D’Juan Hopewell

If transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, Black America will not become less impoverished. A ban on assault weapons will not make us whole, either. Forget everything the candidates are saying–the only thing that matters to and for Black America is money.

Our issues must be addressed with cash. I’m tired of people telling Black folks that all will be just fine if we vote for candidates who support the next “progressive” issue we’re told to care about. Some years it’s abortion, then LGBT rights and next year it will be something else. All that has its place but none of it produces Black wealth or jobs. Black businesses do those things.

The money to grow our businesses and enrich our community exists already but it isn’t coming to us. We can fix that but only if we understand the issue and use our votes to rectify it. The issue is procurement.

Procurement is relatively simple. Your city, county, state and federal governments award contracts to businesses to do a variety of things, big and small. County school systems need pencils and awards an office supply company a contract to supply them. Your city needs snow removed from its streets and awards a contract to provide that service. Transit bus repair, carpet installation, mental health services for seniors and removal of animal carcasses are all items and services requested by local governments throughout the country.

This is procurement. Government awarding contracts to private companies to provide goods and services. These contracts are often lucrative but rarely awarded to Black-owned firms. Black Americans pay billions in taxes annually to government at all levels but that money is handed over to (mostly) White men to build wealth and provide jobs.

The problem is immense. According to data from the Federal Procurement Data System, in fiscal year 2015 the federal government awarded close to $440 billion in contracts to private companies; contracts funded by taxpayer dollars. Only 1.8 percent of those dollars went to Black-owned firms. States, counties and cities also award contracts and the results aren’t much better. Consider New York City, which is over 50 percent minority and over 25 percent black. In 2015 only 5 percent of NYC’s procurement dollars went to women or minority-owned companies – that includes White women.

Every city, county and state government has its own procurement process and rules, as does the federal government. Based on the process and the rules governing it, Black businesses win or lose. As Black businesses win or lose, so do Black people who depend on those businesses to provide jobs. The federal government is a huge monster to tackle so I suggest we start by focusing on our city governments, where influence is much easier to be had.

Briefly, city councilors and mayors can influence city procurement and billions are at stake. Every Black organization citywide must make clear to mayoral and city council candidates that they will only win our vote by committing to Black procurement. If contracts awarded to our businesses do not increase substantially during their term in office, vote them out. No excuses. There is a National Black Chamber of Commerce but also various local Black Chambers already working on this issue. Our organizations should join with them as they pressure city leaders. The Chambers have the knowledge but we have the votes to bring the pain.

Some say Black businesses don’t deserve a fair share because we don’t pay taxes in proportion to our numbers in the population. However, Fortune 500 companies often elude federal and local taxes and no one blinks if they receive government contracts. Some say there are fewer Black businesses or that they don’t apply for government contracts so the problem just is.

Bologna. If an elected politician knew their job was on the line based on this one issue, they’d figure out how to get more contracts to existing Black businesses in the application pool or do outreach to other businesses to get them into the pool. Others say the issue is too complex to solve. They’ve obviously never heard of Marion Barry. As Don Peebles pointed out at Barry’s funeral, when Barry was elected in 1979 minority firms received 3 percent of the city’s contracts. When Barry started his third term as mayor, minority businesses were receiving nearly fifty percent of the city’s contracts. Black wealth and jobs are on the line, make this our issue.

D’Juan Hopewell is a political and nonprofit consultant specializing in corporate social responsibility, persuasion and political outreach strategies.