Yours for the Taking

BY JOHN E. HARMON, SR., IOM, FOUNDER, PRESIDENT & CEO
AFRICAN AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE OF NEW JERSEY
609-571-1620 INFO@AACCNJ.COM

Through this awakening, what should Black men and women who possess the requisite skills to pursue desired career opportunities do: corporate board seats or to grow their business enterprise? We should just seize the moment!

As I often reflect on the greatness of our ancestors and their many contributions to the United States, the most envied country in the world, I smile and express my gratitude for that legacy. For those who arrived in America in 1619 shackled to the bottom of a vessel, forcibly removed from their native land and culture, forced to generate wealth for those who enslaved them. Once emancipated in 1863 and again in 1865, a multitude of my ancestors immediately headed north for what they envisioned was a better life.

Booker T. Washington was the most influential spokesperson for Black Americans between 1895 and 1915. In 1900, Washington founded the National Negro Business League (NNBL), an organization whose mission was to teach entrepreneurship, capitalism, and free enterprise to those inspiring individuals who had worked for years without wages, and would be now afforded an opportunity to write their own narrative.

The NNBL consisted of 40 chapters between Maryland and Texas. Several of the fellows from NNBL settled in Greenwood, Oklahoma and later contributed to the establishment of Black Wall Street in 1905, an enterprising community of thriving Black businesses, which consisted of a bank, hotel, post office, hospital, barbershop, doctor and dentist’s office, retail shops, and movie theater. Many of the homes of these establishments had indoor plumbing while many of the white residents had outdoor bath facilities. This way of living for approximately 10,000 Blacks came to a violent end during the Tulsa Race Riots.

Ironically, the death of George Floyd has sparked an outpouring of outrage that led to a flow of resources from philanthropic entities, financial institutions, and state and federal government seeking to mitigate relations and false perceptions of the value of Blacks and their abilities, and a host of structural impediments that keep Blacks from partaking in the US Economy in an equitable way.

Through this awakening, what should Black men and women who possess the requisite skills to pursue desired career opportunities do: corporate board seats or to grow their business enterprise? We should just seize the moment!

If what I just described resonates with you, seize the moment with an immediate call to your Black Chamber of Commerce: your partner for success. Washington’s vision remains relevant today and I encourage your engagement. The mainstream business community has aligned with this strategy, i.e., there are over 141 chambers of commerce in NJ – each of these organizations are laser focused on public policies, and initiatives that lead to economic opportunities and wealth creation. The United States Chamber of Commerce (USCC), the largest business federation in the world was established twelve years after the formation of the NNBL.

As a people, we have demonstrated great resolve over the years; through slavery, lynching, racial Segregation, and Jim Crow Laws which were meant to marginalize Blacks, by denying them the rights to vote, and access to other opportunities.

As a testament to the enduring Legacy of Greatness, Blacks have amassed an annual consumer spend over $1.4 Trillion Dollars annually; they have also elected this country’s first two-term Black president and first Black woman vice president. It was also a Black woman, a virologist, whose research led to the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine; while another Black woman, Mellody Hobson, was recently named co-CEO of ARIEL Investments, a company with $15 billion under management. Hobson also chairs the Board of Starbucks and lastly, had her name etched on a building that was formerly named after Woodrow Wilson on the campus of Princeton University.

I challenge every Black person who reads these words to seize this moment and pursue your dreams with all you have – success is in your DNA and the possibilities are yours for the taking!