The Pro-Black Business Agenda Marches On

Empowering Black enterprise now, in order to strengthen Black communities today…

by Lord Mic Williams, Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce
Lord Mic Williams

There is much to share regarding the progress of the pro-Black business agenda that it would easily exceed the parameters of this space. With that in mind, I will stick to something a bit more introductory. While some are put off or even threatened by the notion of a pro-Black business agenda, rest assured that it is wholly in lockstep with the capitalistic principles that have made America a global leader. It is simply articulated to shore up long-established racial disparities and bring measurable equity to Black communities throughout Illinois and beyond.

Crippling Pandemics
Our country is being ravaged by pandemics that cripple our health and threaten the realization of the American Dream and a more perfect Union. Yes, multiple pandemics! I’m referring to both the scourge of COVID-19, as well as the longstanding economic assault on Black businesses and communities. The healthcare pandemic, less than a year old, continues to reap harrowing numbers of infections and casualties, as well as economic turmoil—and it has hit Black communities especially hard.

On the other hand, the assault on Black businesses has spanned well over 100 years, and the instability it has brought upon Black communities is well documented. It also sparked a nationwide hate network that has perpetrated unconscionable acts of violence against Black businesses and communities. These acts were so far beyond the pale that they spurred federal legislation—from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which passed the House in February 2020. 

The century-long lapse in “doing the right thing” is clearly indicative of a normalized attitude and culture of racist subjugation that still pervades nearly every bastion of American life. Just consider that, according to the Brookings Institute, the net worth of a median white family was nearly eight times greater than that of the median Black family in pre-COVID 2019—well over $180,000, compared to a paltry $24,000. These are real numbers and real people. We have to ask not only how such a chasmic disparity came to pass, but how we can work to close the gap.

Empowering Black Enterprise
Black America should not be expected to languish into oblivion waiting on that answer. That’s why the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce (ILBCC) exists: to empower Black enterprise now, in order to strengthen Black communities today. We achieve this in a variety of ways—first by supporting strategic capitalistic endeavors with our national, state and local federation and corporate partners. We also provide resources for our members through 10 standing industry committees: Banking & Financing, Contracting & Construction, Energy, Health Care, Information Technology, International Trade, Marketing & Communications, Retail, Sports & Entertainment, and Youth Entrepreneurship & Education.

Another key way in which we promote the Pro-Black business agenda is by advocating for legislation and policies that represent Black business interests, such as the “Sheltered Market” initiatives and Executive Order 2018-07. The Sheltered Market is a longstanding Illinois procurement code that creates structured contracting opportunities among state agencies, exclusively for protected classes. Executive Order 2018-07 is intended to ensure representative contracting in state procurement. It requires all companies that receive state tax breaks to report how much work they did with minority- and women-owned vendors, and was intended to reinforce the African-American Fair Contracting Commission, also convened by executive order in 2018. 

Our ethos at the ILBCC is “Relationships + Transactions = Transformation.” Through our capacity-building workshops, clinics and forums, we strategically help to strengthen our constituents’ ability to engage in healthy professional relationships. Our “Live Matchmaking” sessions offer finely tuned, one-on-one relationship-building sessions between targeted counterparts. From these encounters, we compile critical data to further advance those relationships and ensure their sustainable transactionality. Finally, we track and celebrate important transformations through our marketing and media network. 

This is an oversimplified punch list of how the ILBCC accomplishes a very straightforward goal. While a cacophony of moving parts must be orchestrated in order to successfully meet our targets, our team relishes every opportunity to serve the Black community. 

Fulfilling Our Initiatives
In spite of COVID-19, the ILBCC was blessed to continually provide services over the past year and fulfill many of our 2020 initiatives. Our annual state conference, held across two days in December, exceeded expectations. With a stellar lineup of panelists, high-caliber content and live networking opportunities, many attendees reported that our flagship event was among the most impactful experiences of 2020. Sessions ranged from the “Utilities and Energy Symposium,” featuring the CEOs of top firms, including Richard Mark of Ameren Illinois, to “Contracting with State Agencies,” which offered strategies to engage more Black vendors in government contracting. 

“Re-Imagining Healthcare for the Black Community,” featuring moderator Dr. Jeffrey Sterling of SIMPCO (Sterling Initiatives Managed Preventive Care Organization), brought together top physicians and community healthcare advocates to focus on preventive and promotive health services that can help eliminate healthcare disparities. (Get more details at SIMPCOIllinois.com.) Several of our industry groups are still cueing up their own forums, and we’re excited to roll out our virtual symposium platform in 2021 as we work our way toward the new normal.

The ILBCC expresses heartfelt gratitude to Infrastructure Engineering, Ameren Illinois, IDG Architects, Peoples Gas, Ardmore Roderick, Doug & Diane Oberhelman and Cullinan Properties, Nicor Gas, ComEd, Camelot, and all sponsors of the 2020 conference. “Thank you so much for seeing us through this year’s capstone event in high fashion,” notes ILBCC president Larry Ivory. “You helped make the 2020 ILBCC State Conference a success.” 

Despite a few hazy situations looming, we believe the clouds are clearing and horizons are bright for Illinois’ Black business community, so stay tuned and stay engaged. We look forward to sharing more updates on the evolution of the pro-Black business agenda with you. PM

To learn more about the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce, visit ILBCC.org or call (309) 740-4430.

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