The evolution of the National Black Chamber of Commerce – Part 6

Beyond the Rhetoric

Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow ow oped | 8/1/2019, midnight

Our love for each other strengthened during Kay’s rehabilitation. We decided to finalize our relationship with a good old traditional marriage. This was in the Spring of 1981. We chose the last Saturday in the upcoming October. We did not realize it until later that it would be October 31, 1981 – Halloween!

“Trick or treat,” I always say with a smile.

Kay Debow

Black smoke was billowing into our room. Harry was brushing his teeth.

Our balcony was blocked due to construction. We exited our room and the hotel room door slammed behind us. The stairwell was filled with smoke. The hallway was filled with smoke. The hallway was filled with people going back and forth. We crawled on the floor looking for an exit. We came upon an open door. Harry called out to the firemen who signaled “we’ll be there” not understanding the presence of the black ever billowing, suffocating smoke.

Harry tore the locks off the window with his bare hands. It didn’t seem too far to the garden below. I stepped on the ledge and jumped. Harry was more strategic. He lowered himself by his arms first and then jumped.

My spine swelled and formed a “tire” around the back side of my body. But we had to get up and move. People above us were throwing lamps and chairs through the locked windows looking for escape. We later learned that fire equipment could only reach 9 stories of the 26-story hotel.

We had to shout for and then walk toward the ambulance. The first responders did not comprehend the incapacitating smoke. Flames were fueled by flammable furnishings, moldings and construction materials found in the casino. Once in the ambulance we stated we wanted to go to the nearest hospital, which caused us to be transferred to a second private ambulance. And we were rushed to the hospital of the “angels of death”.

Fast forward. In a body cast, left leg in a cast and in a wheelchair. Harry was my knight in shining armor, my Black Panther hero, T’Challa, my Marvel hero Luke Cage. He ripped the cast off from his leg. And pushed me forward.

Harry C. Alford is president/CEO and co-founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Kay DeBow is the executive vice president and co-founder of the chamber. Contact them at www.nationalbcc.org or halford@nationalbcc.org and kdebow@nationalbcc.org

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