EDITORIAL: The Storied Road to Black Liberation

Small businesses across the U.S will be hailed in May that is declared Small Business Month. The U.S. Small Business Administration will host a weeklong salute to small businesses May 5-12. Today, there are reportedly 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S. that hire an estimated 58.9 million employees representing 47.5 percent of all U.S. employees. The good news is that the number of Black-owned businesses is also growing by leaps and bounds, demonstrating the fact that entrepreneurship today is as strong as it was 150 years ago as is the belief held by Blacks for decades that economic independence is synonymous with Black liberation.

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson Jr., along with Julieanna Richardson of The HistoryMakers, recently co-produced “Boss: The Black Experience in Business” which aired last month on PBS. Please take time to visit https://www.pbs.org/wnet/boss/ to see this compelling story about the sacrifice, success and even loss of Black-owned businesses that began on the slave-owning plantations by those who successfully purchased freedom for themselves and others.

“Boss” reminds us that Blacks fought and gave their lives to open the doors to freedom, equality and independence and they used business ownership as the key. Beginning with the first Black business person — the Black farmer — who equated owning land with freedom to the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines —the late John H. Johnson — who told the stories of Black success as a means of inspiring others, the trajectory of Black-owned business has been long and nothing less than remarkable.

As Black-owned business grew, so did the communities that supported them, the churches and schools they supported and the freedom-fighting organizations that also relied on their support to tear down barriers. The legendary Black Wall Street, also featured in the film, is an example of how Black business people built communities and how racism and white supremacy quickly destroyed it all.

“People aren’t lining up to tell this story,” Nelson said in an interview about the film. “If we hadn’t told this story, it would not have been told. It is two-hours of telling the struggle to start a business and the struggles they had to overcome to stay in business.”

That story continues today as urban cities across the U.S. are experiencing an economic boom, including Washington, D.C., where a new chapter is being written about gentrification and the destruction of small Black-owned businesses. The fact that they survived the best and worst of times means little to those who seek to build new communities in their own image.

If there was ever a time in which small Black-owned businesses needed our patronage and support, it is now. Celebrate Small Business Month and shop Black!

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