It comes as no surprise that Black buying power is expected to reach $1.3 trillion by 2017. Since 2000, our buying power has increased 86%, fueled in part by the growth of Black-owned businesses and levels of education among the African American population. But who manages these Black-owned businesses, advocating for their existence and growth through federal and state legislation, while also building a sense of community and network to sustain our future?
Insert the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. (USBC).
Historically, Black chambers of commerce have existed on a state level to advocate and support Black-owned businesses within specific localities (e.g. the Heartland Black Chamber or Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce). The Greater Houston Black Chamber, founded in 1935, is the second oldest Black Chamber of Commerce in the Nation. Originally organized as the Houston Negro Chamber of Commerce (HNCC), the collective was founded to “promote the civic, economic, industrial agricultural and social welfare of Houston residents; encourage a larger patronage of Black enterprises and practical education in the trades and arts to stimulate better businesses; and develop a more amicable relationship between racial groups.” Not only were businesses provided with direct support, the group also encouraged voter registration, promoted fair housing and employment practices, and held events. In times of crisis, such as WWII, the chamber’s office served as a headquarter of rations. Additionally, women were actively involved in Chamber operations – holding offices as early as 1957 and appointing the first female Chairman of the Board of Directors in 2014.
But Black collective associations and thriving business economies existed even before the formation of local chambers. In the 1920s, Black Wall Street thrived in an oil booming area of Tulsa, Oklahoma. With hostile segregation separating the Black and White sides of town, African Americans turned inward to build their own thriving economies. In the Greenwood community, more commonly known as “Black Wall Street,” these thriving enterprises included banks, hotels, cafes, clothing stores, movie theaters and groceries. The community was completely self-sustainable and served as an immense source of pride. Not to mention, “Greenwood residents enjoyed many luxuries that their White neighbors did not, including indoor plumbing and a remarkable school system that superiorly educated Black children.”
However, from May 31 – June 1, 1921, Black Wall Street of Tusla, Oklahoma was destroyed in an act of domestic terrorism. Deputized whites entered the neighborhood and killed more than 300 African Americans, burned 40 blocks of 1,265 African American homes, and destroyed what we had collectively built: schools, hospitals, churches and, of course, 150 businesses. In the aftermath, 9,000 African Americans were left homeless and Greenwood struggled to regain its economic footing. Sparked by the accusation that a white woman was sexually assaulted by a Greenwood Black man, a white lynch mob entered the town with guns in tow and in partnership with some members of local law enforcement. Though charges were neither pressed nor filed, the accusation made newspaper headlines and traveled via word-of-mouth – fueling angry white mobs with a call for hate-induced revenge. What ensued next was “one of the most devastating riots in American history. An event that can only be characterized as terrorism.” It’s with this history that Black chambers of commerce exist and must continue to thrive.
The U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. unifies the goals and advocacy strategies of local, Black chambers of commerce into a national infrastructure, promoting a burgeoning voice of Black-owned businesses through unique programming and community building. As an association of over 100 self-sustaining, viable Black Chambers and small business associations, USBC uses collaboration with strategic partnerships to increase leverage, visibility, and impact on policies and programs in support of Black-owned businesses.
In the words of USBC President and CEO, Ron Busby, Sr.:
“The challenges that Black businesses face – any business regardless of race for that matter -is location and access to capital. [But] when small, Black businesses obtain
capital through loans, they either have a high-interest rate or borrowers never receive as much as needed.”
Black businesses need access to capital – but also access to information on available opportunities providing that capital.
On June 14-16, 2017, the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. will host its annual conference in Washington, DC. For three days, USBC will convene successful business owners, chamber leaders, corporate partners, government agencies and national policymakers for an intense series of workshops, panels and networking sessions dedicated to growing Black-owned businesses. With three conference tracks, (1) Chamber of Commerce Executives, (2) Established Business Owners, and (3) Millennial Entrepreneurs, the conference aims to provide resources and connections to entrepreneurs at all stages of development. With speakers including Michelle Ebanks, President of Essence Communications, Inc., Eugene Cornelius, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of International Trade with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and Angel Rich, founder of The Wealth Factory that’s been deemed “the next Steve Jobs,” just to name a few, the conference is sure to be a great resource for minority entrepreneurs. Want to learn more about how you can register for free sessions and help rebuild Black Wall Street? Sign-up today.