by Lou Cespedes
I am a building professional and I work in construction. A few days ago, in a conversation with a colleague, we discussed the challenges of performing professionally in specialized knowledge fields. He’s a law graduate and I‘m an architect by training. He and I went to college on scholarship, and we both live in Brooklyn. As we discussed the abyss black professionals and entrepreneurs find ourselves in, a few thoughts came to mind. We are only operating in the position of “middleman”. We have to be creators of wealth instead.
In my field there aren’t many black builders. You would think that if you owned a development company, you’d be all set, but no – that’s not the case! When one makes a building, you depend on many other products and service providers. You need vendors that sell products like floors or windows, you need expediters, structural and mechanical engineers, and lawyers, each with specializing in their respective disciplines, helping to procure building permits and best practices. Downstream in the supply chain, you need manufacturers that produce raw materials like screws and adhesives, paper products and accessories. Similar silos occur in almost any service sector.
“Black Owned” is a term that is circulating among the business community. Mostly it’s directed at consumers to encourage buying at black owned small businesses. This is a good thing. But a greater awareness is needed in the downstream supply as well as the point-of-purchase. In other words, it serves us in nothing if you buy a beauty product with black images that is owned by a white transnational. The beauty product you need to purchase must be made by black owned manufacturers and delivered by black owned vendors. Here we have much work to do, and while it is the greatest potential for our growth, it also represents the greatest risk. Without risk, there is no reward.
If you are black restaurant owner, are you purchasing your produce from black farmers? Is it practical? Will your customers pay for that? Have you built in distribution to make that a possibility? Do you have enough economies of scale to make it economically sustainable? What if you are a black owner of a beauty supply store? Are you selling products made by black cosmetic entrepreneurs like Pat McGrath Labs or are you selling Kylie Jenner? Do you know where the ingredients in your products are coming from? Are you selling “tested” goods with lab ratings, quality controlled and traceable back to their source? White owned cosmetic companies can do that.
What is needed to accomplish this are black scientists, engineers, lawyers, and venture capitalist, that can help us build and expand supply side, and we also need to hire black owned ad-agencies, talent agencies, and production agencies like VNF Productions here in Brooklyn, to brand and manage messaging and target marketing to black and white consumers alike.
To WIN we must create a financial instruments and legal network that will help us understand how money, both cash and in-kind WORKS. We need black-owned accounting firms, appraisers, and banks, hedge fund managers, and financial service consultants. One thing that makes all these things accessible today in black communities is that “digital” now allows us to create these structures without bricks and mortar.
These things can be done slowly and incrementally. But critical mass is needed in each of these enterprises. So, we must begin small. Yes, you should go to the black owned coffee shop. If you own the coffee shop, you should buy your coffee wholesale from a black or Latinx processor and distributer that buys coffee made in a country where black folk or indigenous folks harvest the beans. You should sell cookies, cakes, and bread from local black bakeries.
Ultimately you must serve black consumers, and those people need jobs to make & buy what you are selling. What is critically important about “Black Owned” is that we need to qualify and retain black dollars circulating in black communities. You must “hire black” “promote black” “build black” “sell black” and “buy black”. If you want to matter, your BLACK MONEY MUST MATTER first!