By Ronda Watson Barber
Advocacy has its costs. Advocacy is hard work and it is not for the weak. There is a price to pay for speaking out against injustices. I was saddened to hear the Columbus NAACP is redirecting its efforts in the nation’s 15th largest city. One of the civil rights organization’s national strategic plan game changers for the 21st century is economic sustainability. I am disappointed that local Black-owned businesses did not stand below those speaking up for them. A basic NAACP membership is $30. The NAACP is a membership-driven organization. Is there a sense of entitlement for their services? Is someone else supposed to advocate more for opportunities for your business than you? The local NAACP leaders are not able to justify the time and efforts to continue to fight for contracting opportunities without support for Black businesses.
I feel their pain. Some days, I wonder why am I fighting for Black businesses to get a piece of the government contracting pie. Heck, I can’t convince folks to buy a $20 monthly advertisement in OhioMBE. Those same businesses will call and ask for resources or directions on how to get a contract. I am being sued in federal court for advocating for Black-owned businesses. I’ve appealed to my 10,000+ subscribers. Only a handful of readers contributed to my costly defense of the First Amendment.
I have witnessed the local NAACP branch work for change in contracting. Because of the efforts of the Columbus NAACP, there are inclusion goals on the construction of the new Franklin County Jail. The local volunteers have partnered with the City of Columbus to establish two Community Benefits Agreements, which provide opportunities for the local workforce and the Black-owned businesses on local construction projects.
The Columbus NAACP engaged Columbus City Schools to become more inclusive in its purchasing and challenged the state’s largest public district to meet its 20 percent disadvantage business purchasing goals. The district was successful during the 2018 school year. For the fiscal year 2017-2018, Columbus City Schools spent $102,255581.02. Locally economically disadvantaged businesses received 19.5 % of contracts. Fifty-six Black-owned businesses were awarded $12,942,170.32 Some barriers to contracting opportunities for Black-owned business still exist within Columbus City Schools. The most glaring is the requirement that vendors obtain general liability insurance in order to be registered as a vendor. If a business isn’t listed in the district’s vendor’s database, Columbus City Schools will not alert them of contract opportunities. No other Central Ohio governmental entity has this requirement or barrier.
Economic development is important to the Black community. We need to develop and grow Black-owned businesses who employ Black people. Some Black folks are not employable and business ownership is a viable option for self-sufficiency. Black children, need to see entrepreneurship as a way to create opportunity and wealth.
Black-owned businesses are important. We need advocates. How are you supporting those you speak out for your business concerns? Is it still going to be business as usual? What will you do when the dedicated advocates get tired and quit? What’s your commitment to economic stability and development in the Black community?
Just my thoughts…rwb