They don’t have to contract with minority-owned suppliers or dealers if we don’t demand it. They don’t have to hire us, train us or promote us if we don’t demand it. They don’t have to buy advertising in our publications, put Us in their ads or hire us to design their advertising campaigns if none of us is willing to stand in harm’s way to demand it.
Blacks in business have a primary responsibility to take care of their businesses. But they have an equal responsibility to make a contribution, whenever possible, to the economic development of the entire community. We have been disadvantaged as a race of people, so whenever we find ourselves in a position to open opportunities for each other, we must do so, whether that means making the right introductions for someone, serving on the boards of historically black colleges and universities or contributing to the United Negro College Fund.
If you’re going to reap the rewards of success, you have to accept and live up to the responsibilities it brings. If you’re black, that means that eventually, and perhaps frequently, you’re going to find yourself in harm’s way. You may have to stand up in a meeting with your bosses or fellow board members and give them hell for discriminatory hiring or promotional practices or for failing to respect and commit to the black market. You may have to stand up for a fellow minority employee, risking your job in the process.
John Johnson did it for me when he told Chrysler that I was his only choice to succeed him on their board. You better believe I do it on the boards I sit on and within the organizations in which I have a voice. That is standing in harm’s way, and it is all of our responsibility.
Blacks in business must look out for each other, no matter where we are in relation to each other. In other words, you don’t have to be a CEO or corporate board member to make a significant difference. In 1996, BLACK ENTERPRISE named as its Executive of the Year, Roy Roberts, a Magnolia, Arkansas, barber’s son who had risen to be general manager of the Pontiac-GMC Division of General Motors. My staff doesn’t select people for that honor if they haven’t shown a willingness throughout their careers to reach out and help others. Roberts, who has surely done that, offers us a reminder that it works both ways.
Even today, he tells movingly of how more than a decade earlier in his career, when he had just taken over as plant manager of GM’s North Tarrytown, New York, assembly facility, he was confronted by a black employee. Now, Roberts has long prided himself on his relationships with employees. He had spent his first three weeks on this job meeting every one of the workers in the plant. He had even sent each and every one of them a personal Christmas card. So he was more than a little taken aback