To really celebrate Black History Month? Start by patronizing Black-owned businesses

Members of Harrisburg's Young Professionals Color at the July 19, 2019 screening of 'The Lion King' (Capital-Star photo by Anwar Curtis)

By Michael Coard

Exactly 94 years ago in February 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, of which he was a co-founder, first celebrated Negro History Week, which had been publicly announced in 1925. It was renamed Black History Week in 1972 and ultimately became Black History Month in 1976.

In 1912, Woodson- later recognized as the “Father of Black History”- became the first person of enslaved parents to receive a Ph.D from Harvard University. While a student at that elite Ivy League school and attending a lecture there, he was told by one of his professors that Africans and African-Americans “had no history.” Instead of merely getting angry, Woodson got even and did so through researching and organizing.

A little known fact about Negro History Week is that, as noted by ASNLH (now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History- ASALH), Woodson “never viewed Black history as a one week affair. He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. It was in this sense that Blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary.” Also, he “believed that Black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame. He spoke of a shift from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.”

As a result of Woodson’s and ASALH’s meticulous research, as well as the meticulous research of African-centered scholars such as Marimba Ani, Molefi Asante, Henry E. Baker, Charles Blockson, Michael Bradley, Jacob Caruthers, Cheikh Anta Diop, Asa Hilliard, Yosef Ben Jochannan, Edward Robinson, J. A. Rogers, Ivan Van Sertima, Frances Cress Welsing, Chancellor Williams, and many others, we now know that Africans and African-Americans not only have history but also have the oldest history on the planet along with some of the greatest discoveries in world history and some of the greatest inventions and innovations in American history.

You want proof? Here’s documented and irrefutable proof of just some of those many discoveries, inventions, and innovations:

• The First: Africans were the first humans on this planet beginning 200,000 years ago in the Nile Valley region of East Africa. It was not until about 170,000 years later- which was only 30,000 ago- that the first white human being came into existence.

• Agriculture: Nabta Playa and Bir Kiseiba region of Egypt (accurately known as Kemet) 9500 BC

• Air Conditioning Unit Design: Frederick Jones 1942

• Algebra: Egypt/Kemet by Ahmes, circa 1500 BC

• Calculus: Egypt/Kemet by Tishome, circa 1500 BC

• Coffee: Ethiopia 1600 AD

• Cotton: Eastern Sudan 5000 BC

• Dry Cleaning Process: Thomas Jennings 1821 (The first Black person to receive a U.S. patent for an invention)

• Elevator (Modern): Alexander Miles 1887

• Geometry: Egypt/Kemet by Tacokoma, circa 1500 BC

• Home Heating Ventilation System: Alice Parker 1919

• Home Security Alarm Video System: Marie Brown 1969

• Ice Cream: Augustus Jackson 1832

• Light Bulb (Modern): Lewis Latimer 1881

• Lock (Modern): Washington Martin 1889

• Potato Chip: George Crum (aka George Speck), circa early 1850s

• Refrigeration (Frozen Food) Transport System: Frederick Jones 1949

• Remote Control/TV Programmable: Joseph N. Jackson 1978

• Telephone Blueprint: Lewis Latimer 1878

• Thermostat Temperature Control System: Frederick Jones 1960

• Traffic Signal (Traffic Light Forerunner): Garrett Morgan 1923

• Trolley/Electric Railway: Elbert Robinson 1893

Those great discoveries, inventions, and innovations make it clear that Black folks have the brain power and the initiative to create and to get the job done. So why won’t white people hire us for jobs at their businesses?

Well, at the outset, I must admit that I don’t need or even want no damn job from white people. But if I did or if any other Black person does, we shouldn’t be precluded from getting one. However, many of us are precluded throughout the country- including right here in Philly. Here’s the undeniable evidence.

Whether we try to work at white businesses or try to start our own businesses, racism always rears its ugly head. For example, as I reported here in the Tribune in 2018, the “Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council (PBCTC)… is the same group of Mummers and suburbanites who, in 2016, was responsible for nearly 65 percent of small, city-funded construction projects having absolutely no Blacks on the workforce.

None.

And as of 2013, which is when the most reliable figures are available, about 80 percent of the PBCTC carpenters, electricians, painters, etc. were white.”

And as reported last year by Ernest Owens in Philadelphia Magazine, “Only 2.5 percent of businesses in Philly are Black-owned, despite Black people making up 43 percent of the city’s population… [while] white people- just 34 percent of the population in Philadelphia- own a whopping 76 percent of the businesses in the city.” That was outrageous in 2019 and still is in 2020.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council must do more, much more, to resolve this blatant and indefensible inequity.

The Black unemployment rate remains close to 20 percent citywide and is at more than 50 percent in some neighborhoods.

And of the Black folks who have been hired in Philly, their households earn only around 60 percent of what white households earn. It gets worse in that the Black poverty rate here is nearly 35 percent.

While we’re waiting for the city government to “do the right thing” to right this inequitable economic wrong, we

Black folks need to “do the right thing” ourselves. And we can easily do it by starting our own businesses if we have the resources. And for the Black folks who don’t have the resources, we must religiously patronize Black businesses. And we can locate many of them by Googling “Black-Owned Shops” at visitphilly.com and “Philadelphia Black Biz Directory” at beechinterplex.com.

But most important, we gotta stop supporting white-owned businesses that don’t support us. If they don’t hire and promote Black employees and don’t advertise on Black radio and in Black newspapers, we must stop patronizing them.

As I noted here in the Tribune on September 10, 2016 in part one of my “Philly Jim Crow Hiring” series, I have begun to contact all of the major employers in the city to determine if I should publicly expose any of them on my upcoming “Show & Shame” list.

Accordingly, in order to determine who should and who should not be included on that list, I will reach out (and in some cases have already reached out) to Urban Outfitters, CVS, Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, City of Philadelphia (primarily but not limited to its Rebuild Program and Project Labor Agreements), Comcast Corporation/Comcast Spectacor, Aramark, Crown Holdings, Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania/University of Pennsylvania Healthcare, Einstein Healthcare Network, Jefferson Health System, Bayada Home Healthcare, Kennedy Healthcare System, United Parcel Service, The Vanguard Group, Acme Markets, SEPTA, and several others.

Respect yourself by celebrating Black History, by demanding Black employees at white businesses, and most certainly by patronizing Black businesses. All of this must be done all day, every day.