Lately, we have been lowering our standards to the point of being "stuck on stupid." A prime example is the recent ownership controversy caused by the new stadium gift going to the owners of the Washington Nationals baseball team here in Washington, D.C. The powers of the "Chocolate City" demanded better local and Black representation within the ownership of the team. This was certainly reasonable as the residents of D.C. were going to be stuck with the bill for building the new stadium from the issuance of revenue bonds. The city is overwhelmingly Black, and Black representation should be realized in any endeavor that the people will have to pay for.
So, when the ownership of the team was unveiled there was a sprinkling of a few Black faces — high profile but just a few. Councilman and former Mayor Marion Barry became terribly upset about the "rent a Negro" approach to ownership. In the end, Barry was proven correct. Despite the showcase and spreads in the mainstream media, the total dollar amount invested by these so-called owners was less than 1 percent. Somehow the community of D.C. capitulated and let the deal go through.
My brothers and sisters, 1 percent is right next door to nothing. Why do we settle for so little? Where is our outrage? What happened to our ability to protest? In a city more than 70 percent Black and a sports game that is more than 50 percent non-White, we allow ownership to be 99 percent White. It is, economically, suicidal.
Cities around this nation are suffering from this low expectation. Philadelphia has a beautiful sports complex. How much of that ownership belongs to local Black residents of Philadelphia? My estimate is, at best, 1 percent. Tax breaks, revenue bond financing by the residents of the city provides treasure troves for the fat cats, and none of the fat cats are us. History will show that these scenarios were some kind of high tech robbery. Stealing from the masses of Black folks for the benefit of a few powerful Whites is something that borders on hell, not heaven.
Over the years, how many record labels, sports teams, movie studios have built empires through the talent and sweat of African Americans? Yet, we have a pitiful piece of the ownership involved in these industries. We settle for too little.
So, let us turn our attention to the biggest opportunity at hand. The rebuilding of the Gulf Coast is before us and we need to seize this opportunity. The contracts that will be generated from the federal government alone will approach $100 billion over the next few years. What share of the business participation will our corporations receive? Well, right now it is about 1 percent. That's right, just like that baseball team in D.C. It is time to turn the heat up and we all must chant our displeasure and utilize the power of our vote to address this matter.
As of March 15, Black-owned firms account for 112 companies participating as prime contractors amounting to about 1 percent of the total. If you want to see just which companies are participating and exactly what states they actually reside in just go to the National Black Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.nationalbcc.org and view the data on the homepage.
Harry C. Alford is co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.