The winner of the U. S. Minority Business Development Agency's (MBDA) Lifetime Achievement Award says the economic fate of America's African-American community "hangs in the balance" because "we are a fourth quarter people".
Michael Grant, president of the National Bankers Association and its foundation, says, "Unlike our Hispanic and Asian brothers and sisters, we had to spend the first three quarters just getting in the game...So you see, all things being equal, our ethnic counterparts came to the game with a different mindset, a different set of circumstances, a different self-image, and already with some capital from back home."
Grant was speaking during a joint press conference with the U. S. Black Chambers, Inc. two weeks after being notified he would receive the Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Abe Venable Legacy Lifetime Achievement Award Aug. 1.
The annual award is meant for a person who has exhibited "high standards of excellence, dedication and accomplishments over a lifetime", said MBDA National Director Alejandra Y. Castillo, preparing to present the award. "This award is granted to two individuals who have played an integral role in the creativity and professional progress of minority business development over the course of their lives."
The late Henry T. "Hank" Wilfong Jr., was also honored with the Legacy Award. He was founder of the National Association of Small Disadvantaged Businesses (NASDB), among a string of pioneering accomplishments that included service to presidents, governors and mayors. It was accepted by his widow, Wyllene Watson-Wilfong, who now runs the NASDB. Castillo said Wilfong was a "voice and trumpeter" for minority business development and stability.
Grant has for decades advocated for African-American economic participation, growth and sustainability. In his remarks upon receiving the award, he credited strategic partnerships for his successes. His activities over the past year alone includes a partnership with the U. S. Black Chambers Inc. and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to encourage African-American organizations to make their deposits in banks owned by African Americans.
Speaking at the press conference, Grant also joined with Busby to call for African-American businesses and consumers to "choose to work and do business as a team" by supporting each other. He described how the African-American community has struggled to attain economic parity only to be surpassed by other ethnic groups. He illustrated this by outlining the annual budgets of the three national chambers and the gross annual receipts of the businesses that they represent. According to Grant:
* The Hispanic chamber has an annual budget of $22 million. The average gross annual receipts of Hispanic businesses is $155,000.
* The Asian Chamber has an annual budget of $11 million. The average gross annual receipts of Asian businesses is $327,000.
* The African-American chamber has an annual budget of $900,000. The average gross annual receipts of African-American businesses is $71,000. And African American-owned businesses received only 1.7 percent of the guaranteed loans from the Small Business Administration last year.
Grant stressed that he did not cite the numbers to create "resentment and animosity" between the groups. He said, in the "fourth quarter" African Americans must break free of the past and strategize to take their place in America's economic mainstream.
During the first quarter - during slavery - "we struggled to prove that we were, indeed, men and women and not chattel, not someone's personal property".
During the second quarter, "we harmonized with the political agendas of President Abraham Lincoln and the radical Republicans to rebuild our lives with a reconstruction movement. We gained some equal protection under the law."
During the third quarter, Grant said, "our social engineers used the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States to mobilize national support - black and white - for equal accommodations and we secured the right to vote."
Today, in the fourth quarter, he concluded, "Our ethnic self-esteem was elevated when President Barack Obama ascended to the highest office in this nation." He said despite agreement or disagreement with Obama, "we needed him to succeed" in both elections for three key reasons:
In a nutshell, those reasons were, first, to prove that "anything is possible if we'll pull together and get on one accord"; secondly, to dispel for all time "the myth that we are not endowed with great intelligence"; and finally, "We needed to see for ourselves the limits of political power alone."
Grant announced that he would continue to partner with the USBC to raise the level of African-American business progress. "We finally have a business-oriented organization, with a clear vision, under committed, intelligent and inclusive leadership that is designed for the challenges of the 21st Century," Grant said of the USBC, whose president, Ron Busby, also attended the MED awards ceremony.
Applauding Grant's award, Busby said his recognition was important to underscore the role that African-American banks play in the economic future and success of the nation.
"Access to capital is one of the number one concerns for African-American owned businesses," Busby said. "And through this partnership and relationships, we feel like we have the solution to be able to increase the number of black firms as well as grow our existing firms."
Also applauding Grant at the MEB Awards Luncheon was former SBA Deputy Administrator Marie Johns, who said she knows he will use the distinction "to help strengthen the great platform that he already has to make sure there is the capital and the resources that African-American businesses need in order to grow, create jobs and help rebuild this nation's economy."
Stressing the daunting task of strengthening minority-owned businesses, Castillo also announced a partnership between Busby's USBC and the MBDA. "We need to bring all of our human capital together to make sure that minority businesses are seen and are regarded and are respected as part of the future; I should say as the integral corner of the future of this great nation," she said.
Grant concluded, "If the past is prologue, I'm betting in the year 2020, many of the economic gaps that exist between African-Americans and other groups will close. All we have to do is choose to work and do business as a team."