Let’s get focused

John E. Harmon, Sr., IOM | 3/24/2017, 6:02 p.m.
Coming into the New Year following the election of our 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, I ...
John E. Harmon, Sr

Coming into the New Year following the election of our 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, I felt compelled to use my column to help keep the African American community in New Jersey, as best I could, focused on leveraging our collective abilities to set our course, while implementing strategies to advance a transformative agenda. My first attempt at this was to remind the readers in my January column of the consequences of elections-- whether you are on the winning or losing side, there must be a plan to sustain yourself and your family. In the following month of February, I sought to speak directly to the anxiety that was evident in some of the social gatherings I attended or observed in various forms of media. The election of the new president and what he has represented to date has kept people talking. However, the other part of this narrative was, can the African American communities afford to remain on the sidelines and be reluctant to engage this new administration because of potential ramifications from peers and societal opposition? This is what I deemed as a paradox for many African Americans both in New Jersey and throughout the United States.

So my response to what has transpired was to assemble a group of six small businesses in Trenton on January 26, 2017 and an audience of approximately 200 people, many of whom could be potential customers of these businesses, and fostered a dialogue. I opened the event with words of appreciation, because, I was not sure who would show up, and then followed up with my thoughts on the State of African Americans in New Jersey.

Specifically, there are 66,000 African American Businesses in New Jersey, according to the US Economic Census, of which only 7% have employees. Also, African Americans have the highest poverty rate in New Jersey and the United States, followed by double digit unemployment in New Jersey. Moreover, many of the municipalities and school districts where African Americans live and vote have procurement budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars annually, yet very little of the potential residual economic income deriving from opportunities, under leadership of their representatives, impact businesses in our community. I then went on to support my opening statements with the following example. According to the 2016 Nielsen Consumer Spending Report, African Americans in the United States, spend over $1.3 trillion dollars annually. Furthermore, according to a number of sources; there are approximately 2.0 million African American businesses in the United States with gross annual revenues between $150- 200 billion dollars. Now, conservatively, if you subtract the African American annual consumer spending of $1.3 trillion dollars from African American business revenues of $200 billion, there exists a deficit of over $1 trillion dollars between African American businesses and their own consumer base.

These statistics led me to the first question I posed to those in attendance, “Who is responsible for closing this $1 trillion dollar spending gap within the African American community?” While the audience pondered their response to that question, I immediately asked another question; “If you elected African American officials to represent your interests in the communities in which you live, pay taxes, and raise your children, is there an expectation, if you have a registered and qualified business, that some economic opportunities should potentially come your way? “Needless to say, the audience became more engaged in what followed.