Representing your constituency - reciprocity for those you serve

John E. Harmon, Sr., IOM | 4/16/2017, 5:15 p.m.
In last month’s column, I shared with you the current state of the African American community in New Jersey. Specifically, ...
John E. Harmon, Sr

In last month’s column, I shared with you the current state of the African American community in New Jersey. Specifically, the 66,000 African American business owners of which only 7 percent have employees, and the double digit employment and poverty rates which give the impression that there is no clear cut agenda to increase the economic standing for the 1.1 million African American members of New Jersey’s population.

Fortunately, the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ) is focused on doing its part to position African American residents and businesses for a more equitable stake in New Jersey’s economic prosperity. However, this effort requires a greater involvement of all members of the community including business owners, policy makers, civic organizations, media, faith-based groups, etc. Some may say this representative body is already engaged. My response is, I agree, but much more is needed, i.e. more energy, focus, unity and an increased effort to foster coalitions that could potentially make the difference.

As I pondered writing this column, I concluded that nothing is done effectively without committed and sustained leadership. Someone or an organization that hears the issues, derives the strategy, aligns the constituency then musters courage with execution to achieve the desired goals. This led me to share with you a brief synopsis of two mayors that were successful in achieving the aforementioned for its constituency, notwithstanding a series of personal problems by Mayor Berry. Those two African American leaders were Maynard Jackson, three term Mayor of Atlanta, Ga. and Marion Barry, three term mayor of Washington, D.C.

“In 1974, Maynard Jackson, became the first black Mayor and at age 35 the youngest person ever—to be elected mayor of a major southern city. He served two consecutive terms as mayor of Atlanta, termed out and returned to be re-elected with 79 percent of the vote. During Jackson’s first two terms in office, the governing regime of Atlanta was placed firmly into the hands of its black citizenry”. In his victory speech, Jackson—Atlanta’s first black mayor—addressed an enthusiastic audience and said, “We have risen from the ashes of a bitter campaign to build a better life for all Atlantans,” Jackson was quoted as saying in the New York Times.

Jackson restructured government by diversifying the representation on boards and holding forums within neighborhoods to ensure community involvement. “In his role of leading Atlanta through the difficult transition years from predominantly non- black leadership to a more equitable power balance, Jackson earned a reputation as an aggressive and outspoken mayor.” There were many representatives from the business community who were offended by what seemed to be a “black involvement-at-any-cost” attitude. During plans for the proposed airport in the 1970’s Mayor Jackson refused to move forward without equitable participation in the construction of minorities.

This bold leadership helped to position, then Atlanta based, paint contractor, Herman Russell, under Jackson’s initial term to a prime contractor status when the Olympics were hosted in Atlanta in 1996. Russell’s firm continued to have success and sustained capacity even after his death in 2014. The firm under the leadership of his son participated in the recently constructed $550 Million African American Museum in Washington, D.C. Many stated that Jackson’s efforts to make Atlanta more inclusive rewrote the city’s history. Additionally, Mayor Jackson leveraged affirmative action programs to improve social conditions and housing for the poor. He also transformed the mass transit system and expanded convention facilities.