By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
In celebration of the 14th annual Contractor’s Day, Omar Shareef, president and founder of the African American Contractor’s Association (AACA), announced that his organization brought together the Black Contractors United (BCU) to collectively fight for more governmental contracts.
The nearly three-hour event took place at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, 930 E. 50th St., where Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. addressed the diverse group of vendors that included representatives from the city, state, county and federal. The two groups were separate for more than 15 years. Shareef said it was Jackson who urged him to unify the two groups. Rev. Janette Wilson, executive director of the PUSH Excel, said the contractors partnered with PUSH for this project, but they were stimulated by a challenge from Rev. Jackson.
“We sent out an olive branch to the BCU to be a part of the meeting…put our egos…personalities and differences aside and come up with one agenda for the Black community.”
Jackson’s challenge to them to unite caused both groups to face the reality that “the market is drying up all around us dealing with white females and other minorities they are using rather than African Americans. The only thing that is different between them and us is that they use their friends and we don’t.”
By uniting, Shareef said, “coming together means we have a bigger pool of opportunities and jobs dealing with Cook County, the University of Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology and Advocate Health system.”
“The results will be that we will be able to put together positive legislation that will help all of our companies in the areas of procurement, banking, bonding and job opportunities to get more contracts for African Americans,” said Shareef.
Quoting Rev. Jackson, Shareef said, “only one to two percent are getting some of the state contracts and every time we are divided, the other person wins that fight….”
As an example, Shareef said, “The County has a major project on the West Side, but African Americans are not participating on a grand scale on those projects.” Shareef said the newly formed Black contracting group will be looking at how those contracts are let on the county level, as well as those doled out by the state.
“We are going to look at how Gov. Rauner is talking about giving contracts to Blacks, but in fact is not giving any contractual opportunities to us,” he said. Shareef vowed to talk to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as well.
All the united group wants is fairness in slicing up the city, state and county contractual pie and that by unifying as a body of one will give them the leverage they need to fight for a representative portion.
In addressing the group, Jackson asked them to repeat, “The sum total of our parts goes with a whole unless they are connected. If there is no connectivity, then there is no power….”
Some of the vendors present were: Joan Archie, executive director of the University of Chicago Medicine Construction Compliance & Contract Administration; Steve Lenz, vice president of Field Operations, The George Sollitt Construction Company formed in 1838; Pamela L. Berryhill and Gary Hill from the Turner Construction; Eddie McKinnie from BCU; Joe Williams from the Target Group; Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Commissioners Barbara J. McGowan and Board President Mariyana T. Spyropoulos; Claudine Weems, director of CHA’s Section 3 Field Office; Greg Hinton, Democratic Party consultant; Terry Frigo, Advocate Health Care; Jeffery Rogers, Walsh Construction; Jimmy Akintonde, Ujamaa Construction; Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) and David Winters from the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority.
The vendors agreed to share in a greater slice of the contractual pie, and on WVON’s “Bob Shaw” show produced and co-hosted by this writer, Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp agreed to meet with the Black contractors about their concerns.