Black Civic Leadership
"This is a Black Stream of Thought" Vol: 3 No: February 2023 Atlanta Civic Leadership Development
This COVID epidemic clearly proves it is all about the Benjamins, as documented by the fact that every person, enterprise, and even church lined up for support, large, small, Black white, rich, poor, etc., for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other federal dollars! It also proves that the lower economic parts are more than equal to the upper parts, even if you call them essential, as a way to differentiate between the "haves and the have-nots."
Without the smaller contributors, the country would be at a standstill today. Driving home the recognition that "As the Black community excels with its essential business, the entire community excels." All parts of a city are affected by the successes of their Black communities. But this epidemic further points out where our Black businesses and people are, in the scheme of things, -----" on the bottom rung and still tend to remain there" due to the decades of conditions that have brought us to this place.
I read recently that Atlanta is the number one city in America in several national publications. This is a wonderful recognition! Atlanta is the land of "Milk and Honey" for many, especially as a potential land of opportunity for Black folk and other minorities. However, contained within these various recognitions are the metropolitan responses to Black business development. The current answers were built upon our major corporation's beliefs, Black business leadership, the local government’s leadership, and the inclusive initiatives based on past experiences, but not inclusive of the Black community's future or Atlanta's developing roadmap to become a progressive city.
Back in the day when Atlanta earned the acknowledgment of a "City too Busy to Hate," we were quietly led by a coalition of larger white and Black business leaders who met regularly to discuss and develop ways to address how to move the city forward in the face of turbulent times. This group no longer exists, and current efforts are singular responses based on their view of what should be. However, this leadership style will not produce a bright future in this competitive world. It will become a selfish response based on corporate needs, not the community or the City of Atlanta's needs.
When you think about it, Atlanta has become recognized as the epitome of a Black people’s success. A success that came about despite white denial and resistance or the plain happenstance led by people who would be denied. If the city is to become a genuinely international civic and economic success model, we must develop a plan. A plan inclusive yet designed for those Black businesses and communities traditionally left out of such thinking as unimportant!
Atlanta has the potential to develop into an actual land of opportunity and a model for accomplishment. Much of what has happened within the Black community is a result of the rich history of Black folk in Atlanta. This history becomes very important when added to today's Black political success and growing economic success. All these things happened because of the grit of the Black Atlanta resident and with no plan of assistance. What would Atlanta be like if it were responding to the attributes of a strategic plan for the Black business and the uplifting of the predominately Black communities?
We must create and grow the Benjamins and use them to lock up our future. Creating a competitive advantage for Atlanta where and when possible. So, let's take advantage of our bottom-rung position and move on from here. With all this money floating around, we need to help direct it so that it provides a Return on Investment (ROI) within our community. We must capture the funds, spend them with Black businesses and organizations, and have an expected but predetermined return.
Finally, smaller Black businesses have a voice and role to play in Atlanta's future. That voice could be enhanced if a Black advisory council could review and comment on political and economic issues and gain views and responses to potential outcomes on behalf of the businesses and communities. The challenge is to make each community and Atlanta an even better city and community to Educate, Live, Work, Play, Worship, and Shop! We should try making Atlanta an even better place and the international model of economic inclusion.
A Black business advisory council might be a way to listen to the voices coming from our Black communities. The committee could be designed not to allow others to set standards for their comportment, goals, and responses based on significant business or others' beliefs but on Black companies and their community's needs to become economic contributors.
However, the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, etc., cannot speak for Black businesses and communities, no matter how many Black leaders a Chamber has on its Board of Directors. They can, however, partner with Black organizations to make improvements. In reality, only the consolidated voice of Black business leaders can talk about the issues contributing to economic parity. Some issues have root causes that large companies have taken advantage of for years and would not readily be willing to change. For example, small business zoning issues differ from corporate zoning issues, and small business team member training that satisfies small businesses' needs is very different from those of major enterprises. Therefore the ways and means to address the issues are vastly different, calling for various resources and leadership.
Nevertheless, Black businesses have a role to play in the future development of Atlanta and in enlarging its competitive base as a city. Black business owners can bring their perspective utilizing the principles they have developed in protecting and growing their businesses. Thus, their voice count represents how we can make Atlanta even more responsive and advantageous to all. When we learn to include the cultural values within these Black communities and their residents in those aspects that make Atlanta valuable, we set the table for others to follow.
All this being said, a new way to meet and treat community economic development is required. No longer should we imitate that which has been redesigned before and has produced limited returns, nor should we make any plans for improvement without a strategy and measurements to accomplish. As Carter G. Woodson said: "We take the position that as taxpayers, every Black citizen of the community should be allowed to make the most of himself." And such an option should not be determined without the forces set to direct the prescribed element to produce a benefit solely for the good of others. Still, it should be determined by the makeup of the community and by what the environment requires.
The idea of a new type of Black/white business coalition is not without merit. It just must be designed to involve all economic elements of our city. Somebody has to lead the development of a new Black/white business coalition and begin to cancel the motives of isolated self-development. This just might be the upcoming job of Black business leaders!