Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the President's vision of winning the future through their work.
As I travel around the country, I am in awe of the tenacity and the indomitable spirit of minority business owners and their unwillingness to quit in the face of overwhelming odds. That’s the spirit that makes America great.
As the National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), I am proud to be a part of this Administration and a part of an Agency where our work helps to expand the U.S. economy and create new jobs through the historically underutilized minority business community.
I have the privilege of serving on the senior staff of the Secretary of Commerce and serving as Bureau Chief of MBDA, as well as engaging with various stakeholders, members of Congress, minority-owned and operated businesses, and nonprofit organizations that support minority business development across the nation.
MBDA is a national organization with more than 46 business centers in five regions, which generates nearly $4 billion in contracts and capital for minority-owned businesses. We also create thousands of jobs for all Americans and help save thousands of existing jobs.
Minority-owned firms are an engine of job creation for the U.S. economy, outpacing growth within the general business community for most of the last decade. Collectively, minority-owned businesses generate $1 trillion in economic output and create nearly 6 million jobs. They also possess almost $2.5 trillion in buying power.
My first introduction to business was as a child growing up in St. Louis, MO. I learned lessons about entrepreneurship from my next door neighbor who ran a small cookie distribution company from his home. He taught me about the importance of inventory and business efficiencies. While I was a dreamer, who often thought about what people were doing in other countries, my parents’ neighbors and teachers taught me that simply dreaming wasn’t enough. Making dreams come to fruition requires true grit and determination.
I’ve had the opportunity to make many of my dreams come true traveling around the world and throughout the country representing President Barack Obama, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and the U.S. minority business community.
I am proud to say that at MBDA, our agenda works in concert with the President’s vision for “Winning the Future” by challenging minority businesses to be willing to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build our global competitors. The President’s call was to the heart and soul of America, asking us to look into ourselves and inquire, “What are we contributing to making America greater?” “Are we willing to do the hard work that is required to bring that great idea to fruition and to educate ourselves in preparation for global competition and to continue to build our nation?
Innovation is a vital ingredient in helping America maintain its role as a global leader.
When I think about many of the unsung heroes who helped to make America great – they were often every day people who simply wanted a better life and used ingenuity to create it.
African Americans, because of the unique historical barriers have been masters of making a way out of no way.
It’s that kind of fiber that I still see exhibited in minority businesses today that are recognizing that the old business model is not enough. Today’s competitive environment requires doing away with growing businesses organically – one contract at a time or staying in the safe lane with businesses that require little overhead and slow returns.
Business growth in the new global economy requires thinking outside the box, expanding into new high-tech markets such as clean energy, green technology, and healthcare IT. It requires new business models of mergers, acquisitions and strategic partnerships.
Even beyond the business community, rebuilding our economy requires that each of us do our part especially in supporting the next generation of leaders and business owners.
I co-founded the Council of Urban Professionals (CUP) in New York for that very reason, to give back by helping to develop young talent. CUP is a nonprofit that advances the social, political and economic interests of urban professionals. I have also served on a number of non-profit boards including the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago.
We have to help those who need direction in shaping their careers. I serve as an informal mentor to young people that I meet who are looking for direction. There are so many students and young professionals in need of someone to take an interest in them. That small effort can change lives.
As we celebrate African-American History Month, this is a time to unite behind the dream of making America even stronger. I enjoy this season of celebrating the successes of black people who have achieved despite extremely difficult odds. The richness of the history of African Americans in America is something that I treasure.
One of my favorite quotes is from Booker T. Washington, who said, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
At MBDA, we try to help minority business owners reach their full potential through the resources, services, business tools, and assistance we provide at our business centers located throughout the country.