The Most Important Vote Is Reinvesting in Ourselves

Earl "Butch" Graves Jr., President & CEO of Black Enterprise

You stood on lines for hours. You made phone calls until your voice went hoarse.  And your commitment paid off: Due to your unyielding activity and, most importantly, your vote, President Barack Obama will be in the White House for a second term. It was a powerful demonstration of how WE can turn individual action into collective clout.

As proud as I am about our insistence to stand up and be counted at the polls, I’m equally disappointed in  our approach to proactive economic advancement. Let me make it plain: We fail to support black-owned businesses, and our inaction threatens the basic viability of our communities.

Black businesses overwhelmingly tend to be sole proprietorships. Of the 1.9 million African American enterprises, only a bit more than 100,000 had paid employees, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners. And all but 14,500 had receipts of less than $1 million. Our focused lack of support means these companies will never grow in size and scale. That creates a ripple effect in which they don’t have the wherewithal to hire African American employees—as our businesses are inclined to do—therefore black communities and institutions receive fewer resources. This pattern simply does not represent a model for self-sufficiency.

Over the past few years, Black Enterprise has covered Maggie and John Anderson’s Empowerment Experiment (www.eefortomorrow.com), in which they pledged to spend 100% of their income with black-owned businesses for a year. The Andersons found that in diverse or predominantly white suburban communities, the dollar was recycled for more than seven to 29 days, while, on average, consumer dollars stay in the black community just six hours.

Unfortunately, I am not all that surprised. Whenever I gain the opportunity to address a group of African Americans, I ask whether they routinely employ the services of a black doctor, dentist, attorney, accountant, insurance agent, auto dealer, florist, financial planner, caterer, or dry cleaner. Audience members, on average, use two of 10 such businesses. Even those with the highest scores generally top out at 50%. If you happen to achieve that same level, please don’t puff your chest out with pride—as I recall from my school days, 50 is a failing grade.

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