A 2015 Black History Month Opinion Editorial
By State Representative Douglas McCrory
February is Black History Month. Every year, for twenty-eight days, we take time to reflect on our history and culture. We, Black People, have a very, for lack of a better word, colorful past. A past that goes back, way back into time and tells the tales of a great people that ruled vast lands and stood as great kings, queens, teachers, storytellers, inventors, builders, entrepreneurs, cultivators, naturalists and most of all Family.
Our people have been known for our innate wisdom, quest for knowledge and a dominant strength that is embedded in our souls. These traits have been passed down from generation to generation – used numerous times to challenge and change the course of the history of humans for the better. And there is also a recent period of time that has seen people threatened by our strength, wisdom and capabilities. So much so, they made sure to divide and conquer, destroying families, villages and nations…but didn’t stop there. Black People suffered a great deal under slavery for hundreds of years. We were nearly destroyed but our will to live, desire of freedom and strength to overcome the atrocities of slavery saved us. We saved us! And here we are today.
But where are we really? Yes, a significant amount of progress has been made since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – the end of slavery, the Jim Crow era, the March on Washington, D.C., the signing of the Voting Rights Act and the election of the First Black President of the United States. And yes, Black People have triumphed in so many ways and continue to accomplish remarkable deeds even though it has been a very turbulent and continual struggle but where are we now? They say, “…money makes the world go ‘round…” and this is true. So, I would like to discuss the economic conditions of the Black Community.
To this day, there’s a persistent deep rooted economic gap between Whites and African-Americans. For the last 40 years, our unemployment rate has been higher than our counterparts and there continues to be very low representation of African-American owned businesses. In spite of the huge health inequities, largest achievement gap/opportunity gap for our children, lack of affordable housing and institutional racism there are those within our communities that have overcome these challenges throughout history.
To put this in perspective, I would like to reflect and mention a few African-Americans that have made not only an economic impact on our country but a social and political impact on our lives:
- Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) – Born on a plantation in Louisiana to recently freed slaves, Madam C.J. Walker was the first in her family born free. She turned her struggles and life experiences into a business by creating hair products and performing how-to seminars geared specifically towards the black community. She was the first American woman to become a millionaire through her own business.
- Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) – Born in Jamaica, Marcus Garvey studied the works of Booker T. Washington and the Pan-Africanist ideals and became a leader in the Black Nationalist Movement. Upon his move to New York, Marcus Garvey founded the Negro World newspaper, an international shipping company called Black Star Line and the Negro Factories Corporation. He believed growing black communities could provide the wealth and unity to end both imperialism in Africa and discrimination in the United States. Marcus Garvey’s movement was one of the first to attempt to create black economic institutions and remains a powerful figure in our history.
- Herman J. Russell (1930 – 2014) – Born and raised in Atlanta, Herman Russell graduated from Tuskegee and worked for his father who owned a plastering company. Upon inheriting the company, Russell expanded the business by taking on larger projects ranging from home building to real estate investment. His business grew and by the early 21st century, the Atlanta-based H. J. Russell and Company was a nationally recognized leader in the construction and real estate development industry, as well as the single largest Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) real estate firm in the United States.
- Reginald F. Lewis (1942 – 1993) – Born in Baltimore, Reginald Lewis grew up in a semi-tough neighborhood. At the age of ten, he started a delivery route to sell the Afro American newspaper building his business from ten customers to more than a hundred and sold his route at a profit. A tenacious student, Reginald Lewis graduated from Virginia State University and went on to receive a law degree from Harvard Law School. With a few colleagues, he set up Wall Street’s first African American law firm. He specialized in corporate law. His most profitable venture was when he purchased the international division of Beatrice Foods (64 companies in 31 countries) making him the first African-American to build a billion dollar company.
If you would like to learn more about the aforementioned, go online or to your local library. It is always good to know our history and where we came from. It is my hope that this article will inspire you. There are programs available within the state of Connecticut that provides entrepreneurial support for people interested in starting or enhancing their business. The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) offers the Small Business Express Program (EXP) providing loans and grants to Connecticut’s small businesses to spur job creation and growth. For more information, please contact Michelle Peters at 860‐270‐8052 or go online www.ct.gov/ecd . You may also want to learn more about Connecticut Innovations (CI). They help businesses by offering financing and strategic guidance to help businesses thrive. For more information on CI, call (860) 563-5851 or go online www.ctinnovations.com .
State Representative Douglas McCrory proudly serves the City of Hartford’s 7th District. He holds the title of Deputy Majority Leader and is a member of the CT Black & Puerto Rican Caucus; the Higher Education & Employment Advancement Committee; the Education Committee; the Appropriations Committee and Co-Chair of the Appropriations/Judicial & Corrections Sub-Committee.