The quest and struggle for improving the quality of life in Black America has had its ups and downs over the past 100 years. It is no secret that one of the most important keys to the advancement of the living conditions in Black America is the fundamental issue of sustainable economic development. The truth is that we have made some economic progress during the last century. But the overall quantitative rate of economic well being for African Americans has been too slow and not large enough to make a big positive difference in the state of the Black American economy.
During the past five years, however, there were very high expectations that having the first African American president would be that one historic threshold to be finally crossed into the ‘promised land’ of economic progress and wealth-building throughout Black America. Of course, we have not yet entered into that promised land.
Some would argue that our expectations were too high. Others would posit that the history of racial discrimination and economic inequality was just too deeply rooted into the structural and institutional fibers of American society to be overcome at a faster pace. To the dismay of millions of African Americans today, the unemployment rate is devastatingly high, disproportionate mass incarcerations are increasing, and poverty appears to be expanding exponentially.
As we prepare for the New Year, I believe it is advisable, however, not to retreat into a state of disillusionment because of our current economic circumstances. Yes, there are real problems, issues and challenges that must be confronted directly in order to push forward. There are also real solutions that will require all of us to participate in helping to improve the present and the future.
There is an old African proverb that says before you jump into the river to fish, first seek out its depth with facts in your head and hand. One place to get some facts about the economics of Black America’s consumer spending power and wealth potential is to read and study the excellent national report issued by Nielsen titled ‘Resilient, Receptive and Relevant: The African American Consumer 2013 Report.’
According to Nielsen senior vice president Cheryl Pearson-McNeil, the companies that benefit from the large Black consumerism should have more substantive economic relationship with our community. McNeil emphasized, “With a current buying power of $1 trillion, manufacturers and marketers should be paying careful attention to the shopping patterns of African American consumers.”
The fact that we now spend in excess of $1 trillion annually means that we have to be more conscious about not just ‘where’ we spend our money, but also about ‘how’ we spend that much money. We are grateful to Nielsen and to the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) for this informative report. It is not a strange question to pose: How it is that we are trillion dollar consumers, but the majority of people in our communities remain in the misery of poverty?
My whole purpose again is not to engage in cynicism or finger pointing. I believe that the time is overdue for a local, regional and national discussion about how to take advantage of the opportunities to engage in the economic reconstruction of Black America. President Barack Obama is doing his job well in helping to lead the substantive recovery of the American economy. We have to do our part to focus on overall the economic development of our communities and businesses. Let’s look in our own mirrors. Let’s strive to see how we can be our brothers and sisters keepers with what we already have in our own hands and pocket books.
I asked Ronald Busby, the president/CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., to give me three things that could lead to the economic revival of Black America. His reply: “We have to be better prepared for economic development in terms of education and business planning for future expansion; We have to build greater capacity of our existing businesses in our communities with more capitalization and increasing employment by our businesses and We should take advantage of mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures to respond to the opportunities that are rapidly unfolding right in the heart of our communities.”
That is also exactly what Reginald F. Lewis, our first African American billionaire, said to me about the potential to sustain economic development in Black America.
“We should not underestimate our own economic potential,” said Lewis. “We have to first prepare and then execute a comprehensive plan for the long-term economic development of our communities with contacts nationally and globally.”
(Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is president of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached <www.drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc>.)