SEWE: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same, Unless…

By Barney Blakeney

Unless someone takes the initiative, Black business will continually be left out of economic opportunities such as the recent Southeastern Wildlife Exposition as well as the annual Cooper River Bridge Run.

Last month, the annual three-day Southeastern Wildlife Expo was held in Charleston creating an estimated $50 million economic impact. I asked Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Manager Ruth Jordan what was its economic impact in the city’s Black business community. “I can’t answer that question until a survey is done,” she responded.

I asked Jordan the same question last year after the 42nd annual event of the Cooper River Bridge Run was held April 5. Her response was similar, her office doesn’t keep statistics on the number of Black owned businesses in the city, Jordan said. Last week she said so many special events such as the recent Food and Wine Festival are conducted in the metropolitan Charleston area most Black owned businesses aren’t even aware of them. And though the City of Charleston maintains a registry of about 300 women and minority owned businesses (down from about 435 last year) the city is unaware of how much they are impacted by those events, Jordan said.

In a 2018 interview, William ‘Bill’ Saunders, founder and CEO of the Committee On Better Racial Assurance (COBRA) and former WPAL radio station owner said an aging generation of business and community leaders is disappearing from the Black community. 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. That’s not happening in the Black community, Saunders said.

“I don’t think our leadership even knows what’s going on,” Saunders said. “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,” he said.

For that same story, Charleston Trident Urban League Executive Director Otha Meadows said, “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.”

Two years later not much seems to have changed. Jordan said last week, “Festivals are reoccurring all the time. Black businesses must get plugged in.” That may be easier said than done. One business resource said, “People come here looking for lodging, gas and food. But how many of those businesses are Black owned?”

After last year’s Cooper River Bridge Run, Jordan’s predecessor Theron Snype said there simply aren’t enough Black owned businesses in existence to capitalize on the special events that bring millions of dollars into the local economy. Jordan added, “We know billions of dollars will be spent in the coming years. We have to figure out what businesses we should create, what our business community will look like. Our traditional kinds of businesses – mom and pop restaurants and beauty salons will all be gone soon.”

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