growing up in East Orange, New Jersey, and with so many mouths to feed, money was tight and there were times when my parents struggled to make ends meet. I learned a few important lessons that underscored the significance of residents and local businesses establishing a bond for communities to flourish.
My father established a line of credit with the butcher. So, instead of paying when I had to get groceries, I would simply tell the man behind the counter, “Put it on my father’s bill.” Each time on my way home, I marveled at how convenient it was to shop for groceries. Of course, what I failed to realize at the time, but understand quite clearly now, was that the relationship between my father and the butcher was one of trust and co-dependence. The butcher was a part of my community, and he knew my father would settle his bill, making it easy for him to extend his “store credit” to our family.
What strikes me most about this “communal way of thinking” is how both parties benefited. The butcher had a regular customer who supported his enterprise, and my father always had food to feed his family — even when he didn’t have money to pay right then.
This model of co-dependency serves as an example of why the relationship between African American residents and local black-owned businesses is vital to rebuilding black communities. We’ve lost this relationship over the last 35 years, and it’s time we rebuild that trust.
Community rebuilding efforts involve collaborative action from residents and businesses in supporting youth programs; calling for action from local churches; and using a portion of family wealth to strengthen communities, one of the principles of our Declaration of Financial Empowerment. In our recent online poll of BLACK ENTERPRISE readers, we asked what group is most responsible for rebuilding black communities. Slightly more than half of respondents agreed that accountability lies within the community itself. This speaks to both residents and local business owners.
There are many examples of how public-private partnerships are revitalizing communities. Two-time Grammy winner Kenneth Gamble, who along with Leon Huff, penned hits such as “Love Train,” and “Me & Mrs. Jones,” led the charge to clean up the ghettos in his hometown of South Philadelphia (“Wake Up Everybody,” December 2002). From education and affordable housing to promoting entrepreneurship and creating jobs, Gamble and his company invested time and money to effect social change in South Philly through economic and educational improvement.
Across the country, economic redevelopment is taking place in communities like San Luis Obispo County in California and Prince George’s County in Maryland. In Prince George’s County, where African Americans make up 62.7% of the population, local initiatives are attracting investors interested in the increasing wealth of the black middle class. County Executive Jack B. Johnson, one of only two African Americans to hold the position, is spearheading new programs to help retain minority businesses and to foster further business growth. Even in predominately white San Luis Obispo County,