John Lewis: A True Hero Has Departed

On July 17, 2020, 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. 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 Sub-committee) 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 museum yet do it as soon as possible.

This was Congressman Lewis’s “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 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 “reigns?” It’s 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.

Normal program has made more Black millionaires than this program. Despite this, it needs to be updated and reinforced. Having a five percent minority business goal for the federal government is pittance. The Black population percent age 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:

*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. Encourage our members to apply for 8a status.

*Make quarterly updates on Black procurement status for each agency and follow-up with correspondence to agency heads.

*Worldwide marketing and publicity. Garner Trump administration support. Let’s get busy turning this atrocity around. If Black firms could attain at least five percent in procurement contracting with the federal government that would mean $25 billion dollars annually infused into our economic base. Harry C. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Kay DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber. To contact Harry Alford, email: halford@nationalbcc.org and to contact Kay Debrow, email: kdebow@nationalbcc.org. For more information visit www.nationalbcc.org

We Need To Revitalize The Great 8a Business Development Program

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 five percent minority business goal for the federal government is 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. Racism and passive discrimination in this nation still exists and per the U.S. Supreme Court and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 discrimination needs to be addressed according to the disparate impact placed on identified groups. President Bill Clinton had the answer to this after being encouraged or intimidated from the Million Man March of 1996. His plan to “Mend” affirmative action rather than “end” it included formal Disparity Studies for each of the 10 Federal Regions. Following that adjusted goals could be implemented. One big problem— he never did it. The Congressional Black Caucus should wake up and take the lead from its greatest Founder, Congressman Mitchell, and proceed with the above idea.

The great HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson applied this logic and took black procurement at HUD to new heights— approaching 32 percent. President George W. Bush watched his “back” as democratic congressmen tried to have him indicted for whatever reason they could find. He eventually resigned to spend time protecting his name and future during various hearings and investigations. HUD does about four percent in black procurement today.

Updating the goals and returning to a serious aura can bring this program back to the effectiveness it once had.

The greatest challenge to the 8a Program came under the Barack Obama Administration. It is so ironic! This president had a mission to “repay”

white construction unions for raising over $600 million dollars in his first presidential campaign. His pay back to them was to require federal construction contracting over $1 million to become union only projects. As blacks and Hispanics are terribly underutilized by construction unions, this would cripple the 8a program. We went to the White House and pleaded on the effect this would have over our constituency (should have been his too). They ignored our efforts and quickly became adversarial towards us.

What quickly happened was devastating. The Obama Administration went “dark” over the 8a Program. Black procurement levels at the time George W. Bush left office were over eight percent. When Obama finished his two terms it had been reduced to a little over one percent. People, we are talking billions of dollars extracted from our communities. SBA Regional Administrator Ashley Bell spoke at our recent annual conference and emphasized the reduction in black procurement due to the reduction in active black 8a firms. The same can be said for SBA business loans. It was just devastating and most of the black community does not know what “hit” them.

What was particularly “salt in the wounds” was that the SBA under the Obama Administration became very hostile towards Black business. At one point, the SBA would reject our emails to them. They took their budgets for funding development grants away from black associations and tossed them around to non-black groups. There was pure hatred over there during those eight dark years. How could blacks do this to other blacks in the 21st century?

Let’s get busy with turning this atrocity around. We must encourage the White House and federal agencies to quickly “pick up the pieces” and bring the 8a Program back to life and with vigor and updated goals. If black firms could attain at least five percent in procurement contracting with the federal government that would mean $25 billion dollars annually infused into our economic base. There is a federal election coming in 2020 and we must make significant improvement while that environment exists. It is time for blacks to address each political candidate with that great quote from Chaka Khan: “What Cha’ Going to do for Me.”

Harry Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ®. Kay DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber.

What If Black Professional Athletes Respected Black Economic Empowerment?

Oh, what a wonderful world this would be for black communities throughout our nation. We, as a people, have over $1.3 trillion (T) in annual spending. However, our black owned businesses account for over $183 billion. Do you see the problem? We don’t recycle our money within our own communities. Not even 20 percent of what we have stays within our own business infrastructure. As Malcolm X once remarked, “The ‘eagle’ flies on Friday in black communities and by noon Saturday it is one dead bird.” Nothing recycles and thus, nothing is going to build or grow larger. We are consumer slaves.

We live in a complex on the Virginia side of Washington, D.C. A few of our neighbors are professional athletes. You can always tell when their crew is assembling. The parking area out front suddenly looks like a Maybach or Lamborghini car dealership. There is a million dollars’ worth of depreciating assets right before our eyes. They think it is so cool. We think it is depressing. I guess it is their money and their business. However, if we look collectively there is an immense opportunity slipping right before our eyes.

The black percentage of professional football players exceeds 70 percent.

The National Basketball Association approaches over 90 percent. These gifted athletes control billions of dollars that could be directed to significant economic empowerment for the black communities from which they come. Allow us to show you a few examples of what could be done.

Basketball arenas and football stadiums are being built around our nation on an ongoing basis. Right now, there is usually no black participation included during the construction and design of these stadiums. Levi Stadium in California had only 1.4 percent participation. Imagine if the Players’ Associations for these two sports would put this on the negotiating table before the owners: Thirty percent of all construction performed on the next stadiums be done by black owned and managed construction firms. That should include architecture and engineering followed by construction management and all prime and subcontracting, accounting, all legal services. The stadiums should be built in areas that will not gentrify black neighborhoods and business communities. Thirty percent of all concessions, restaurants, etc. that are allowed within the stadiums and arenas must be black owned. Black advertising and public relations firms should be included.

Levi Stadium brings up another matter. The NFL and NBA player associations seem to have a great affinity to construction unions. They assume that they are fair and equitable to black labor. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Only two percent of black owned construction companies are union. Why? Because of the Jim Crow treatment by these construction unions. The time is overdue for these black athletes to step up and do the only responsible thing they can do. Don’t tolerate racist construction unions. Hell no! to solidarity.

Additionally, where are these teams parking their money? Financial institutions and money management firms should have significant black utilization. Significant should equate to over 30 percent. No more scandals such as Merrill Lynch bilking NBA players with the encouragement of their upper management (a black CEO).

The athletes must participate in the selection of the Super Bowl city. There should be a rating system which determines the likelihood of racially diverse people participating in the wealth that a Super Bowl brings. Which city will have the blackest vendors? Who is printing the jerseys, the T-shirts, the souvenir books? Who is advertising the Super Bowl? And may we suggest that teams look for black owned hotels.

These team owners are asleep at the wheel of diversity and inclusivity. They must feel pressured to have desire for diversity. The pressure will come from the athletes. Just because these teams have been using select vendors for dozens of decades doesn’t mean they can’t change now. The sooner they do it the better off America will be.

The player associations should have formal Memorandums of Understanding with the top black professional organizations such as black architecture and engineering associations, black contractors, banks, accounting associations, attorneys, realtors, etc. This God given natural athletic ability that is blessed on our people must be used via wide distribution of its influence and effects. These MOU’s should be publicized with ongoing updates to ensure that it is not just “window dressing” but real deal economic empowerment.

Now this would change the world! After doing that correctly we could move to our entertainers who would only perform at venues that have documented proof of black construction, architecture/engineering participation. Again, God has blessed us with remarkable talent. Let’s leverage it. Oh, how badly we need a bigger share of that $1.3 trillion pie. We can’t think of a better way. Our destiny is in our own hands.

Harry Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) and Kay DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of NBCC. To contact Harry Alford, email: halford@nationalbcc.org and to contact, Kay DeBow, email: kdebow@nationalbcc.org.