John Lewis – A True Hero has Departed

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Harry C. Alford and Kay DeBow

Beyond the Rhetoric

Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow

On July 17 we got the news that one of our few heroes made his transition from earth to Heaven. We are sure that St. Peter used few words when he looked into the eyes of John Lewis. He must have quickly said, “Job well done John – welcome!” He is gone now, and we will all miss him. His work made such a difference.

He was born a sharecropper in the heart of Troy, Alabama. It seems like he was born to fight for freedom. In fact, he was one of the original freedom riders making dangerous journeys across the South demanding freedom and facing some of the meanest cops that ever attacked demonstrating Black protestors.

His badge of honor was a split skull he experienced on “Bloody Sunday” when Black demonstrators faced Alabama state troopers while crossing that infamous bridge in Selma, Alabama. It appeared on national television and the entire American audience watched in horror. From that day on, everyone knew who John Lewis was. He was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most loyal and fiercest warrior.

Recently, the White House was able to abolish the NAFTA agreement. This was enacted in 1993. However, John Lewis began fighting against it before the ink dried on the treaty. Recently, his battle was victorious via President Trump. That was Congressman Lewis – he never quit or stopped fighting. Victory would be his eventually.

During his 17 years on the House Ways and Means Committee (Oversight Subcommittee) he remained vigilant in ensuring Black business procurement. His greatest accomplishment was his management of the magnificent Smithsonian Museum on African American History and Culture. If you have not toured this yet do it as soon as possible. This was Congressman Lewis’ “Baby.”

Dr. King, Parren Mitchell, Art Fletcher and other Black business advocates must have been smiling down from Heaven as Congressman Lewis oversaw the Black business participation. Brick by brick, window by window, it was soon accomplished, and the Black participation came in at 66 percent. A true record for such a task! $600 million at 66 percent.

This was the ilk of Congressman John Lewis. I was at a meeting in Atlanta and I asked the audience to stand up and applaud Congressman Lewis for this marvelous accomplishment. He stood up in his classic “stone face style” and quietly said, “Well, this is what we are supposed to do.” We need more persons of his ilk! It was that morning that John Lewis became my hero.

I have a question or challenge for the current members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Will the next John Lewis please step forward and take the “reins?”

It is time for the Congressional Black Caucus to focus on Black procurement with the federal government. Minority procurement in federal contracts has fallen from 8 percent in the Bush administration to 1.3 percent as of March 31, 2019. Some departments didn’t award minority businesses even one federal contract.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA): “The federal government’s goal is to award at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to small disadvantaged businesses each year.” Here are the Program benefits: “To help provide a level playing field for small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people or entities, the government limits competition for certain contracts to businesses that participate in the 8(a) Business Development program.”

“Disadvantaged businesses in the 8(a) Program can: Compete for set-aside and sole-source contracts in the program. Form joint ventures with established businesses through the SBA’s mentor-protégé program. Receive management and technical assistance, including business training, counseling, market assistance, and high-level executive development programs, as they apply.”

The above program was the brainchild of the late, great Parren J. Mitchell while he was the Chair of the House Small Business Committee and his staff – led by NBCC Board Member Anthony W. Robinson. It is, without debate, the most successful minority business program in the history of federal procurement. No formal program has made more Black millionaires than this program. Despite this, it needs to be updated and reinforced.

Having a 5 percent minority business goal for the federal government is a pittance. The Black population percentage of our nation is over 14.6 percent alone. Hispanics have a percentage of 17.0 percent. That amounts to 31.6 percent without other ethnicities.

Here is our strategy to increase the numbers:

  1. Contact each agency head and inform him/her of their procurement level status. Suggest increased utilization of the SBA 8a program on a recurring basis.
  2. Encourage our members to apply for 8a status.
  3. Make quarterly updates on Black procurement status for each agency and follow-up with correspondence to agency heads.
  4. Worldwide marketing and publicity.
  5. Garner Trump administration support.

Let’s get busy turning this atrocity around.  If Black firms could attain at least 5 percent in procurement contracting with the federal government that would mean $25 billion annually infused into our economic base.

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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