to the real success of black businesses. One major stumbling block is access to capital. “Dallas still has tremendous unrealized potential in the business sector for African Americans, but we need the resources to take black businesses to the next level,” says Peter Lewis, 43, who specializes in commercial litigation and commercial bankruptcy. He moved to the city in 1981 armed with an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Columbia University. “I still don’t see as many of the multimillion-dollar businesses owned by minorities that you’d expect to see in the year 2000, but I am encouraged. We need to break the barriers to getting more financing.”
Plugging into black power
It’s no secret that Dallas was once considered a bastion of white conservative wealth and racism. But after a string of racially motivated incidents in the late 1980s, the mayor at the time, Annette Strauss, appointed a committee to study the underlying causes of the racial problem. Appointed to co-chair the committee was former Dallas Cowboys football player Pettis Norman. “The conclusion we all came to was that minorities were simply not participating in the economic, social and political bounties of our city,” says Norman, now the owner, president and CEO of PNI, a multimillion-dollar petroleum fuel distributor and transport company with 41 employees.
“The No. 1 problem in Dallas at the time was race relations,” says Norman, who was familiar with how Atlanta dealt with its problem
s by bringing top business owners together with that city’s blacks. He tried to create a system based on the one in Atlanta. After much discussion, in 1990, he and others in the African American community developed the Dallas Together Forum. The organization was initially composed of 31 of the city’s top CEOs.
“We developed a covenant spelling out the agenda for increased minority business in the city’s economic structure,” explains Norman. “We didn’t want to talk with the vice presidents. We wanted the heads of the companies. We talked about race relations, did diversity training and impressed upon them the need for inclusion. It has really paid off. To date three-quarters of a billion dollars have gone from their companies in the form of contracts or business to minority firms.”
Surfing the social scene
How do African American newcomers connect with social happenings? One way is to hook up with Dallasblack.com (www.dallasblack.com), a Website that features a weekly newsletter, book clubs, organization and church directories, an alumni association page and listings of other black-oriented activities. “We felt we needed centralized information for the African Americans that are starting to move here from places like Chicago, New York and D.C.,” notes co-owner and co-founder Lavida Samuel. Three years ago, she was working as a reliability engineer at Abbott Laboratories when she took a transfer from Chicago to Dallas. “Technology from a career standpoint is big in Dallas and that is why a lot of African Americans come here,” she says. Sites like Dallasblack.com help newcomers add another dimension to their personal lives as well.