The Evolution of the National Black Chamber of Commerce – Part 4

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Harry C. Alford and Kay DeBow

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow

When Kay and I were introduced to each other at the Detroit Metro Airport it was Spring, which in Detroit is always beautiful and exhilarating after another hard winter. As she left the restaurant to go catch her flight to New York (for a sales conference for Colgate Palmolive), I watched her legs walk away from me. It reminded me of an old blues song: “She has legs like Willie May’s baseball bat – honey in color and very thick.” Her beautiful face was accented with a gorgeous smile and black satin hair flowing off her head and down her neck.

They say beauty is only skin deep. If so, it was deep enough for me. I turned to my sales representative as we approached our gate to Dallas (J&J sales conference) and said: “If I ever see that woman again, I am going to sweep her off her feet and eventually marry her.  If she has a man or husband, he is going to be in big trouble.”

I thought about her often and was mad for not getting her telephone number.

Then, after about six weeks, there she was, working on a major shelf realignment in a Farmer Jack supermarket with her co-workers. The work was manual, so she was wearing blue jeans – real tight blue jeans. Instantly, as Etta James would say, “the spell was cast.”  I knew this might be my one and only shot and came with my “A” game.

I told Kay, “I understand you are new to the business and to Detroit, which is very ‘hardball’ and rough to a rookie. It’s a good thing for you that we have met. I know this market and the managerial makeup of every grocery chain. I pride myself in customer relations and it pays off from time to time. I could teach that to you. It is hard for a Black to win in this business and that is especially true for a female – beautiful female. I could be your coach.”

I gave her my business card and voice mail. I told her she could give me her contact info when she called me. I walked away and drove off to the next store on the itinerary. It was 15 minutes later that I received a voice mail from her. She said she needed “coaching” as soon as possible and that she had time for breakfast tomorrow.

We set the time and place and so it began – a love story made in heaven (even though it was Detroit). A wonderful breakfast turned into a nice lunch at a jazz restaurant which turned into dinner at a jazzy supper club in the Indian Village section of east Detroit. We closed the evening with Kay inquiring, “What time will we meet tomorrow (which was Saturday)?” I replied, “10:00 a.m., we are going to spend a day touring the Ontario, Canada countryside.”It was a great choice as Love was beginning to show its beautiful face.

If any of you have watched the TV One sitcom “Martin” with Martin Lawrence, you can remember the picture of the apartment building that Martin and Gina resided in. It’s the Parkstone Apartments in Indian Village. Kay called me about three weeks into our affair and told me to bring my check book because she found a great apartment for us with a view of the Detroit skyline. “We will make a deposit and first month’s rent. We can move in some time next month.”

In retrospect, who was coaching who? It was like the old Marvelettes tune: “When the Hunter gets Captured by the Game.” (http://bit.ly/Marvelettes) I did not balk one inch!

I was cool with it as my parents were retired in Louisiana. However, Kay’s parents were in nearby Indianapolis and were “threatening” to visit soon. Kay’s response to that: “We are going to have to get engaged. Next weekend let’s find a wonderful engagement ring in Grosse Pointe.” I did not bat an eye.

LOL! Revisionist history. Somewhat. Harry’s strong confidence is ok with me since he is equipped with a large portfolio. Let’s be clear, I did not ask for coaching, I did not. But he is right about the sales business in that day. It was very male dominated, sexist and at my first sales conference a video of the Ku Klux Klan was shown. But I pushed on in my company car learning the grocer chain market and the Chaldean grocery market. Chaldean Americans are Christians and descendants of people presently located in the Middle Eastern nation of Iraq. The majority of Chaldean Americans live in Detroit, Michigan.

Harry does make me sound like an “in charge woman,” I respect him for recognizing my abilities.

We did dine at a romantic French restaurant in Ontario, Canada called Ducks on the Roof. It was a lovely place but most memorable when we left the restaurant. The maître’d ran after us yelling “Monsieur, Monsieur! You only paid the bar tab!” What fun we had. My Fair Lady, Lafayette Orleans Club, living in an Indian Village apartment where if you stretched your neck a little bit that way you could see Belle Isle Park.

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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