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August 27, 2014, 5:06 pm

Black business’ success is up to us

During my attendance at the 2011 Congressional Black Caucus event, I participated in an economic empowerment panel discussion produced by Hazel Trice-Edney (www.triceedneywire.com). In addition to the honor of being selected to speak, I also had the pleasure of working with a Black entrepreneur, Mrs. Stacie Banks, owner of Lee’s Flowers (www.leesflowerandcard.com), a 65-year-old business on historic “U” Street in Washington, D.C. Those who know me and have read my column over the years know that I am a staunch unapologetic advocate for Black businesses; so to spend time with Lee was an opportunity on which I could not pass.

My deepest thanks go out to Hazel Edney for thinking enough of my economic message to invite me to be on the panel. Someone said, “To teach is to learn,” and I certainly learned a lot from the other panelists as well as from those in the audience. Our topic centered on banking, in general, but we also discussed entrepreneurship and how it can lead to economic empowerment. Sitting on a panel moderated by Derek Dingle of Black Enterprise Magazine, alongside the residents of Black-owned banks and a former professional athlete-turned-entrepreneur was an honor.

Unlike the workshops, receptions and other events at the CBC Conference, my work with Lee’s Flowers was an “eye-opening” experience — and it was hard work too. Up at 3:00 a.m. to get the flowers loaded and delivered to the convention center for the CBC breakfast, a two-hour break and back to work again preparing the table centerpieces for that evening’s dinner, at which President Obama spoke. Four hundred tables! We started at 10:00 a.m. and had to be done by 1:00 p.m. because the Secret Service came in to do their thing at that time; we finished at 12:55 p.m.!

Those of you who attended the CBC breakfast and dinner probably noticed the beautiful flowers on your table. I am proud to say they were designed, assembled and placed by a local Black business that won the contract from a national Black organization; now that’s what Blackonomics is all about! We should do much more business like this.

Because most of you would never know what it took to produce and place those beautiful centerpieces, and while the business owner was not looking for credit or recognition (She and her crew stayed in the background), it is important to acknowledge this and other instances where Black events hire Black businesses, and where those Black businesses do an outstanding job.

In addition to the annual aggregate income of Black people in this country, Black folks also control billions of dollars in contracting opportunities via sororities and fraternities, Masons, Shriners, churches and other nonprofit organizations. Wouldn’t it be great if more of them were to seek out and do business with Black companies when and where they have the opportunity? I commend the CBC for hiring Lee’s Flowers; I am sure they were quite pleased with the results. Can’t wait for next year.

You know, the real story behind the scenes of what took place during the CBC weekend was entrepreneurship and what it takes to be successful in business. I am sure there were many businesses — especially Black-owned businesses — that supplied goods and services to the CBC. Most often overlooked, or at least unnoticed, is the work that goes into the events we attend. Of course, we help pay for those goods and services, but isn’t it nice to know that some of the money you spend to attend various events goes to your brothers’ and sisters’ businesses?

In my estimation, we tend to take entrepreneurship for granted, or we have a skewed perception of its rewards and the work it takes to survive and thrive as an entrepreneur. Most of us have limited knowledge of Black-owned businesses and the role they have played in this country even as far back as the 1700s, and especially during what Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker calls, “The Golden Age of Black Business,” 1900–1930.

Our businesses and individual entrepreneurs have been relegated to the background in many cases, even during Black History Month, and we need to change that by learning more about them and teaching Black business history to our children. One of the most important things we can do to achieve economic empowerment is start and grow (emphasis on “grow”) Black businesses.

The work of dedicated entrepreneurs often goes unnoticed and unacknowledged, and the details of their work are difficult to see — but they live their lives and take care of their business, irrespective of who sees the true picture of their value and their contributions to our economy. The owner of Lee’s Flowers was not “grumbling, moaning and complaining”; she was working, and hiring others, and circulating Black dollars, under very difficult physical circumstances. It would have been great if the president had acknowledged that; but he didn’t know either.

It’s not always what’s out front — sometimes another important story can be found in the background. — (NNPA)