Tampa organizations address USF’s lack of spending with Black-owned businesses

Dr. Steve Currall meets with reporters on his first day as the University of South Florida’s new president.
MEGAN REEVES/TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS

An ad-hoc group, Citizens Who Support Equity, Fairness, Diversity and Inclusion, will address the USF board of trustees and Dr. Steve Currall on June 2 at 9:30 a.m. at the Marshall Student Center.

A recent diversity supplier spending report from the University of South Florida System (USF System) shows that the Tampa Bay-based university’s total addressable spending was $251,117,980 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Of that number, $15,562,626 went to MBWE’s (minority owned and women-owned businesses).

However, the USF System report shows that just $289,817.00 (1.9%) went to Black-owned businesses during that fiscal year. The majority of funds – $6,603,707 (42%) – went to businesses owned by women.

The USF System includes operations at Tampa, St. Petersburg and SarasotaManatee campuses. The rest of the MBWE funds went to businesses owned by Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics and disabled veterans.

The lack of funds for Black business owners have riled two Tampa-based organizations – the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs (TOBA) and the Saturday Morning Breakfast Group (SMBG), a Tampa-based alliance of professionals and entrepreneurs. Tampa’s Black population rate is 24 percent.

A joint statement

The organizations are planning to express their concerns at a June 2 meeting with the USF System’s board of trustees and its president, Dr. Steve Currall, who was named the university’s seventh president in March. He assumed the position on July 1, 2019 following Judy Genshaft’s 20 years as president.

Over the years, TOBA and SMBG have identified disparities in spending in publicly funded organizations in Tampa Bay. USF is one of the publicly funded organizations they have focused on.

This has included meetings with key leadership within the university system “to collaborate on all matters of mutual interest and common goals that include African Americans,’’ said James Ransom, a TOBA board member and chairman of its Economic Development Committee.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, Ransom and SMBG president, Dr. Larry Shannon, stated: “The USF System continues to fail in its representation of Blacks in key positions of governance, leadership, tenured professorships and in its spending with Black-owned companies.’’

“Other organizations and concerned individuals have played a role to help state a case for economic change within the USF System. Some have urged the USF System conduct a disparity study. In the interim, the current USF System spending data shows that the USF System must be challenged over and over again,’’ he added.

Spending increase urged

According to Ransom and Shannon, several years ago, an ad-hoc group, Citizens Who Support Equity, Fairness, Diversity and Inclusion (CWSEFDI), was formed to allow others an umbrella to address the USF System and other similar organizations that excluded Blacks.

The ad-hoc group is planning to appear before the USF board of trustees and Currall on Tuesday, June 2, at 9:30 a.m. The meeting will take place at USF’s Marshall Student Center, located at 4103 USF Cedar Circle.

“If you are equally concerned about this problem, come out and speak up,” Ransom said.

Shannon stated, “We should all email and call our elected officials who vote on matters that support the USF System and ask them to speak up in support of the USF System increasing its representation of and spending with African Americans.

Fairness, inclusion cited

SMBG member Bryce Bowden reiterated that the organizations’ concerns are focused on facts and data provided by the USF System.

“While certain actionshave been taken by the USF System (hiring staff, installing software to track spending by race and gender, multiple orientations and outreach events, etc.), these efforts, based upon the USF System reports, have not resulted in significant changes,” Bowden said.

Ransom noted, “African Americans represent approximately 24% of the taxpaying/voting population, within the City of Tampa that contributes to funding used to support the USF System. Therefore, it is more than reasonable for diversity, equity, fairness and the inclusion of African Americans to not be the exception, but instead the normal way of business within a publicly funded USF System.’’

‘Fight for our interest’

Shannon pointed out that, in comparison, Moffitt Research (located on the campus of USF Tampa), spent approximately $13 million with Black-owned companies during the first two quarters of the fiscal year.He related, “Tampa International Airport spent nearly $60 million directly with Black-owned companies in Phase 1 of its master plan development; Hillsborough County Public Schools spends millions of dollars with Black-owned companies to build public schools.’’

Dr. Anderson Prewitt, one of the key persons who conducts business analytics for TOBA and the SMBG, stated that the airport and school system also are “publicly funded but have found ways to include Black-owned companies in shared prosperity.’’

He stated, “It begs to question the leadership within the publicly funded USF System about its deficit spending with Black-owned companies and challenges its leadership to use its authority to close this gap. We are all obligated to stand up and fight for our interest.’’

Ransom concluded, “These issues are about respect and accountability. Our strength and leverage have and always will be on our unity to stand together. When we stand, speak up and take actions on our causes for the right reasons, we have historically always prevailed. This is one of those moments.’’

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