Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: Black Business Month Goes Public by Nathalie Lagerfeld
During the inaugural Black Business Month this August, participating consumers will patronize an African-American-owned business each day and 15 governors will single out Distinguished Black Businesses in their states for special honors.
At least they will if John William Templeton has anything to say about it.
Templeton, founder of BlackMoney.com, a Web site that reports on business equity for African-Americans, and former editor of the San Jose Business Journal, told UPI that he started the month to reduce the "black business blind spot" by bringing the African-American community's attention to the importance of business.
"In this society, businesses set the agenda," Templeton said. "When you don't have black Fortune 500 companies, you don't have companies on the New York Stock Exchange, our priorities aren't going to be represented as well."
But there seems to be a Black Business Month blind spot, too. So far Nevada is the only state to issue a proclamation declaring the month, although Templeton told UPI that he was working on getting proclamations from Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. On the World Wide Web, Black Business Month can be found on lists of unknown holidays with events like "National Scrabble Week" (August 7th-12th).
Templeton said he is making progress in promoting the month, however. He is planning to hold an "innovation contest" this month with 2,400 African-American-owned information technology firms, with the winners to be recommended for financial donations. BlackMoney.com will publish a list of 31 Exemplary Black Businesses this month, and Templeton is contacting fifteen governors whose states were identified as friendly to black business to nominate Distinguished Black Businesses to be featured as well. So far no governor has done so, but Templeton expects a positive response.
"It's basically just a matter of logistics, talking to the right people on staff," he said.
In the last two weeks, Templeton has given speeches about the month at the Black Business Summit in Cincinnati, Ohio and the National Urban League meeting in Detroit, Michigan. Even in African-American organizations, he found, African-American businesses suffered from a lack of attention.
"In Cincinnati, I asked people how many black businesses they know," he said. "Most people couldn't fill out one piece of paper."
Templeton also enlisted the help of Frederick E. Jordan, founder of San Francisco-based FE Jordan & Associates, an engineering firm, and Chairman of the board of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Jordan spoke to the board about the month during their annual convention last week. He said the initiative was "highly endorsed" by board members, who decided to send out a notice in their next eBlast, the NBCC's email newsletter.
"It may take a few years, but I think [Black Business Month] is badly needed," Jordan told UPI. But as for special events or initiatives to promote the month, Jordan said the board "had not pushed that strategy."
Rosalind Clymont, Editor-In-Chief of The Network Journal, a magazine for African-American entrepreneurs and small businesses, told UPI that she had not heard of Black Business Month, but that she supported the idea.
"Now that we know about it, certainly we want to rally behind something that is supporting black business," she told UPI. "Certainly from now on, unfortunately next year, we will do something to commemorate it."
Templeton holds high hopes for the new holiday -- he believes it has the potential to someday be as well-accepted as Black History Month, which is celebrated each February.
"I think people will realize black business is equally as important as our history, because business will provide the employment," he said.
Templeton said he expects politicians to respond positively to efforts to publicize black business because of their potential to create jobs in underprivileged communities.
"Black businesses are the most viable way to change the economic status of black Americans," he said. "That's a tremendous lifting of a burden" on state and local governments.
Today, the average number of employees for an African-American-owned business is only 0.7 -- usually even the owner doesn't work full time, according to Templeton. Templeton said that one of the goals of Black Business Month would be to publicize more effective business strategies, such as forming larger businesses with at least five people to pool capital and specialize in different tasks.
"We all just need to understand what it takes to actually be successful instead of people being cannon fodder and just getting mowed down," he told UPI.
Discrimination is one of the main obstacles facing African-American-owned businesses, and one reason why those businesses need special attention, both Templeton and Jordan told UPI.
Templeton said that "discrimination in access to capital" was an especially major issue for African-American entrepreneurs.
Tara Smith, President and CEO of TM Smith & Associates, a Cincinnati-based market research firm, said that a lack of capital was indeed one of the main problems when she founded the company with a partner in 2000.
"I pretty much used my own personal money and what I had," unable to get a loan, she said. "I pretty much operated paycheck to paycheck. It was rough."
Although her company originally had six employees in line with Templeton's suggested business plan, Smith now runs the company alone, unable to afford help.
But Smith said she does not feel those difficulties are a result of her being African-American. "Discrimination does exist--I am not saying it doesn't -- but was I ever in a position where I felt that I had been discriminated against? I can't say yes."
Smith attended Templeton's speech in Cincinnati, and told UPI she thought Black Business Month sounded like a good idea, although "I wasn't sure who had adopted it."
"We have a lot of work to do -- it has to happen," Smith said. "I think that black business owners have been a missing element in our economy."
Copyright © 2001-2004 United Press International
Wednesday, August 11, 2004