Hundreds of African American entrepreneurs and professionals recently assembled for a master class on the power of collective economics. School was in session at the 7th Annual Houston Black Leadership Forum.
Held on the campus of the University of Houston Feb. 16, the event was hosted by the Greater Black Houston Chamber of Commerce and National Black MBA Association –Houston Chapter, along with 25 other local professional organizations. GHBC Chair Courtney Johnson-Rose says the Forum, which has tackled urgent issues such as voting rights and police brutality, this year targeted “economic development through buying black and supporting African American businesses.”
With African American buying power of more than $1 trillion, a growing movement has been sparked in recent years, in large part due to Black Lives Matter, to promote black business development and wealth-building through the recycling of black dollars. And Houston, the site of the 2017 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference, is a prime location for such activity, representing what BLACK ENTERPRISE Chairman and Publisher Earl G. Graves Sr. hails as “the next great black business Mecca.”
Johnson-Rose and NBMBAA chapter President Errol Allen II led the charge, having Forum attendees gain instruction on conscientious consumerism from Maggie Anderson, founder of the Empowerment Experiment and author of Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy. Moreover, the event coincided with GHBC’s recent release of its Buy Black Directory and launch of “Buy Black Weekend” (Feb. 17-20), jointly initiated by GHBC and Unity National Bank, the only such African American financial institution in Texas.
To gain more insight into this mushrooming campaign and its anticipated impact, BE Editor-In-Chief Derek T. Dingle spoke with Johnson-Rose. Here are excerpts from that interview:
BLACK ENTERPRISE: Why is the Forum so vital to moving black Houston Forward?
Courtney Johnson-Rose: This is our seventh forum put on by GHBC in collaboration with NBMBAA – Houston, along with 25 other black professional organizations that include local chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists, American Association of Blacks in Energy, National Association of Black Accountants, Houston Area Urban League Young Professionals and the like. We have come together and formed the Black Professional Alliance, and every year BPA does three things together: We hold the Forum; engage in a Holiday Party and Toy Drive; and [manage] the Houston Black Leadership Institute where we train young professionals, ages 25 to 35. This year, the group decided that our focus is buying black and intentionally infusing dollars into our African American communities. The timing of it is perfect because the chamber has recently come out with the Buy Black Directory.
BE: So you tapped Maggie Anderson of the Empowerment Experience to not only to get Forum attendees to make the commitment to buy black but that doing requires them to embrace a disciplined practice?
Johnson-Rose: We’re focusing on buying black and the economic impact that that could have on African American businesses. As we kicked off the Forum and Buy Black Weekend, Maggie will show that it can be done…that it is possible. She can also share how sometimes it can be inconvenient and difficult but we have to go the extra mile. She gives us the inspiration that we need to try and really be intentional about supporting African American businesses in the Houston market.
BE: What is the expectation for the Buy Black Weekend? How do you gauge its economic impact?
Johnson-Rose: At this point, we do not have a measurement tool that will allow us to really be able to calculate the amount of dollars that are being spent. We have to focus more on publicity of the effort and encouragement of consumer support. So we use social media, and have developed special hashtags like #Houbuyblack and things of that nature to provide exposure and highlight businesses, Chamber members and our communities.
BE: From your vantage point, how will the Buy Black Directory bolster businesses while better serve consumers?
Johnson-Rose: We have 800 members. One of the things that the Buy Black Directory does is put everybody’s name, company and services on the table. We really hope it will be used as a tool for our members to internally network, for our communities to support black businesses or supply corporate diversity managers with a source to help them identify and contract with qualified minority firms. This resource guide will also grow in value with Houston becoming a major attraction for conferences.
BE: One of the areas that we have focused on is encouraging black companies to partner and scale up as a means of pursuing larger corporate contracts. Are such strategic alliances included as part of your thrust?
Johnson-Rose: Definitely. I’m glad that you mentioned that because that’s one of the underlying goals of the Chamber and the overall Buy Black Directory. We want to provide avenues for African American businesses to have the opportunity to actually network, and one of the purposes of providing that network is for us to be able to develop relationships and partnerships. We have several instances where we are setting up opportunities for our members to work with the Port of Houston, which is major here or some of our major energy companies but one business might not have the capacity to actually do that. For example, there was an awesome business opportunity that came about when two large black-owned accounting firms were able to create a strategic partnership [and then became] the prime contractor of audit services for the City of Houston, the fourth largest city in the country. Just recently, my real estate firm partnered with a Chamber member, and we won the real estate contract services for Houston Independent School District. We want our businesses to come together for a stronger opportunity.