When Will We Get Ours

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Jay Black: New Leadership at the African-American Chamber and a New Emphasis

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor

According to Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, when money is initially spent in the majority community, it circulates an uncountable number of times. In a Jewish community, that money circulates an average of 12 times; nine times in an Asian community and six times in a Latino community.

However, when money hits an African-American community it circulates between zero and one time on average, state the Selig Center.

Maggie Anderson, Jay Black and Deborah Barnett

Those are numbers that Jay Black, president of the Toledo African American Chamber of Commerce, is committed to changing, at least in this one particular community. Black, who recently brought to Toledo Maggie Anderson, author of Our Black Year, has been at the helm of the Chamber for about 18 months, preaching the message of “buying black,” from day one.

Is that message getting across, we asked him?

“It’s going great, it’s a message that is resonating with people,” he replies. “Everybody agrees with it, so we are continuing to do what we do. People have been waiting for this type of leadership for a long time.”

Black spent his formative management years with National City Bank before accepting the position of chief of staff with the City of Toledo during the Jack ford administration. After that government stint, he founded JCSP, LLC

While the Chamber, under Black’s leadership, has taken on several issues of importance to African-American-owned businesses, such as approaching publicly-funded institutions to ask them to adopt inclusion policies in their hiring of minority contractors, similar to the types of policies adopted by The University of Toledo, Black’s emphasis has clearly been not on what others should be doing for the black community but what members of the community need to be doing for themselves.

Black’s stance on the issue of black consumers supporting black-owned businesses has not occurred without bringing down on his head the anticipated criticism from those who charge that such a stance is racist. Do the critics have a point?

Not at all, replies Black.

During his 18 months leading the Chamber, Black has opened gatherings that address this topic with a disclaimer that has become rather routine. It’s not racist, he invariably tells his audience. It’s a realism that other communities have come to accept without fanfare.

“Personally I’m tired of it,” he says of that criticism and the need to address it. “As we look at the success of other communities, they all do a great job of supporting each other, but still others call it racist. We are going to continue to promote [this concept]. Factually speaking, we are the most underserved community in northwest Ohio. We have to take responsibility for that. We are just trying to emulate what other successful communities have done.”

To that end came Maggie Anderson to town last week. A luncheon for a select group of Chamber members at Ruby’s Kitchen was followed by a gathering for about 70 of the business community that evening at Club Evolution where Anderson spent about 25 to 30 minutes passionately making the case for African Americans to support African Americans.

“No excuses,” she said of her belief that consumers should go out of their way to find and support black-owned businesses rather than simply take the easy way out and avoid making the effort. Certainly black-owned businesses are underfunded in general, said Anderson, and are often hard to uncover due to less than adequate marketing efforts. Nevertheless, it’s incumbent upon black consumers to take the extra step and find such enterprises if the African-American community is to reverse decades of self-neglect.

The Anderson family’s Black Year, Maggie noted, has evolved into what she calls a permanent lifestyle alteration. No more Sears and WalMarts if the family can find the goods they need with black retailers. Unless, of course, Sears and WalMart themselves make the extra effort to infuse their operations with black ownership or utilize black-owned suppliers in great numbers.

Jay Black echoes those sentiments as he sets about changing behaviors and educating the community  on what it takes to enhance the economic vitality of the whole community.

He does not, however, view the Chamber as being alone in this endeavor. “We are always looking to collaborate with others,” says Black. That collaboration has involved reaching out to a number of existing groups within and outside of the black community. The Chamber, in fact, will shortly be sharing office space with the Toledo Chapter of the NAACP, an organization that has also expressed its desire to focus on the impact of buying black.

He is also seeking greater collaboration with other black chambers around the state of Ohio “to form a state-wide black chamber agenda, part of his effort to recruit “more like-minded institutions.”

For more information on the Chamber,  go to the website at toledoaacc.com or call 419-407-6697.

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