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What Will (Y)our Legacy Look Like?

By Ron Busby, Sr. | 2/14/2014, 11:23 a.m.

As America begins the annual ritual of “celebrating” the countless achievements of African Americans during the February observance of Black History Month, I think it makes sense to remind each other that the things we do every day will be the historical recollections for future generations.

There is no question of the value of recounting the daring exploits, the against-all-odds battles won, or of revisiting the horrors and brutalities that marked our journey through this country’s history. I just don’t believe that enough of us approach our daily commitments with an eye on how our actions (or inactions) will impact the lives of Black Americans in the future.

I could fill this space with the names of prodigious Black inventors, from Jan Matzeliger to Norbert Rilleaux, Garrett Morgan to Dr. Mark Dean. We all know the contributions of Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm and their Freedom’s Journal, the Sengstackes, Murphys, Vanns and Scotts, the John H. Johnson and Earl G. Graves and their heroic struggles to make sure our stories were told - accurately. We know of Madame C.J. Walker and A.G. Gaston and Alonzo Herndon and Oprah and Bob Johnson and Herman Russell and the empire builders of the business world.

But today I want to give a Black History “shout out” to the millions of nameless, faceless business women and men who rose before dawn and got home long after everyone was asleep. The barbers, hairdressers, shopkeepers, brick masons, carpenters, café owners, mechanics, painters, printers, shoe shine and repairmen. The tailors, grocers, ice, coal and wood deliverymen.... All the folks whose toils paved the way for us, paid the tuition to Howard, Morehouse, Johnson C. Smith, Fisk, Xavier, Dillard and all the “A&M’s” across the south!

After nearly fifty years of successfully aspiring to “good jobs,” we are witnessing a boom in the numbers of Black Americans returning to our roots as entrepreneurs and business owners, and this boom couldn’t have come at a better time. When it’s clear that government solutions to income inequality fail to factor for or include us; when Black un- and underemployment threaten the nutritional health and educational opportunities for our children; when globalization of markets consigns our participation to the role of consumers... that’s when it should become clear the key role that Black business plays in our communities.

The U.S Black Chambers, Inc. (USBC) is acutely aware of the battle that African Americans face in the marketplace today. When online purchases of clothing eclipses the purchases made inside actual stores, the opportunities for Black retailers practically disappears. Despite the obvious love affair Black folks have with hats, suits, shoes and boots, it is Nordstrom, Macy’s, Neiman’s and local designer boutiques that get their share of our income inequality, not Black-owned clothes sellers.

We struggle to find a Black-owned grocery chain, even though African Americans spend a disproportionate share of their disposable income on food. Black-owned restaurants are an increasingly endangered species, even as national chains pad their bottom lines with the lion’s share of our discretionary spending on food...including sushi!