By Barney Blakeney
2018 won’t produce positive results for Black businesses if the Black business community continues doing as it has in the past – fail to groom and develop entrepreneurs, map out a collective strategic plan and educate its leaders. That’s what three local business leaders said about the upcoming year in Black business.
William ‘Bill’ Saunders, founder and CEO of the Committee On Better Racial Assurance (COBRA) and former WPAL radio station owner said he envisions a worse economic scenario for Black business in 2018 than in past years. “A few of us will do well, but the masses of Black people will catch hell,” Saunders said. And those dynamic crosses socio-economic boundaries expand outside the business community, he said.
“People literally are practicing slavery!” Saunders alerted. “Recent news reports show that human trafficking in South Carolina is flourishing. Some people are literally being held in slavery. But the leadership in the Black community hasn’t acknowledged that. I don’t think our leadership even knows what’s going on. In the past, leadership in the Black community was more aware of what people were going through. Today, there seems to be a disconnect between those in leadership and the people they’re supposed to represent. Today’s Black leaders seem to think holding press conferences and raising hell is enough. We need a plan that goes beyond that,” Saunders said.
An aging generation of business and community leaders is disappearing from the Black community, Saunders said. He compared leadership in other ethnic communities to sand on a beach. Tidal waves of time displace some sand, but incoming waves immediately replaces it, he said. “We’ve got people in leadership positions who don’t have a clue how they got there. They take pride in their accomplishments as if other people didn’t sacrifice and die to enable them to be where they are.”
Charleston Trident Urban League Executive Director Otha Meadows said looking at the past in Black business gives some indication of its future in 2018. “If we look at 2017 and see what it looked like, what wasn’t working, we’ll see we’re still facing the same situation in 2018. There are abundant economic opportunities here. Our business community needs a plan to take advantage of them. What course of action do we need to take? What action steps and who will take the leadership role in implementing? Those are the questions that must be answered in 2018.”
Black business has been sitting on the sidelines being non-reactive as unprecedented business activity is conducted all around the region, Meadows said. But he doesn’t advocate jumping in at the deep end of the pool. Small businesses and mom and pop shops proliferate Charleston and North Charleston urban centers. Few are Black owned, he noted. That’s where enormous opportunities exist, he said.
Central to developing such businesses are individuals with the entrepreneurial ambitions. Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Director Theron Snype said he is encouraged that more aspiring Black business professionals are expressing interest in starting companies, especially in the medical profession, he said. Some unchartered business territory Black entrepreneurs are avoiding are retail and technical services, Snype said. But like Meadows, Snype says the biggest challenge to aspiring Black businesses will remain access to capital.