One rated school for boys in the nation.  It was a blessing, and our twin sons have benefitted from that ever since.

So, here we were, new citizens of Washington, DC starting in September of 1994.

This was not greeted too well by more than a few groups throughout the nation.  The District of Washington, DC greeted us with open arms, but the rest of the nation was “green” with envy or intimidation.

There was one very important fact about our relocation to the Capital.  The newly elected Clinton Administration sent us an invitation to the White House to introduce ourselves.  Alexis Herman, White House Liaison, invited us and our Board of Directors to come and introduce ourselves.  It was the beginning of a great relationship.  It was so natural at the time.

Little did we realize that eventually a conservative pro-business organization and the liberal arm of the Democratic Party were not destined for each other.  Times were good and cordial all the way until the Obama Administration came into power in 2008.  In the interim, there were good relations between us and both political parties.

As a national organization, we began with 14 local Black chambers in our fledgling federation.  It all started off with a positive effort and continuity by all, regardless of where they were located within our nation.  Soon jealously and envy started to set in and mini-rebellions started taking place by two factions.

Chambers in Texas and in California started to challenge our leadership and direction.  An organization of “one” soon became a “three pronged” entity going in circles.  Washington, DC started to receive bad vibrations from the West Coast and the state of Texas.  We would eventually tell the California chapters to “get lost,” with the exception of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce.  Also, the various Texas chapters became adversarial and still are, with few exceptions.  We do just fine without them.  Our missions are quite different.  We are worldly, and growth driven while they are provincial and reclusive.

Another organization would become contentious with the NBCC.  That would be the National Minority Supplier Development Council. We never considered them competition, but for some reason, they feared us and in the beginning stages of our growth they would try to confront our mission.  We have grown immensely during the past 25 years.  They seem to be in a state of “mission creep” and are fluttering. We have no time to stop and fight. We continue to enjoy our growth around the world and nothing is going to stop us now.

There is no doubt. We are the largest Black business association in the world. The future is quite bright!

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

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