The Apprentice Becomes the Master

By RL Witter

When Dr. Randal Pinkett appeared on my computer screen via Zoom a few days before Christmas 2020, his megawatt smile and Kwame Jackson necktie let me know it was going to be an energetic and engaging interview. Clad in a three-piece suit with copies of his latest book, Black Faces in White Places: 10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness displayed behind him, he was ready to discuss a variety of topics from economic justice to Donald Trump, to combatting the isolation some African Americans feel in their quest for achievement and excellence.

An Advocate for Economic Justice

Pinkett’s face is likely familiar to you. A successful CEO, author, sought-after public speaker, and former college athlete, his accomplishments and appeal stretch across the spectrum of business, activism, and entertainment. It would be hard not to recognize him as he is seemingly everywhere, striving to do good for everyone. Our conversation took place shortly after Dr. Pinkett’s passionate testimony before the New Jersey Legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Justice and Equal Opportunity. Pinkett was approached by Pastor David Jefferson of Metropolitan Baptist Church, who Pinkett described as “a dear friend, fraternity brother, and kindred entrepreneurial spirit for economic justice in NJ connected to Senator Ronald Rice.” He jumped at the opportunity to testify chuckling, “The topic of small business, minority business, women- owned business in New Jersey? You might have to shut me down!”

Pinkett’s passion for economic justice originated more than thirty years ago as a teenaged college student and entrepreneur. He and three Rutgers classmates began what would become BCT Partners. “Our first venture was selling compact discs and donating the proceeds to high school outreach,” he recalled. “I think about the challenges we’ve experienced… I think about the extent some of those challenges, if not many of them, are particular to the state we all love and have great fondness and affinity for, I cannot help but make it easier and better for the next generation of entrepreneurs who have the same dream we did and that the trails we’ve attempted to blaze have not been blazed in vain.”

“My advice: establish a strong identity and purpose… We think of identity being your anchor; it grounds you. …being proud, rooted, and grounded in your Black identity and culture —seeing it as an asset, not a liability. Identity is your anchor, it grounds you. Purpose is your compass, it guides you. So, when the winds are blowing, it’s one thing to be anchored, it’s another thing to say which direction are you going so when people say ‘No, you can’t go there,’ you say ‘Yes, I can go there.’”
— Dr. Randal Pinkett

Well-versed in New Jersey’s history regarding minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs), Pinkett aims to pick up the dragging feet of local politicians’ and hold them to the fire regarding broken campaign promises and an abysmal record of support for MWBEs. “I’ve witnessed governors McGreevey, Codey, Corzine, Christie, and now Governor Murphy and all of them just watched,” he explained. “The New Jersey MWBE set aside program was disbanded in July, 2003 because a lawsuit was filed that deemed the set aside program unconstitutional because there was no disparity study to prove minorities and women were disadvantaged. So, the disparity study was commissioned in September of 2003; they finished the study in June, 2005 — 15 years ago. Not a single governor has acted on that disparity study in 15 years.” He continued, “I’ve seen 17 years of talk. And I’m tired of talk. So, I continue to grind and as an entrepreneur create wealth, despite the circumstances in New Jersey. My partners and I would’ve been better served to leave this state and we probably would’ve done even better someplace else than we’ve done in New Jersey. And that is a pitiful, sad statement.”

A Man with A Plan

One part of Pinkett’s plan to bring about economic justice and parity is a matter of simple brilliance. “I think we give people the opportunity to walk the walk after they’ve talked the talk and if they don’t, we vote them out. If you don’t do the job, we’re going to call you out,” he said. “Black folk used to come to politicians and beg for stuff. Then they came to the table and started asking for stuff. Then they came to the table and started expecting stuff. And now Black people are coming to the table demanding stuff. We’ve seen Black women demand that Biden put more Black women in his cabinet. When was the last time you heard Black people say, ‘DEMAND’ to a politician? That’s maturity. That means we’re evolving.”

Pinkett’s solution also includes an increased focus on entrepreneurship in minority communities. “One study suggested 7 out of every 10 millionaires made their millions by owning a business, which means if we want more wealth in our communities, we need more business owners. That’s not just for the sake of creating wealth for the entrepreneur; it’s also creating wealth for their families, their descendants, and the job creation they’re going to engender…” Age also factors into Pinkett’s theories on entrepreneurship. He advocates for entrepreneurs starting as young as possible saying, “There are two benefits to starting young: you’ve got little to lose because you’re already broke. And second, you have a lot of runway to fail and fail again and again and succeed.” On the other hand, he calls on older people to step into entrepreneurship as a second act. “…Going into entrepreneurship, like at the age of 55-60 or 65 and still having 20 years to be an entrepreneur and leverage the relationships they had in corporate; or to take the money they made in corporate and invest in Black start-ups.”

A gifted public speaker and a man with ideas and ideals, a political future seems like a good fit for Pinkett. “I could see it down the road,” he said. “Maybe I’ll be like a Michael Bloomberg and once I’ve done all I want to do in business, I’ll parlay it into politics, but I can’t see it any time soon.”

Looking ahead to the work yet to be done, Pinkett reflects on the work that has brought him this far. “BCT’s mission is to provide diverse insights about people that lead to equity. BCT has been a 20-year experiment for the four of us… can you make a dollar and make a difference? Are we out here trying to do good or are we trying to do well?” He continued, “We’re the largest Black-owned business in Newark and second largest in NJ. But our mission has never been more relevant than it is in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd murder. and we’ve never been stronger, more mission-driven, more striving.”