The National Black Chamber of Commerce recently announced the July 19 death of its co-founder Kay DeBow Alford. Highly focused, efficient and determined, DeBow Alford was the linchpin of the Chamber, defining multitasking to its highest degree.
Kay, as she was affectionately known, was named Kayanne at birth on December 12, 1957 to parents Charles DeBow Jr. and Aurelia Jane Stuart in Indianapolis, Ind. She seemed to be born for business leadership, coming from a family of known educators and entrepreneurs. Kay’s father was one of the first four Tuskegee Airmen, serving in World War II. Kay’s maternal family were the Stuarts, who were entrepreneurs, owning several successful businesses in the greater Indianapolis area.
A graduate of Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, she received her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Bloomington. She began her professional career at Colgate-Palmolive in Detroit, Mich. It was in Detroit Kay met husband-to-be Harry Cicero Alford Jr. After a short courtship Kay and Harry were married.
The Alfords made their home in Indianapolis. Kay pursued government work and at the height of that work she became the director of marketing for the Hoosier State Lottery in Indiana. The couple also became entrepreneurs owning several video stores and private ventures.
Through their business experiences, the couple early on realized there was a need for a national connection. They began locally to fill the void of a Black business organization by founding the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce in Indianapolis which evolved into the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) when they moved to Washington, D.C. in 1994.
The NBCC was crafted from the empowerment principles of Booker T. Washington, the business acumen of Congressman Parren Mitchell, and enforced by the father of affirmative action, Arthur Fletcher. The Alfords took the business mission to new heights. The organization, comprised of chapters throughout the United States expanded its reach internationally to France, Mexico, England, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Kenya, and Ghana.
Kay coordinated and singlehandedly organized and produced the national and international conventions and conferences. She helped guide the NBCC, assuring its participation in business discussions on Capitol Hill and their interaction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“The business community lost one of its champions with the passing of Kay DeBow Alford. Co-founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce with her husband, Harry Alford, she was the power behind the scenes of the many accomplishments of the NBCC,” said Dorothy R. Leavell, who served as a board member and previous chairman of the board of the NBCC.
Kay was a devoted wife to Harry Jr. of 41 years and the mother of twins, Harry III and Thomas, both successful sportsmen and businessmen. Her abounding love stretched out to her grandchildren; brothers, Charles Henry DeBow III and William Weir DeBow; sister, Natalie Jane; nephew Jonathon C. DeBow and countless nieces and nephews.
Services will culminate with burial in Shreveport, La.