Twenty-five years and going strong –Part 1

Starting and running a Black business association during the early 1990s was more than a dream or a challenge. It was almost impossible.

The concept was hardly credible back then. Most people could not conceive of a Black group of people to start a new organization that was centered around Black business development.

Code names
Sure, there were plenty of Black organizations, most of which would use code names like “National” to imply the activity of Black people. “Colored” and “Negro” were alright, but to say “Black” apparently was taboo or dangerous. So my wife Kay and I clung to the title of “Black.”

We had our attorney do a search on the viability or availability of the term “National Black Chamber of Commerce.”

To our surprise, there was no official group that used or officially laid claim to the term. Off we went with the name, and began the incorporation procedure and the application process with the Internal Revenue Service.

We did this in Indianapolis, Indiana, Kay’s hometown. Little did we know that all hell would break loose. How dare a married couple living in Indianapolis start an organization like that in a conservative and passive city?

More challenges
It didn’t take long for various groups and individuals to challenge our use of the name, let alone expound on the concept. We eventually had to debate and challenge others who laid claim to the name before we officially registered it.

There was a guy out in Oakland, Calif., who challenged us verbally, but he never had any official documentation of the rights to the name. Within six months, all of those who laid challenge to the name backed off.

As of May 23, 1993, the National Black Chamber of Commerce was incorporated in Washington, D.C. Kay and I had plans to officially move to Washington by 1996. However, our founding attorney, Derrick Humphries, had other plans. He knew we had a big concern about placing our sons into a decent school in Washington.

A great school
We proudly had our boys in public school in Indianapolis but in Washington, that wasn’t a good option. Luckily, and through the efforts of Derrick, we got our sons accepted into St. Albans School for Boys. Unbeknownst to us, it was the top-rated school for boys in the nation. It was a blessing and our twin sons have benefitted from that ever since.

So, here we were new citizens of Washington starting in September 1994. This was not greeted too well by more than a few groups throughout the nation. Washington greeted us with open arms, but the rest of the nation was “green” with envy or intimidation.

There was one very important fact about our relocation to the nation’s capital. The newly-elected Clinton administration sent us an invitation to the White House. White House Liaison Alexis Herman invited us and our board of directors to come and introduce ourselves.

Changed under Obama
It was the beginning of a great relationship. It was so natural at the time. Little did we realize that eventually a conservative pro-business organization and the liberal arm of the Democratic Party were not destined for each other. Times were good and cordial all the way until the Obama administration came into power in 2008. In the interim, there were good relations between us and both political parties.

As a national organization, we began with 14 local Black chambers in our fledgling federation. It all started off with a positive effort and continuity by all, regardless of where they were located.

Soon, jealously and envy started to set in and mini-rebellions would start taking place by two factions. Chambers in Texas and in California would start to challenge our leadership and direction. An organization of one soon became a three-pronged entity going in circles.

We would eventually tell the California chapters to “get lost,” with the exception of the San Francisco African-American Chamber of Commerce. Also, the various Texas chapters became adversarial and still are, with few exceptions.

Different missions
We do just fine without them. Our missions are quite different. We are worldly and growth-driven; they are provincial and reclusive.

Another organization would become contentious with the NBCC. That would be the National Minority Supplier Development Council. We never considered them competition, but for some reason they feared us. In the beginning stages of our growth, they would try to confront our mission.

We have grown immensely during the past 25 years. They seem to be in a state of “mission creep” and are fluttering.

We have no time to stop and fight. We continue to enjoy our growth around the world and nothing is going to stop us now. We are the largest Black business association in the world. The future is quite bright!

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Contact him via Click on this commentary at to write your own response.


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