Beyond the Rhetoric
Harry C. Alford
I guess I’m playing off an old Teddy Pendergrass tune. But it is long overdue. We stand on the shoulders of giants that progressed through the hall of the U. S. Capitol. The first wave of Congressional Black Caucus members made great gains in terms of Black business development. Led by Adam Clayton Powell, Parren J. Mitchell, John Conyers, Gus Savage and Louis Stokes just to name a few – they made great progress. They wrote great programs; won congressional support; and codified brilliant legislation. There is just one significant truth I must identify: The programs are not being implemented by us.
I have been writing, screaming, pounding my fists and everything else to try and get my people’s attention. The laws are brilliant, yet they are worthless if they are not implemented, monitored, and updated. Allow me to point out a few examples.
“Public Utilities’ Plans for Small and Small Disadvantaged Subcontractors.” This program was written in the early 1990s. It requires public utilities such as electric power companies, water companies, natural gas companies, etc. to write a plan to reach a certain level of minority business procurement in its purchasing. The plan must be approved and then reviewed by the General Services Administration. The program results are available to the public. It allows us to see just what our local utilities are doing in terms of diversity in the procurement sector. It is beautiful. There is just one thing – most utilities ignore this requirement, and no one calls them out.
When we just got started in building up the National Black Chamber of Commerce, I learned about this great program. I noticed that Indianapolis Power and Light and the Public Service of Indiana were refusing to send in their goals and annual reports. I blasted them with a press release that made the front pages of the local newspapers. In the end, the two started complying with the program and became corporate members of the Chamber. Local Black owned businesses started getting contracts from them like never before. It showed me the power of monitoring and compliance.
Recently, I read an article in the Black owned newspaper serving Akron, Ohio. The Reporter stated on June 30, 2018: “2018 CDBG and HOME Investment Partnership Program Action Plan to Fund Numerous Projects Throughout Summit County.” It went further and said, “The county anticipates receiving $966,416 in CDBG (Community Development Block Grants from HUD) funding, and $440,372 in HOME (HUD program) funding for the 2018 program.”
Now, this is HUD funding which means Section 3 of the HUD Act must be implemented. Section 3 requires that 10% of all contracting should go to Section 3 businesses and 30% of the new hiring should go to Section 3 residents. A Section 3 resident is a person who lives under the poverty level and needs on-the-job training. A Section 3 business is a company that is owned and managed by a Section 3 resident or hires Section 3 persons. Now, isn’t this powerful? Too bad! They aren’t going to comply with this in Akron – just like 95% of other communities. Section 3 could greatly increase Black employment and reduce poverty if it is complied with. Somehow we Black folks don’t take advantage of it. Don’t believe me? Go Google: “24CFR Part 135” and read the program. I bet your community isn’t complying either. Section 3 was written in 1968 and we just ignore it. What a pity! Akron and all communities need a Black Chamber of Commerce.
We all thought things would be getting much better when we elected Barack Obama as our President. We figured that federal programs would improve in terms of serving the Black community. Wrong! Sometimes people may be of our color but nowhere near our mindset. The Small Business Administration lending program has been in existence for decades. Capital Access is the key to business development and growth. Special attention is given to the lending activity of the SBA for that reason. However, the Congressional Black Caucus gave President Obama a “pass” when he failed us. We should have called him out just like we would do with a Caucasian president who was failing us. The late George Curry, writer for the Black Press, documented it with this article: http://www.blackpressusa.- com/ obama-worse-than-george-w-bush-on-sba-loans/.
The above are just a few examples of what is going on. The National Black Chamber of Commerce will be addressing this at our 26th Annual Conference in Washington, DC July 19 – 21, 2018. We will be launching “Project Phoenix.” This will be a strategic plan to address issues like the above and encourage the Congressional Black Caucus to emulate the fervor they once had. Also, groups like the NAACP, Urban League, etc. should learn about these missed opportunities and learn how to successfully address them. They should call us. We would be glad to teach them.
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: [email protected].