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Durham leaders discuss efforts to rebuild Black Wall Street
Published Friday, June 22, 2018
by Freda Freeman, Correspondent

DURHAM – Business owners, city officials, educators, and clergy came together this week to discuss how to revitalize Durham’s Black Wall Street.

On My Block: The New Black Wall Street Economic Empowerment Forum was hosted by Abundant Hope Christian Church. The discussion panelists were Phyllis Coley, CEO and publisher of Spectacular Magazine; Joshua Gunn, vice president of membership investment for the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce; Henry McKoy, a professor of business at North Carolina Central University; and the Rev. Cheryl Moore, pastor of Zion Temple United Church of Christ. The moderator was Farad Ali, CEO of The Institute of Minority Economic Development and chairman of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority.

The panelists discussed ways to create economic empowerment, but not just create it, to ensure it is sustainable. They agreed there has been enough talk, and it’s time to draft a concrete plan to collectively work together to generate black businesses that are self-sufficient and profitable and that generate dollars that circulate throughout the black community.

Moore said the black church has historically been at the cornerstone of any movement, and it must reclaim its place as far as pushing policy that affects the black community.

“We have to insist upon urban revitalization without the detrimental effects of gentrification that systematically destructs black economic power rather than uplifts it,” she said. “Secondly, we need to find ways to restake our claim in communities where gentrification is heavy. We may not be in a position to stop anything, but we certainly can position ourselves to ensure that our people benefit from it and are included in those efforts.”

Moore said black churches need to work with the broader black community to allocate money to buy property and to ensure there’s affordable housing for seniors and displaced families. She said churches need to work with black institutions to engage in strategic planning and partnerships to provide financial assistance to establish black businesses. Ownership is key, she said.

McKoy, who does research on businesses, said economic integration went one way – out of the black community. He recalled the Hayti area in its heyday when it was bustling with more than 300 black-owned businesses. McKoy said black businesses can thrive again if there is a wholistic economic system that brings capital into the community. He stressed education as the “vibranium” of the black community.

McKoy said, nationally, white people make up 65 percent of the country’s population but white-owned businesses account for 91 percent of the revenue. In Durham, whites make up 40 percent of the population but account for 94 percent of the revenue that comes from businesses. He said black America has been economically hollowed out.

“You have to start thinking about how the capital is flowing. It’s critical to rebuild the core of what the entrepreneur economic ecosystem is, to have more diverse businesses,” he said. “When we don’t have capital coming in, it impacts everything that we do. It impacts who gets money from a charitable standpoint, it impacts who gets educated, impacts who get loans.”

Coley said coalitions can work together to boost black economic development, but those efforts are in vain if the community doesn’t know about it. Coley added that to grow, different groups and organizations must not be afraid to trust each other, collaborate, and form partnerships to produce not only sole entrepreneurs but corporations that can hire large numbers of people.

Gunn said to rebuild Durham’s Black Wall Street takes a collective mentality and requires equity, not equality. He said Black Wall Street can’t be rebuilt the way it was before, because, historically, this country was built on a system of capitalism that didn’t include blacks.

“My perspective on recreating Black Wall Street is we have to do it in a collective way. I don’t believe individualism, which is the Western standard of capitalism, can work for black folks. Our ancestors worked in collective societies; we worked for the collective good, not just individual gain,” Gunn said.

Opening the floor up to questions, a member of the audience asked about inclusivity: “In Durham, my concern is, you’ve got a black community and you’ve got a ‘black community’. I wasn’t so much concerned about what Black Wall Street was but what it wasn’t.”

He said he asked several elderly blacks why Black Wall Street didn’t include the southside of Durham and was told “they could have helped us but they didn’t.”

The reality of Black Wall Street, he said, is it didn’t include all of Durham. “So, my question, in this new Black Wall Street that we are envisioning, how do we make sure that it trickles down to McDougald Terrace, Oxford Manor, and people living in tents?” he asked.

Answering from the standpoint of the church, Moore said black churches are failing miserably as an institution. She said they need to collectively allocate church dollars to address social, political, and economic ills plaguing the black community.

“The economic system was built on our backs and continues to be built on the backs of poor and disenfranchised people,” she said. “The challenge is to move from conversation to mobilization.”

Ali encouraged budding entrepreneurs and established business owners to be a hub of collaboration, starting now to prepare young black children for jobs of the future.

“We’re at the table, but we’re getting the dessert, we’re not getting the meat,” he said. “The solution to poverty is justice but remember social justice without economic justice is no justice.”

Closing the forum, Mark-Anthony Middleton, a Durham city councilman and pastor of Abundant Hope, said the city budget conversation begins now. The next step, he said, is to work collaboratively to put together a concrete plan for Durham’s black constituents to be a part of the city’s economic growth.



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