Let’s Talk About Inclusion
John E. Harmon Sr. | 3/1/2014, 6 a.m.
As we close out Black History 2014 in New Jersey, let’s not forget the tumultuous journey of our Black Ancestors that were brought to the United States against their will and forced to contribute to its foundational development under some inhumane conditions. The labor and ingenuity of my ancestors gave birth to a strong agricultural and textile industry in America at the turn of the century. The economic gains derived by the plantation owners from the items produced by my ancestors, set the stage for the creation of commodities markets today, where goods are bought and sold daily, leading to corporate growth and personal wealth for its investors. However, the descendants of slaves began to transition and pursue their independence, and embrace the entrepreneurial teachings of Booker T. Washington, and others, many blacks like Madame C.J. Walker and A.G. Gaston who began to establish enterprises of their own and adopted many capitalistic practices of the mainstream. Practices which enabled Madame C.J. Walker to become the first female millionaire amassing her wealth in the hair/cosmetics industry and A.G. Gaston did the same through real estate, banking and insurance. The accomplishments of both Walker and Gaston were quite a feat, given, this occurred during a segregated era, not far removed from a full blown enslaved society throughout segments of the United States.
As, I reflect upon the respective gains of both the mainstream and post enslaved Americans, each group in their own right was productive and worked to become increasingly successful every day.
New Jersey has approximately 8-9 million residents, of which, 12 percent are African American, possessing considerably more education and opportunity than their ancestors. Sixty-six thousand are businesses owners, and there are a significant number of elected officials in various capacities. In many incidences African Americans are the majority population in a number of cities, yet, many of these business owners are unable to compete for structured government contracts like their mainstream counter parts. As a result, many cannot forecast annual outcomes and what percentage of opportunities will fall on their side of the balance sheet. Clearly, something is wrong with this picture.
The economic performance of African Americans in New Jersey is marginalized for a number of reasons. The political representation is too partisan at times to effectively advocate their interest; disproportionally high unemployment and limited access to opportunity, thus contributing to the inability to grow their businesses.
It is my hope that through the mission of AACCNJ we can commence an open dialogue between the African American community, government and corporate sector to determine how we can collectively reconcile the disconnection which impedes New Jersey from being more competitive, thus producing less prosperity for more of its residents
Currently, throughout the state of New Jersey, there are several multi-billion dollar proposals from various state agencies and corporations for infrastructure improvements, affecting energy service and water systems delivery, home and property restoration, telecommunications transmissions, transportation, etc., all of this is happening now, with very little or no discussions about inclusion of African American business owners in a way that could impact their present economic standing.