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The Louisiana Weekly: Sen. Landrieu holds summit to close racial wealth gap

By Mason Harrison

September 24, 2012

Boosting Black business performance and creating wealth in communities of color was the subject of a September 19 summit hosted by Sen. Mary Landrieu in Washington, D.C. The two-hour discussion presented ways-including securing government-backed business loans and increasing financial literacy-to buttress the "entrepreneurial ecosystem" for Black business owners and featured input from financial experts, civil rights advocates and other elected officials.

"An entrepreneurial ecosystem is defined as ‘a system formed by the interaction of a community with their environment,'" Landrieu said in a statement about the event. Landrieu and other Black business advocates support the idea that business development in communities of color must mirror similar efforts in other communities where access to funding is more free-flowing.

But achieving better financial outcomes for Black households involves more than just securing capital for business development. "We have to focus on wealth preservation, wealth transference and wealth creation," said franchise restaurant owner Kevin Hicks, calling the three-pronged approach to beef up Black financial health "the three marriages." Hicks cited examples of professional athletes who, at one time, earned millions in their careers who are now penniless as evidence of the need to increase financial literacy in the Black community and ensure that wealth is bequeathed to future generations.

Former New Orleans mayor and National Urban League president, Marc Morial, was invited to participant in the summit discussion and noted his group's efforts to "plunge head first" into the task of erasing the financial disparities that exist between Black and white communities. "We have addressed this issue through our housing, employment and entrepreneurial programs," Morial said, adding, "We have opened 10 entrepreneurial centers throughout the country, including in Atlanta and New Orleans." The centers, Morial said, help to connect small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs to information about how to access capital and for start-up firms and how to grow existing businesses.

Landrieu noted that Black business owners enter the market at a disadvantage when the average Black household possesses just $4,900 in savings or assets that can be used for business creation. "Where are they supposed to get the $10,000 or $20,000 or $100,000 or $250,000 needed to start a new business?" she asked. "What if all of their friends and family are in the same situation that they are and don't have the money to invest into a new business venture?"

The answer, said Lezli Basker¬ville of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, is in maintaining government-backed loans for minority-owned firms. Moreover, continued support for historically Black higher learning centers and their predominantly Black counterparts is critical to ensuring improved Black financial success. "HBCUs and [predominantly Black institutions] employ more than 188,000 employees," Baskerville noted. "That's more than the 177,000 employed by Bank of America." Baskerville said Black colleges and the professionals they graduate are a key part of the economic engine in communities of color and cannot be left out of discussions about Black wealth.

The youngest member to take part in the discussion was 14-year-old Bridgeja' Baker, owner of Creative Jewelry by Bridgeja'. Ms. Baker, a New Orleans native who attends Isadore Newman, was most recently recognized by The SCORE Foundation receiving the Outstanding Minority Owned Small Business award. She has also been recognized by Black Enterprise, Delta Sigma Theta and The Women's Business Enterprise National Council. It's been almost five years since Baker, at the age of 10 began her business. She creates custom-made jewelry.

Landrieu vowed to continue pushing for greater access to capital for Black firms and programs to help minority start-ups leap from the design stage to implementation. "I look forward to finding legislative solutions to fix the racial wealth gap that hinders the African-American Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. I am determined to help eliminate this disparity."

 

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