By Harry C. Alford
On Friday, September 25, 2015 America lost a special leader. I have had the pleasure of working with three of America’s great leaders. Parren J. Mitchell brilliantly chaired the Small Business Committee on Capitol Hill. Virtually every substantive minority business program today evolved from the work of Mr. Mitchell. We haven’t had an equal in Congress since he retired. Arthur A. Fletcher worked his wonders, serving four Republican presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan and the George Herbert Walker Bush). He is rightfully known as “The Father of Affirmative Action.” He contributed a lot to desegregation and the explosion of integration via administrative rules and the convincing of the presidents he served.
The last “champion of economic equity” for the Black community was the Honorable Indiana State Representative Bill Crawford. Bill worked at the state level and that state was none other than Indiana. Many don’t know that when Bill was growing up Indianapolis was as segregated as anywhere in the South (schools, movie theaters, amusement parks, etc.). Upon the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bill dedicated himself to fighting for change – a better life for Black Indiana.
I first met Bill Crawford upon my appointment as Deputy Commissioner for Minority Business Development by Governor Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). He was rather cold to me at first, because the Legislative Black Caucus urged the Governor to appoint another person. It was very clear that I was on the “spot” and had to prove my worth quickly. I met the caucus members and other Black leaders throughout the state. I proclaimed that a new day was dawning in the Hoosier State. All state offices would begin doing business with minority-owned businesses like never before. Things turned around quickly. The state went from 0.5% minority business participation to 6% within 18 months and the economic growth covered all industries and professions. Harry C. Alford became a “hero,” but more importantly, I proved my worth to Bill Crawford who was passionate about minority-owned businesses and certainly a very important and powerful leader.
Before long, Bill and I became more than friends. We were more like partners in the movement for economic equity. A big turning point came when Bill invited me to one of the weekly Saturday meetings of the Concerned Clergy. This was a group of influential Black ministers who would meet and create strategy. They were missing an economic component and Bill nominated me as the Chair of the Economic Committee. I would give a weekly report and we would strategize on how to deal with any particular situation. This was power!
Here’s an example of the effectiveness of the Concerned Clergy. I reported that the two electrical companies in our marketing area were in noncompliance with the US General Service Administration. Each utility company in the United States has to submit an annual Small and Disadvantaged Business Plan. The plan must include reasonable, minority business goals and how the utility plans to meet those goals and show the performance achieved from the previous plan. At the time, Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL) and Indiana Power simply ignored the required reports.
Two things came out of my report. The scandal hit the front page of the Indianapolis Star newspaper. Then, Concerned Clergy President Rev. C.V. Jeter summoned the CEOs of the two electrical companies to come and explain themselves. At the time, Jim Rogers was President of Indiana Power. He later would become CEO of the mighty Duke Energy. IPL sent their “number two” person, former Deputy Mayor Joe Slash. Both companies came in apologetic and went over the status of the minority business procurement. It was paltry and rather painful. Reverend Jeter then asked, “How are you going to correct this and how long will it take?”
They committed to a reasonable timetable. Rev. Jeter ended the session by saying, “You are to report to Harry Alford and he will let us know when you have improved to reasonable levels.” Within two weeks my local chamber was engaged with the two companies and also received sponsorships from them for our annual event. The newspaper reporter who broke the story was fired and run out of town (that stuff would happen in Indianapolis). Black business with the two firms rose significantly. In sum, we were onto something here. Change could be made with proper strategy and organization. From that point on, the relationship between Bill Crawford and me became tight.
My fledgling Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce was endorsed and backed by the Concerned Clergy and Indianapolis state representatives and city council members. It became apparent that all of the racial ills, from a business perspective, could be lined up and knocked down one struggle at a time. Feeling confident, I left my state job and my wife Kay and I lived off her salary at the Hoosier Lottery and whatever donations our local chamber would receive.
Indiana was about to change.
Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.