Are Black Businesses Realizing Dr. King’s Dream?


 We recently celebrated the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the beloved and celebrated champion of civil rights and racial justice. In schools, churches, and public venues, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech once again resonated deeply with millions of listeners.

But Dr. King had another dream – one of economic equality. In his 1965 sermon at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, he stated, “I still dream that all of God’s children will have food and clothing and material well-being for their bodies, culture, and education for their minds, and freedom for their spirits.” He saw justice as including access to the “vast ocean of material prosperity.”

That part of Dr. King’s dream – which includes minority business growth – is lagging sadly behind.

A few months ago, in a speech to the National Minority Business Development Agency, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said that minority-owned firms are critically important to the future of the nation’s economy and called for the removal of barriers limiting their growth. He cited America’s current strong economic growth and noted that there is a racial wealth gap that is negatively impacting the shared benefits of the growing economy.

In February, many organizations will celebrate Black History and Black achievement through programming communications, and through their employee business or resource groups.  These activities are great, but to truly move the economic needle, companies must prioritize spending with minority businesses and ensure that meaningful Black business procurement is included.

Organizations such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), which has local chapters including Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council (GNEMSDC), are a great resource for organizations.  The organization provides access to certified minority business enterprises (MBEs), opportunities for networking, supplier development, advocacy, and more.

So how are minority businesses doing?  GNEMSDC recently commissioned an economic impact report which found that collectively in the five New England states, $383.6 million was the total spending with certified Black businesses.  That’s out of $2.4 billion of spending with certified MBEs for the five-state region.  While some other groups are doing better, overall, there is a lot of room for improvement.

On the public side, the news is also disappointing. In a recent WGBH special report, “The Color of Public Money,” investigative reporters found a 24 percent decline in spending with MBEs from 2018 levels.

As Peter Hurst, President and CEO of GNEMSDC, puts it, “minority businesses are poised to make a significant contribution. There is a lot more opportunity to be realized by both the private sector and minority businesses.”Supporting and advancing Black businesses through Supplier Diversity is perhaps one of the most powerful expressions of advancing the second half of Dr. King’s dream of economic equality.

So, what can be done to address some of the persistent issues impacting the lack of inclusion of Black businesses?  In our next article, we will explore some of the innovative practices underway that can help to accelerate the pace of change and cite actionable steps organizations can take to move black businesses toward the realization of Dr. King’s dream.

In part II of “Are Black Businesses Realizing the Dream,” we will share some best practices and specifics on what organizations can do. 

Supplier Diversity is a business strategy that ensures a diverse supplier base in the procurement of goods and services, develops a diverse supply chain, and ensures the inclusion of diverse groups in the procurement process.