Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry C. Alford
Eric Vickers died on April 14, 2018. Pancreatic cancer took this warrior out. We are certainly going to miss him. Allow me to reflect on the great battles we won with Eric Vickers on our side during intense struggles.
I was working in the Indiana State Government as Deputy Administrator for Minority Business Development. This was a job my wife got me. She read the job description and realized that it was tailor made for my expertise. She and a few of her friends worked the Evan Bayh campaign for governor and this was one of the jobs they had to place loyal campaign participants. She would shortly become the Director of Marketing for the new Indiana Lottery. So, we closed our two video stores and stopped our real estate brokering. After nine years of pure entrepreneurship we were back doing the “job thing.”
While finding ways to integrate Black owned businesses into the government procurement sector I met interesting people. One was Laverne Morrow (from St. Louis) who was actively managing a campaign regarding Black participation in the upcoming White House Conference for Small Business. By law, the Conference was started during the Jimmy Carter administration. Reagan reluctantly continued it, President George H.W. Bush ignored it and now it was president Bill Clinton’s turn. He received it with open arms and the organizational process was now starting. I received a mailing from Laverne announcing a program to populate the conference with Black entrepreneurs and advocates. The mission: Protect affirmative action programs which some groups were aiming to abolish. She organized a meeting in Washington, DC for anyone willing to get involved in the upcoming battle.
I got funding for my participation. It was there that I met Anthony Robinson, President of Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense Fund. MBELDF was started by retired Congressman Parren Mitchell. Its mission was to defend minority owned business against the ever-growing regulations barring affirmative action programs and the many lawsuits popping up to challenge them.
The conference was successful for us. The federal government kept all affirmative action programs intact. Oddly, Presidents George W. Bush and Obama refused to replicate the White House Conference on Small Business. That is something we need to present to Donald Trump. It is still on the books.
By now, I was working within the Department of Administration at a vicious pace. There was so much to be done and it appeared that I was the only human being in the history of Indiana to start down the long winding road of Black business development. Despite that, I managed to take the Black business participation numbers for state procurement from 0.6 percent to 6 percent within 18 months. Severe backlash started coming from the local powers. I contacted Anthony and told him that I was being checked every time I made a move towards progress. I had no alternative but to form a free standing independent organization and jump into this fight for Black business development. Kay and I came up with the idea of having a local chamber of commerce. We admired the local Indianapolis Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Indianapolis had about 4,000 Hispanics at the time. We figured that since the city had over 260,000 Blacks why shouldn’t it have a Black Chamber of Commerce too.
We formed the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce. We felt Blacks in Indiana weren’t quite brave enough to have an association with a Black moniker yet. Instantly, we had over 100 members and became a force. What was missing was a “kick ass” attorney who could handle the future litigation we were planning on. I brought Anthony out to Indianapolis and explained my long-term plans. I wanted to organize civil disobedience and legal action on a list of entities such as the City, State, Public Schools, white construction companies, United Airlines and a few major corporations based within the state.
It didn’t take long for Anthony to say, “We need to get Eric Vickers over here.” The next week I met with Eric. I put him up at the Hyatt Hotel and took two days to explain our situation. This state was not going to allow Black business to grow. It was dead set on stopping the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce in its tracks. United Airlines had announced a new $1 billion maintenance hub at the Indianapolis Airport. The procurement arm of the company made it clear to local Black businesses that any member of the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce would not get a contract at the hub.
When I told this to Eric he smiled. “They just gave us the opportunity to change this from a local issue to a national issue. It is a federally regulated airport and United is a Fortune 100 corporation. The fight must be on a national battlefield. It’s so romantic!”
Little did Kay and I know we were about to go on the wildest “ride” of our lives. We were hanging with Eric Vickers.