Pan-African entrepreneurship is the key to our future

The National Black Chamber of Commerce is coming into its 25th year of existence. My wife Kay and I have come a long way since drawing plans on her kitchen table in suburban Indianapolis. It was a dream, and our plans were an underestimate of what we were about to jump-start.

The timing was to our advantage. We went from one chapter to 13 to 39 and now to the mid-100s. It is a fascinating story of challenges, victories, envy, war, and a long session of looking power in its eyes and snatching what God led us to. It could not have come this far without the grace and guidance of our Heavenly Father.

Not easy
It hasn’t been a simple trip through the proverbial rose garden. We incorporated in Washington, D.C., in May 1993. By September, there was a “shootout” between the board members at a meeting in Memphis, Tenn.

It reminds me of my high school classmates who were predicting our futures. My lifetime friend, Jimmy Webb, stated that, “If it is a dog-eat-dog world for us out there, then Harry will be famous. There is no more a vicious dog than he.”

The “survivors” picked up the pieces in Memphis and carried on. There would be other leadership challenges, but each time we would grow stronger. Our acceptance into the business world would gradually build.

The strategy works
What Mahatma Gandhi said is true: “First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; next they fight you. In the end, you win.” That has been our strategy. It worked for him and it has worked for us.

As we solidified our brand – National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc., which is the intellectual property of Harry and Kay Alford, assignable to their heirs – there became an eventual mandate to expand off shore. To continue our success and ensure our growth, we had to become global. There are phenomenal people we must credit in the expansion of our worldwide exposure.

One of the first persons to affect our future was Pat Harrison. Patricia de Stacy Harrison (official name) became deputy secretary of State. President George W. Bush appointed Colin Powell as secretary of State and the general and Pat went back to New York City.

‘Ambassadorship’ helps
The Bush administration was fond of the NBCC, as we had publicly stated during his campaign that he had committed the best platform for small business development. Pat brought us in and appointed me a “cultural ambassador.” That meant I was to travel abroad and develop positive relationships with non-governmental organizations.

The Caribbean and Mexico were key places for our travel and meetings. While in Kingston, Jamaica I was introduced to the ambassador from Cuba. He sat me down and explained for two hours why I should give attention to Cuba.

“Don’t listen to everyone else. Go see it for yourself. Get an official license from your Treasury Department and see what my country is all about. You are going to love it!” he said

We led a mission of 32 members and we found out that the ambassador was right. We loved it! The nation shows so much promise and is destined for a great future. We started an ongoing event. Going to Cuba – it is still a work in progress.

Global networking
Another influence on our global activity was Johnny Ford, the founder of the World Conference of Black Mayors based in historical Tuskegee, Ala. Through this organization, he built a network of Black mayors through the African Diaspora.

One of whom is Oscar Gamboa of Colombia. Oscar started visiting the NBCC more than 10 years ago. That relationship is building towards serious dialogue in Colombia and other nations throughout the African Diaspora. Colombia is becoming a key player in uniting the leadership throughout the Diaspora.

From Brazil is the dynamic Benedita da Silva. When we first met the very impressive Ms. da Silva, she was vice governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. She convinced us to take a trade mission to the nation. To our surprise, it was one of the best trade missions ever accomplished by the NBCC.

We took 84 businesses and came out with over $34 million in confirmed contracts. The biggest impression from that trip was the massive Black population of Brazil, which is more than twice that of the United States.

On Chamber board
Our interaction with Cuba brought us some “cred” with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which was starting to warm up to the nation at the same time as us. I was eventually invited to join the board of directors of the organization. That was 2001, and I am still active.

One day at the Chamber, I met Alan Kyerematen (pronounced “cherry-martin”) who was the current Ghana ambassador. We hit it off! Alan organized a very productive trade mission to Ghana, which became our official introduction to the continent which is our motherland.

These interactions form the genesis of our international focus. I would be remiss to leave out Patrick Lozes who connected us with France, and Juan Verde, who introduced us to the Canary Islands (Spain).

The NBCC is truly a globally active organization attempting to “connect the dots” throughout this world that is modernly known as the African Diaspora. Our legacy stands firm and our future is very bright.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Contact him via www.nationalbcc.org.

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