An Example of a Strong Black Leader

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Harry C. Alford and Kay DeBow

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow

This letter is an excellent example of perfect advocacy demonstrated by Larry Ivory, Chairman of the National Black Chamber.  I encourage all Black leaders to share this within your networks.  Let us stop “sleeping” and get busy shaking things up in our communities. Stop absorbing the blows of bigotry and start swinging back (twofold!)

April 20, 2020 letter to Senator Koehler from ILLINOIS STATE BLACK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, INC:

Congratulations on your leadership appointment to the Long-Term Economic Revitalization and Recovery Committee for the State of Illinois.

As you are astutely aware, communities of color have been historically marginalized and disadvantaged as it relates to social and economic opportunities in America. These institutionalized socio-economic disparities have resulted in the highest rates of chronic diseases, crime rates, mortality rates, poverty, and concentrated housing in communities of color, particularly African Americans.

The COVID-19 crisis is illuminating the effects of these disparities based on the rapid transmission of the disease and the exponential fatality rates disproportionately affecting those urban communities that have a high concentration of communities of color.

For example, African Americans make up less than 15 percent of the State of Illinois’ population and 32.4 percent of Chicago’s population, yet they account for 70 percent of the COVID-19 fatalities in Chicago. Congresswoman Robin Kelly put it best. She stated in Governor Pritzker’s press briefing, “COVID-19 is putting long lasting inequities on display.”

It is with this premise that the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce (ILBCC) is compelled to take a stance and a lead role in mobilizing community resources and ensuring that communities of color not only have a seat at the table, but be a key partner in the economic stability and recovery for African American businesses and communities.

The U.S. Senate passed a roughly $2 trillion Coronavirus response bill, CARES Act, intended to speed relief across the American economy. This aid package from Congress was meant to keep businesses and individuals afloat during an unprecedented freeze on most of American life.

The ILBCC wants to ensure that the CARES Act and any other State resources are targeted to the greatest, critical needs in the most vulnerable populations in Illinois. We are also ready to work in tandem with the State of Illinois to identify and reduce barriers to equitable funding distributions.

Based on feedback from ILBCC members and community leaders, we have identified some immediate issues and observations that we would like to bring to your attention for further discussion and action.

The ILBCC members that meet the criteria to provide medical supplies are being told by State of Illinois procurement administrators that they must wait 90-140 days to be paid. We have observed that some participating firms (non-minority) are able to be a supplier and participate in the COVID response with an approved provision of being paid on demand. One ILBCC member company, SI Medical Supply, is an international medical supply company that has 60 other African American supply companies tied to it. The company can produce over $50M in PPE supply orders.

The challenge is establishing a line of credit in this amount for production and distribution. The ILBCC would be very interested in working directly with the State of Illinois Procurement Department to discuss this issue in particular but also to make recommendations for adaptable procurement provisions, considering the sense of urgency and volume of medical supply needed to respond to COVID-19.

Resources to Black Media

Combating COVID 19 requires strong and consistent public messaging related to preventative measures and access to treatment services. What we are finding out is that communities of color are not optimally reached because effective messaging in these communities does not go beyond standard media channels. Messaging to diverse and at-risk communities requires creative, targeted, and cultural messaging.

The ILBCC understands that to implement alternative, grass roots messaging will require strong involvement and support of the Black media.

Also, the CARES Act includes various business loans and grants. Many cottage businesses, including not for-profit agencies, are not aware of these funding opportunities nor do they understand how to navigate government applications. The ILBCC is willing to take the lead role in working with Black media networks throughout the State and in providing technical assistance to businesses in navigating and applying for economic programs offered by the CARES Act.

PPE for Communities of Color

The repeated messaging of social distancing presents even more of a challenge for communities of color that live in highly populated, dense, multi-family housing. In these scenarios, particularly African American families living in poverty, cannot afford to work remotely at home or stay separated from other family members due to overcrowded housing. The most vulnerable are the most detrimentally impacted by this virus.

The ILCC requests additional CARES Act resources that would provide PPE (i.e. masks and gloves) that will be readily accessible, available, procured from Black businesses, and provided free to communities of color living in poverty.

State of Illinois CARES Act Tracking and Reporting

Economic stimulus packages require rapid spending to stabilize the economy. The CARES Act includes the Paycheck Protection Program, Unemployment Insurance, and loans and grants for businesses and not-for-profit agencies.

The ILBCC understands the CARES Act contains a series of accountability provisions to oversee this rapid spending but we want to ensure that the State of Illinois is intentional about tracking how dollars are spent and where. A tracking and reporting system for the CARES Act will ensure transparency and equity in the allocation of resources.

Do not sit on the sidelines.

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Ms. DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Emails: halford@nationalbcc.org kdebow@nationalbcc.org.

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