I often use the phrase, “Our history is our future,” to express the fact that everything we need to do today, vis-à-vis economic empowerment, has been done before by African Americans in this country. Just look back at what Black people built in Mound Bayou, Miss., Durham, N.C., and Tulsa, Okla.’s Greenwood District. Take a closer look at what Booker T. Washington was doing with his National Negro Business League; read about Black entrepreneurs in Cincinnati and Philadelphia during the early 1800’s, and you will see the economic future of African Americans is, indeed, grounded in our history.
I wonder why it takes us so long to do what we know is right. In the context of the economic well-being of African Americans, most of us know what “we need” to do. Yet we seem content to discuss, “intellectualize,” meet, and complain about how unfair the system is. For those “we need to…” folks out there, if you see the need, do the work.
One thing most of us know, when it comes to economic empowerment, is that business development—vertical business development—is vital to our economic prosperity. Naturally following the development of businesses is the support of those businesses by consumers. To illustrate that point, I am reminded of what a friend once told me: “Production minus sales equals scrap.”
In the 1800’s, there were many flourishing Black-owned businesses. In spite of the worst brand of slavery ever perpetrated on a people, Black businesses survived and grew. Economic growth was a reality, even in the face of the racial prejudice that existed, because we were determined, and we stuck together.
In 1853, a convention was held in Rochester, N.Y, to discuss “Afro-American Economics.” Slogans like “Buy Black” and “Double Duty Dollars” began at conventions like this one, all over the country. What happened to us since that time? Have we drifted so far from our heritage and from the things that benefit us as a whole? Have we become so selfish and so self-centered that we have completely lost sight of our values toward one another?
Businesses are the foundation of a true community. Our current 2.4 million Black-owned businesses, compared to the 45 million of us, are but a drop of water in the ocean, especially when you factor in the relatively meager annual revenues those businesses take in. We must change that.
Our time should be devoted to starting and supporting business ventures, rather than complaining about how difficult things are out there and how the “Arabs” and Asians dominate our neighborhoods, when it comes to business ownership. We must find common ground to move beyond the stagnation and complacency in which we have been mired for so long. Organization, unity, and mutual support are the keys to our economic freedom.
Cooperative economics among African Americans is an idea that has been around for hundreds of years. It could not be resisted during the early years of American history, and it cannot be resisted today. It is up to us to take advantage of that fact as we move forward. It is time to make individual commitments to “do” something rather than sit back and “let someone else do it.” It is time to stop complaining and blaming someone else for our plight. It is time for us to give up that lame excuse, “There is no use trying to change things, because we are never going to get together anyway.” I don’t buy those tired words, and I hope you don’t buy them either. All we have to do, instead, is buy from one another, for the benefit of us all. The precedent exists; look at it and learn from it.
My primary example of seeing a need and doing the work (although there are several during my lifetime that I could share) is my current work for our people: THE One Million Conscious and Conscientious Black Contributors and Voters (OMCCBCV). Our historical grounding is found in the words of Marcus Garvey: “The greatest weapon used against [Black people] is disorganization.” Thus, we are organized, united, and unapologetically determined to contribute to the economic elevation of our people. We saw the need and set out to do the work; and we will continue that work as we learn from our past and strive for a better future for our children. If you would like to join us, go to www.iamoneofthemillion.com.
Part two of this article will give a deeper look at why and how the system in which we live has caused some of us to be complacent. It will also offer a way to change our situation.
James Clingman is a nationally syndicated columnist and author.