Seventeen years ago, Phoenix was home to a million people, and was mainly known as a winter resort or retirement community. Over 71% of the population was Anglo-American. Many people did not know there were any Black-owned businesses in Arizona, and, certainly, did not see a need for a Black Chamber of Commerce. Today, the population is over 1.6 million (4.3 million for the metropolitan area), Anglo-Americans comprise 65% of the population, and many people, think that because there is a Black President, racial equality has been achieved and, again, there is no need for a Black Chamber. Actually, as Kerwin Brown, the CEO stated in his State of the Chamber speech on December 18, 2014, the need is greater than ever.
Of course, there has been progress in Phoenix. The latest issue of EmpowerMe—the Chamber’s magazine—recognizes the accomplishments of Black businesses, like Superstition Spring Chrysler and Ageez Hair Center, and businesspeople, like record producer Paris Toon and Affiliated Dermatology’s Dr. Richard Averitte. The Chamber, itself, has grown; at the event in Phoenix on the 18th, Brown unveiled the new Black Chamber of Arizona logo, which shows that the Chamber is now statewide.
Despite the economic recovery and the overall unemployment rate sinking to 6%, unemployment for Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans remains in double digits. Demonstrators filled the streets in downtown Phoenix last week to protest the shooting of an unarmed African-American by a white Phoenix policeman. The same day of the Black Chamber event, people filled the Phoenix Council Chamber to express concern about relationships between the police and the community.
The Black Chamber benefits Arizona in several ways. First, it can serve as a source of information and advice to government and businesses about the concerns, needs, assets and capabilities of Blacks in the State. Brown convened Black Phoenix United, which allows eight organizations to speak with one voice. The Black Chamber’s Five Pillars of Service (Advocacy, Access to Capital, Contracting, Entrepreneur Training, and Business Development) are helping businesses grow.
Says Brown, “Small business is the engine that runs the US economy. Now, as the Black Chamber of Arizona, we can have an impact on the economic development of the entire state.”
The point is that there is still a lot of work to do to help Arizona maintain and grow its economy, and the success of the Black Chamber will benefit all Arizonans.