We must fight again for progress

The Great abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglas made it clear to us, \”Power concedes nothing without a demand… There must be a struggle.\” Such is the way of the world. Even the Biblical hero David understood this when he was confronted by the giant Goliath. The twelve year old Black child didn’t flinch and plead for mercy. He popped a rock upside the giant’s head and the rest was history. Any positive \”sea change\” in the status of Blacks in this world has come from some type of noticeable struggle.

Columbus discovered the new world for white Europeans in 1492. By 1525 slavery of Africans and their trafficking to the new world was in full swing. It continued until we finally decided to fight it and endure the struggles through that vile slavery, Jim Crow and apartheid. We had to fight to end it. It is now 2008 and that formula has not changed.

I make it very clear to white conservatives who question the motives of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Our mission is to temporarily level the playing field for progress whenever the opportunity presents itself. I guess I could scare the mess out of them if I were to say, \”We are going to tilt the playing field our way for the next 500 years like you have done to us and then we can call it even\”. But no, instead I say, \”Whenever the playing field is level we succeed, not only succeed but excel just like we do on a basketball court or football field. People of African descent are the most resilient human beings on earth – history shows it.\” I enjoy doing this at every opportunity because it is true and it irks them so. They are actually afraid of us. This is why an \”angry Black man\” is the most feared but effective status in cultural America? Muhammad Ali is the best example of that.

Something that I will proudly discuss with my grandchildren will be the Katrina Recovery. The government issued No Bid Contracts to the \”fat cats\” and left Black businesses in the cold. I remembered my mentor, Parren J. Mitchell, teaching me that we must get to the \”table\” and when we do make sure you REPRESENT so that our people won’t end up on the \”menu\”. I finally got my opportunity to visit President George W. Bush at the White House about the situation and I looked him in his eyes and said, \”Sir, what has happened with this procurement is wrong, terribly wrong and has blocked my business owners from any opportunity. Mr. President, we can’t sit by and take…\” (My voice increasing in passion). He interrupted me and said, \”Harry, I agree, it is wrong, and I encourage your business owners to go back to those holding these big contracts and they will see a different attitude. They will also see a different FEMA and HUD will respond accordingly. Let me know if they don’t.\”

What we saw in the next several months was over $2 billion dollars in contracting to Black firms working the Gulf Coast Recovery. It was a very, very sweet victory. Let me also give credit to Congressman Bennie Thompson who finally said \”Enough!\” and used his position as Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson was perhaps the Most Valuable Player in what he forced the Governors of Mississippi and Louisiana to do with HUD funding – in terms of diversity in contracting. For this, the backlash was immense and he was pushed out of HUD not for malfeasance but for doing the right thing. Yes, in any battle some good \”warriors\” will fall. But the most important thing is that we win the majority of battles and the culmination of the war.

So now here we are with the Economic Bailout and the same jive is happening right before us. Thus, we are going to fight again – oh yes! We must fight. The Bailout allows for No Bid Contracts just like Katrina (can you believe that?). There will be no Black businesses getting contracts if we allow the status quo. This was done with the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus’s approval. The NBCC is putting together a \”War Plan\” and will initiate it within the next few weeks. Hold on for the ride because we are not going to be subtle. The CBC will be a good ally in the end as they become aware of the facts – we are getting ripped off once again.

It is time for angry Black men and women to rise again. There must be a struggle. It’s like what Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter wrote and Sam (Gooden) and Dave (Moore) delivered to us: \”I got what I got the hard way; so baby don’t you sweat; ’cause you ain’t seen nothin’ yet; I’m a Soul Man; I’M A SOUL MAN!\”

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.