Publisher’s Note: Who is looking out for Black-owned businesses?

By Ronda Watson Barber
OhioMBE Publisher

It’s becoming increasingly clear that local Democratic leaders are overlooking the value and importance of Black-owned businesses. There’s an apparent disconnect; it’s as if the significance of Black vendors is being dismissed. While many Black-owned businesses may not contribute to political campaigns or PACs, they are taxpayers, deserving of equal opportunity and respect.

The Columbus City Schools (CCS) as a glaring example. CCS consistently fails to meet its equity policy, spending $322 million on goods and services last year while allocating a mere $8 million to Black vendors. This isn’t just a shortfall; it’s a glaring indictment of the district’s priorities. The challenges extend beyond financial allocations; CCS’s vendor registration process seems intentionally restrictive, aimed at keeping “undesirable” businesses—often Black-owned—out of the procurement loop. Staff and administrators wield an unsettling amount of discretionary power in decisions that disproportionately affect Black vendors. The Capital Improvement department’s refusal to advertise contracting opportunities—based on personal grievances—is not just unprofessional but also detrimental to equitable business practices. Such actions have even led to the Ohio Business Development Center’s planroom refusing to accept CCS construction documents due to rudeness and disrespect from staff.

On another front, the City of Columbus is considering an inclusion policy for immigrants, set to be announced by Mayor Ginther on Oct. 5 at Crew Stadium. The plan is to include non-citizens into the certification program. Will they be a separate catergory? Will they be included in the MBE/FBE goals? What does the disparity study say about including non-citizens into the certfication program? Is the City following the disparity recomendations? How are MBEs being utiltized presently? While inclusive policies generally benefit communities, this move seems set to dilute opportunities for Black businesses already marginalized through systemic racism. Leveraging the hard-fought gains of the civil rights movement to extend benefits to other groups without addressing the longstanding inequities faced by Black businesses is not just tone-deaf; it’s offensive.

The unfolding scenarios beg the question: Do Black-owned businesses matter to these public entities, or are they merely token participants in a system designed to perpetuate inequality? The actions—or lack thereof—of these organizations financed by public dollars are eroding trust and blurring the line between lip service and genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The collective message from these developments is disheartening. Black-owned businesses are not merely an afterthought—they appear to be consciously sidelined, even by entities that are funded by public dollars. It’s a lapse that not only undermines the economic health of Black communities but also raises serious questions about the commitment of public entities to equality and social justice.

Just my thoughts…


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