Last Tuesday’s election primaries have me examining the state of affairs of minority communities, specifically Black businesses. Watching Rand Paul’s appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show discussing his views about the passage of the Civil Rights bill sent shivers down my spine. My thoughts immediately went to my family and the years they spent fighting for equal justice for ALL Americans in the once segregated south in the 50's 60's, and early 70's. This is 2010; what in the world is going on?
As we have seen more Americans long for the America they once knew, many people of color and historians are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the lunch counter sit-ins and the Nashville Freedom Riders. They are celebrating the ending of an era in American history, when people of color overcame harsh treatments, and which they never want to see again. Ever. No person of color is longing for the days when businesses did not allow Blacks to eat in their establishments and required them to drink from separate water fountains, thanks to the demoralizing Jim Crow laws. When my friends say they want to take back America, I often ask them to expound on that statement. “Taking back America” means different things to different people.
When I called my grandmother ("Mother") this week, I could not help but ask how she felt about the newest media starlets, the Arizona law, and Rand Paul. Mother said something that was from a different perspective: “The Arizona law is a good thing in many ways. Young Blacks who never marched and experienced not being able to vote or shop where they want are seeing that it only takes a mark of a pen to undo what many take for granted every day.” Hearing her words left me dumbfounded, daring not to interrupt, and since I opened up this can of worms, I listened intently while holding my breath.
She continued while I started scribbling her words: “And for those that are older who marched and protested but hate to patronize their own people, Rand Paul’s words should be a reminder of where they come from; that same pen and a few elections can have them revisiting the 60's, looking through a restaurant window while holding a sign that reads 'I am a man.' How many Black people have learned to detest their own community because they think being allowed to shop elsewhere means equality? That was not what your Daddy and others fought with their lives to see happen.”
As her words trailed off, I could hear the sadness in her voice and feel the heaviness of her heart. My grandmother said to me much later in the conversation, “This is only the beginning, more is to come. God blesses us in so many ways. He takes his people out of one form of bondage or another. But folks can end right back in bondage when they forget the price that was paid for freedom. Read your word, many, many examples of this are in there. ” I did.
That conversation with Mother stayed with me throughout the week. My heart became heavy and grieved as well. I looked at signs of “more to come” all around me. Last week’s local election only garnered 20,000-plus voters when we have over 300,000 registered voters in Davidson County. I drove to my children's home, to make sure they voted. They are grown but I feared if I did not physically make them go vote they would “forget.” I was cussing up a storm all the way to the polls but they voted. I sent massive requests on Twitter and Facebook for locals to please vote. I was not pushing a candidate; I was advocating the right to vote. That right is sacred.
Much attention is placed on national elections, but a local election is where you get school board members who can determine the quality of a child’s education or politicians who can block a segment of the community's economic growth by favoring one part of town over another. This is far greater damage than any national leader can do to a community. Two out of thousands responded that they actually voted. God help us.
The two who responded are not only friends but actual longtime business customers. When I look at my database of customers, the bulk of my commercial clients are from Williamson County and many churches are from Shelby County. My Shelby County customers are due in part to one minister, Dr. Whalum, and his push to make sure his congregation does business with me. Many of my competitors in the area ask me often why my regional customer base is so heavily from Williamson County. You and I know why; Blacks doing business with Blacks is a hard sell.
There is no politically correct way to say that, huh? The African American community are the largest consumers of goods and services in the US. We buy more cars, hair care products, clothes, shoes, food, you name it than any other group of people. To marketing and sales executives, lists of African American mega churches and HBCU’s (historically Black colleges and universities) are like harvesting diamonds. They know without a doubt if they get their products, goods or services in front of those two groups alone, they can corner the market.
There is one small catch in the previous statement: the executive better be white. Let’s quit playing crazy and tell the truth.
There are too many businesses and people in North Nashville for North Nashville to constantly need to beg for businesses. How many meetings can one have about doing business in North Nashville when you have a room full of folks who own businesses that do not do business with one another? I am from Mississippi, please explain that to me. With not one but three HBCU’s within a mile of each other that spend millions on everything from toilet paper to lawn care to IT services to consulting services to sportswear, there should be an economic boom around the Jefferson Street area. I cannot count the churches up and down the area corridor that should be part of the growth of businesses as well.
I have always pondered why several of the Nashville area’s majority colleges hold diversity business fairs to try to meet (though they are not meeting) minority spending quotas, while the HBCU’s in the area are given a pass for not hiring many of their own folks for contract work. At the same time, we are being asked to (and should) support our HBCU’s financially. For the few local business owners who are hired, it takes an act of Congress to get paid. What is that about? Come on folks, we got to do better.
This is not a plug for my business, trust me it is not. This is a post about minority firms doing business with each other and building up the Black community that asks for dollars from the Black community. Our community is not the responsibility of the federal government to help make better when Black folks are not doing the basic things to foster economic growth by spending everyday “casual” dollars in the Black community. Often times, more time is spent waiting for others to help out than actually working to help the community.
Daddy always said, “What you value is where you spend your money.” Ouch. I love this city. I love my people. But I deplore when I see Black folks taking each other for granted, then screaming about diversity and business opportunities with white folks. Please…this is a new day. Words that would have been only whispered a few years ago are being shouted out loud. Jim Crow rules are now available in Spanish. As a people, we better wake up and take a look around…”more is to come.” Mother is never wrong!