Why Black Chambers Are Necessary for Equitable Business Ecosystems
I joined the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce (GDBCC) in 2010, searching for mentorship and community. The GDBCC had been started in late 2008 to support Black entrepreneurs and their businesses, so I was eager to be a member. As a relatively young Black entrepreneur, I wanted to be in an environment where I could learn from more seasoned Black entrepreneurs around best methods and practices. I also yearned for a community to mitigate the loneliness of entrepreneurship, and to remind me that the sacrifices were worth the efforts.
I was blessed to have landed in Durham, NC for college, stumbling upon a community once known as Black Wall Street. What began as my search for mentorship and community quickly morphed into a quest for understanding what had made this community so special in the past, and how to reimagine and recreate that success. Over the years, our work with Black entrepreneurs and their businesses taught us a lot of lessons about the kind of business climate that was necessary to produce outstanding Black entrepreneurs and Black businesses in the late 19th to early 20th century, as well as the conditions that led to a lack of shared prosperity, gentrification, and inequity.
Some key lessons learned included that in order to meaningfully support the growth and development of the Black business ecosystem, we would need to impact Durham’s economic development planning and execution that was rapidly engaged in reshaping Durham’s high growth, high impact life science community. We saw the ways that growth was affecting Durham’s economy, housing, and other sectors. As such, we quickly began to seek economic development contracts with both the City of Durham and Durham County. This seemed promising because it overlapped with both the City’s goal of shared prosperity via economic development and the County’s goal of inclusive economic development. The process in seeking a contract was grueling and many doors were impossible to open, even when the decision makers were themselves Black. After consecutive denials from a previous Durham County Manager, I once offered to provide annual economic development services to Durham County via GDBCC inclusion and consulting, representing small businesses and especially Black businesses for $1. Even that offer was rejected and didn’t even receive a response or consideration. These experiences were a real case study in understanding what systemic racism, internalized racism, and white supremacy culture are and feel like in practice.
Despite these barriers, we have continued working to find new ways to build a healthy Black business ecosystem in Durham while also working to support the growth and development of Black entrepreneurs and Black businesses. While we still haven’t gotten an economic development contract with either the City of Durham or Durham County, we have been able to continue our support of Black businesses and small businesses in Durham. In response to the pandemic, the GDBCC provided technical assistance to small businesses seeking help with improving general business development skill sets and assistance with their grant and loan applications. Our engagement highlighted systemic and institutional inequities and a wide information gap that prevented Black businesses and small businesses from accessing resources for recovery. Since then, we have worked with the US Black Chambers, SBA, and Durham County to provide small business counseling and technical assistance to help close those gaps for the small businesses and Black businesses in Durham by being a voice and a resource.
Being a voice and a resource for the Black business community is as important as ever. Programs that are designed to remediate racial inequity often fail to do so because of their broad scope in execution. We recently celebrated Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week, which has been a staple week of events in Durham for the last 20 years. When the City of Durham leader behind the program retired last year, the city's plan this year was to shorten the week to only one day. As not just a voice, but a resource, the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce stepped in as the anchor host for the rest of the week, maintaining the historic programs that signaled a commitment to growing and developing minority business enterprises, and adding new ones. We worked with partners to design new, rich programming. The week featured a minority business fair, an event on MBE policy and legislation, a minorities in construction event, and an annual reporting event. Participants and presenters included minority business owners, governmental agencies, large corporations, US Congress members, State Senators and Representatives, Local Commissioners and Councilors, and much more. The week of events was attended by approximately 300 people.
This experience highlighted the importance of organizations like the Greater Durham Black
Chamber of Commerce that are fully representative of and committed to the growth and development of Black businesses. While a governmental agency may not fully understand that a big cut in programming would signal disinvestment and a lack of commitment to growing and developing minority business enterprises, the Black Chamber did understand that and was able to avoid that outcome. Black Chambers, across the country, are best positioned to understand this and ensure inclusion in economic policies and strategies, and they must be utilized as such. The engagement also highlighted the need to prioritize the voices of minority business support institutions broadly, but especially in regards to efforts that affect those communities.
We remain committed to pursuing an economic development contract with the City of Durham and Durham County, ensuring that there’s a fundamental level of diversity, equity, and inclusion in how we grow our economy and create economic opportunities for all Durham citizens. We are convinced that this is a key step in pursuing economic inclusion in pursuit of economic equity, as history has taught us that Durham’s economic growth does not include a plan for Black business growth. The Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce and Black Chambers across the country are helping to change that, ensuring that our towns, cities, and regions are dedicating the time, space, and resources necessary to ensure that shared prosperity is not a tagline or a dream, but a real plan for our future that starts now.
CJ Broderick is the President/CEO of the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce (GDBCC) and a Senior Racial Equity Consultant at The Equity Paradigm. Since 2010, he has led the GDBCC's mission of supporting the growth and development of Black entrepreneurs, Black businesses, and the Black Business ecosystem. CJ is grateful to work with an extraordinary team and a talented Board of Directors, in partnership with and in support of an truly remarkable membership.