Black Chamber Demands Economic Justice


Amid the hustle and bustle of a downtown Detroit in transformation, African-American business owners, along with other minority-owned companies, stood in harmony at a recent press conference to make a compelling case for inclusion in the city’s expanding economic rebirth.

Organized by the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC), the press conference made it loud and clear that Black businesses, women-owned businesses and businesses representing an array of other ethnicities all want an end to the systematic lockout process that’s keeping these businesses from becoming a part of the economic resurgent in the Motor City.

“Billions of dollars in economic growth has occurred in Detroit over the last several years,” said Tony Stovall, president of the Detroit Black Chamber of Commerce. “In a city that is more than 80 percent African-American and has more than 32,000 Black-owned businesses, this situation is deplorable and must change immediately.”

Ken Harris, president and CEO of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, echoed Stovall’s sentiments: “We have skin in the game but are not full partners in Detroit’s economic growth. Shockingly, up to now, no one is advocating the need to include Blacks, women and other minority-owned companies in the economic boom in the city. This is absolutely unacceptable in 2013.”

Harris pointed to such major redevelopment projects that are being planned, or that are already ongoing, to include the construction of a new hockey arena and entertainment district, the M-1 Rail Line, public lighting initiatives, and road infrastructure and construction initiatives, all of which will constitute billions of dollars in economic windfall and growth.

According to Harris, there are more than $3 billion worth of public and private economic development and commerce activities in Detroit. He said that many contractors contend that they can’t find qualified, metro Detroit minority-owned companies to do the needed work for redevelopment and economic projects.

“That is an excuse,” Harris said emphatically. “We (the MBCC) have amassed the largest Black and minority-owned business databases in the United States.”

Harris announced that the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce will release an economic blueprint and fairness doctrine for the city of Detroit during MBCC’s Urban Economic Conference, to be held on Nov. 7, 2013 at the Renaissance Center. The report, said Harris, “will lay out an aggressive strategy for fairness and oversight as it relates to sustaining economic growth and fostering inclusivity of African-American and other Detroit-based minority businesses.”

In addition to the doctrine, Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP, announced that the branch of the storied civil rights organization will release corporate and business report cards in the first quarter of 2014, which will monitor and report on the inclusion, or lack of inclusion, of Black and other minority-owned businesses in the city’s economic redevelopment.

“It is a travesty of economic justice to pay witness to all of the development in this city that is absent of African-American and minority participation,” said Anthony. “It is offensive in a city composed of over 83 percent African-Americans that the doors of economic opportunity are being rapidly closed to the local citizens. While we welcome new investment, construction, and development at every level, we are compelled to remind the governor of this state, the emergency manager of this city, and both the mayor and city council that “we want in.”

Wayne County Sheriff and mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon was on hand and said that “people of good will must be serious about diversity and the inclusion of African-Americans and other minorities in all economic opportunities in the city of Detroit.”

Other stakeholders in attendance agreed.

“It’s important that we let contractors and others involved with creating economic opportunities know that people of color must be involved in all commerce that goes on, not only in Detroit, but throughout Michigan and the United States,” said Art Blackwell, a local radio show host, entrepreneur and political consultant. “We must be included.”

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