By Barney Blakeney
I like to get feedback from the stuff I write. Good, bad or indifferent – it lets me know somebody read the stuff. But as I tell young writers, you can’t take feedback too seriously. Especially the positive stuff! The positive stuff helps you to gauge whether you’re on the right track, but the negative stuff helps you gauge where the mistakes are. At the end of the day, in both instances you’ve got to follow your gut. To thine own self be true is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
So I was excited to hear my recent story about Black business participation in the Charleston Bridge Run event got some feedback – until my informer told me I was criticized for playing the race card. Well blow me down! “Barney, everything isn’t about race,” my informer quoted the critic. I differ with that opinion. I don’t think the story was about race. It was about money.
Let me try to explain. I think everything, ultimately, is about race and racism – sad, but true. I believe that since the dawn of man people have made decisions about other people based on race and racism. A lot of those decisions were made to control of land and resources, but the coalitions and alliances developed to facilitate goals almost exclusively were based on race and racism. I’m no sociologist, as Frankie the Big Bopper would say, “I’m just a DJ.” But I believe when you boil away all the bull that explains man’s interaction with man, you’re left with race and racism.
Back to the Bridge Run story, I hoped that story would offer some perspective on the need for the Black business community to position itself to take advantage of economic opportunities that exist. The Southeastern Wildlife Expo brought in some $50 million back in February and the Bridge Run brought in another $30 million. I talked with Black business owners and folks who track that information, and they told me Black business got little of that money. That’s not hard to believe considering Black businesses make up only about 10 percent of all businesses in the region.
My thing is more Black folks must become business owners! And we must create more diverse businesses. We can do more than fix hair and cook food. The opportunities are here. In the City of Charleston, a lot of focus is on redevelopment in West Ashley. The Sam Rittenberg and Savannah Highway corridors are being primed for redevelopment. That’s fertile ground for new crops of Black businesses.
They’re going to do some as yet undetermined things to Citadel Mall. Black folks need to be on top of all of that. We need to hold the city administration’s feet to the fire about Black economic development. Black folks pay taxes too! Proportionately, probably more than other ethnic groups in the city. Charleston is the only municipality in the region which has a designated department advocating for minority businesses. Is it effective? Now Charleston has a brother heading up its small business department. Let’s see what that does for Black business.
I recently talked with North Charleston’s spokesman Ryan Johnson about the city’s Small, Disadvantaged Minority Business Program which has been operating about a year. Its focus is on established small businesses in an effort to help them get more contracts. I guess that’s cool, but again, I think we need more businesses. Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Director and Former Greater Charleston Economic Empowerment Corp. Director Anthony Moore always tell me one of the greatest hurdles for the creation of new Black businesses is getting start-up money.
It bothers me that Black folks put all their money in banks which refuse to lend them their own money. I recently read Black churches nationally, each Sunday, raise $14 million. We take that money to banks which don’t recycle that money in our communities. They lend to whites and discriminate against minorities. What are we thinking?
Now this ain’t Barney being racist – just read the annual Community Reinvestment Act reports. And a local television station last year, or the year before, did an expose confirming the discrimination. Okay, so we know there are powers that be actively working against Black business development, but we can beat that.
First thing is use our own banks. If you have a bank account with a mainstream bank, you need to have an account with a Black owned bank – C.O. Federal Credit Union is the Black owned bank in our community. Take $10 out of your mainstream account and use it to open an account at a Black owned bank. God bless the child who has his own. And we must demand that the banks we invest in, reciprocate that investment in our communities. The local Interdenominational Ministers Alliance meets every Wednesday morning. One Wednesday each month they need to go to a bank and demand some reciprocation for their congregation members.
I’m no economist. I’m just a DJ. I’ve always heard that Black folks sit around the breakfast table and tell their children to go to school and get a good education so they can get a good job while white folks sit around the breakfast table and tell their children to go to school and get a good education so they can create a business!
The port of Charleston is one of the busiest in the nation. The port just got two new cranes to handle the biggest ships in the world coming here after the harbor deepening. The 300 or so members of the International Longshoremen Association will reap mucho benefits, but other business opportunities also will be expanded. Those expansions represent unimaginable opportunities for Black business associated with the port. And when the new port in North Charleston at the old naval base opens in a couple of years, the potential for business growth and development will go through the roof! Right now all Black folks are anticipating from all of that is displacement from Rosemont, Union Heights and Chicora Cherokee.
The same thing’s happening in Summerville and Berkeley County as Volvo and Mercedes Benz get ready to open new plants. Volvo hopes to hire 4,000 employees over the next three years, but I recently read where only four percent of some 1,200 applicants qualified for jobs. County and state authorities are contributing tens of millions of dollars to development of the plant which likely will recruit employees from outside our community. Those 40 or 50 people moving to the area daily, they’re coming here for those jobs!
When it comes to jobs and business ownership, Black folks have to do more work. The opportunities are here, but we must be able to take advantage of them. Are we ready? I don’t think so. Can we get ready? I know so! Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about race, it’s also about money!