Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Nearly three decades after Barack Obama made history and became president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, Susan Estrich, was recently elected to the post and made history.

Black and female, ImeIme (pronounced “Ah-MAY-may”) Umana, 24, is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. She was elected on Jan. 29 by the review’s 92 student editors as the president of its 131st volume, according to news reports.But she is not the first female, Hispanic, Asian American,  openly gay, or African-American to hold the post.

“It still feels like magic that I’m here,” Umana said. Fellow students said it was not magic at all but her sharp legal mind, intense work ethic, leadership ability and generosity of spirit catapulted her to the top.

She was elected president of the law review in an intense 12-hour period of deliberations that stretched over two days. The application process included a rigorous evaluation of each candidate’s portfolio of work and responses to a written questionnaire, a candidate forum and a writing exercise.

She was one of 12 candidates for president, including eight minority students and eight women.

“I think our team saw in her what so many people have seen in her for so long – that she’s a brilliant person, an unbelievably dedicated worker and an exceptionally caring leader,” said Michael L. Zuckerman, a third-year law student and the review’s previous president.

Umana said she does not aspire to work for a well-heeled law firm after she graduates, thanks to her insightful internship in the public defender’s office in the Bronx this summer. Instead, she hopes to work as a public defender and will work this summer with the public defender in Washington.

Black women who have died after encounters with law enforcement are also a priority, she said. “I’m constantly reminded of people like Natasha McKenna and Tanisha Anderson and Sandra Bland, whose relationships with the law were just simply tragic.”

She added, “A lot of the clients I worked with that summer and since have looked a lot like me. They are disproportionately represented on the unfortunate end of the legal system, so it struck a little closer to home.”
The Harvard Law Review is often the most-cited journal of its kind and has the largest circulation of any such publication in the world. The presidency is considered a ticket to virtually any legal realm. Half of the current Supreme Court justices served on the Harvard Law Review, though none as its president.

Now that the 2017 Virginia General Assembly Session is over, lawmakers are assessing the level of success or failure in creating laws impacting the lives of their constituents.

Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) sponsored a series of bills and  devoted their support to  legislation sponsored by the Democratic Caucus, in general, and  Republicans, when it benefitted their constituents.

Del. Roslyn Tyler  (Dist. 75) experienced her first session as chair of the  VLBC and she gives the Democrats and the Caucus a B-plus for the quantity and quality of the legislation the group  supported which passed this session.

The grade reflects the VLBC and the Democrats’ ability to defeat and beat back some of the most conservative legislation sponsored by GOP members.

Democratic lawmakers were aided in beating back right-wing and regressive legislation  by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s use of his veto pen during and after the recent session.

Tyler said the passage of the state’s multi-billion dollar operating budget was the highlight of the legislative session especially with $34 million extra dollars for education which included the 2 percent raise for state teachers.

Tyler said the 5-5-5  initiative would give extra funding to mostly small rural school districts that have lost five percent of their student enrollment  and funding over the past five years.

School divisions of Franklin, Surry and Brunswick County benefitted from this  piece of legislation.

To  balance the budget, due to project revenue shortfalls, the Governor had proposed a 5 percent cut in the funding for state colleges and universities.

A member of the Black caucus was among the House and Senate conferees  and was able  to deter cuts of operating budgets of  Norfolk State and Virginia State Universities, the two HBCUs supported by the state.

A bill sponsored by Delegate Marcia S. Price of Newport News, was passed to do a study on the increasing level  of student debt, which has attributed to the shrinking of poor and minority students enrolling in state institutions.

Tyler said the governor will veto a bill Conservative Republicans pushed through on school choice.   It would allow parents to create tuition saving accounts to pay for tuitions to enroll their children in private and church-run schools.

The Chairman said the money for these accounts would be siphoned from the coffers  of public schools divisions, already enduring fiscal stress in recent years.

Tyler said that Virginia  leads the nation in the number of students suspended from  its public schools. She said the majority of the students are poor and African-Americans.

She said a bill was killed which would limit the number of days to 10 that a child can be suspended from the state classrooms.

“We wanted to set up some guidelines to stop the school to prison pipeline,” said Tyler. “School divisions thought we were seeking to take away their authority to suspend students from them. The numbers of suspensions is high not only for high schools, but for Kindergarten to third graders too.”

She said supporters of the measure hope to reintroduce the bill next session.

Also individuals can now set up an installment plans to pay their fines  to avoid revocation of their driver’s  license. Tyler said that many people  jeopardize their employment when they are unable to pay their fines when their driver’s licenses are revoked and have no reliable means of transportation if public transport is not available.

Democratic State Delegate  Delores L. McQuinn of Richmond sponsored a bill which passed and will provide $34,875 to restore and up keep historic African-American cemeteries around  the state.

The state already spends thousands of dollars to maintain confederate cemeteries around  the state.

Mae Breckenridge-Haywood, the Chairperson of the Portsmouth African-American Historical Society which has   worked to preserve and up keep several old Black graveyards, applauds the bill.

“This is a good start,” said Breckenridge. “It’s a small amount of money. And I am hoping we can access some of it to help with our efforts. I am hoping we can secure some funding for what we are doing. We are looking into it.”

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

On Tuesday night, February 21, the Virginia Beach City Council agreed it would produce a full disparity study into the level of spending and awarding of contracts the city does with minority-owned businesses.

The council’s action is a turn-around from a previous decision that it would not order a full study as has been sought by members of the African American community. Members of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference, along with various community, political, and cultural organizations announced plans last week for a march at the Virginia Beach oceanfront on Saturday, Feb. 25 to highlight what they say is “the city’s racial bias and cronyism”.

According to a press release distributed by the ministers’ group at the Seajack Balck History Program on Feb. 18, The Faith, Freedom, and Justice March is being called to end the city’s culture of discrimination and cronyism.

Minister Dr. James Allen explained, “The Faith, Freedom, and Justice March is a statement to Virginia Beach, the state, and the nation that we the people are indeed what makes America great.

“Virginia Beach is a tremendous city with unlimited potential. But it can’t be the greatest city in the world if it is not the greatest city for all its citizens.”

The march will start at Rudee Loop on Saturday, February 25th at 11:00 a.m. and proceed along Atlantic Avenue, ending at the Cavalier Hotel at 2:00 p.m.

“For too long, the city’s business practices have disproportionately impacted women, people of color, working class families, and young people from participating in an economy that is only available for a select few,” according to the release.

“February 25th will be a celebration of diversity which is open to everyone in Hampton Roads (and Virginia) who feels Virginia’s largest city and the epicenter of Virginia tourism, should take steps to be more transparent, inclusive, and welcoming to all citizens and businesses. We only seek a level playing field for all the people of Virginia Beach.”

The request for a fully funded and independent disparity study had already been endorsed by the city’s Human Rights Commission, Minority Business Council, the Virginian-Pilot Editorial Board, along with other civic, community, and financial organizations, before the council’s most recent decision.

Allen continued, “If Virginia Beach is truly going to be the greatest city in the world, then our elected leaders need to take seriously the concerns of all its citizens, not just the one’s in positions of financial privilege.”

Follow #fundthestudy #smashcroynism #peoplegetready

It is the number one reason that Black-owned businesses fail: Simply put – not enough money and not enough places to get it.

That’s why as America commemorates Black History Month, the US Black Chamber Inc. (USBC), an association of more than 122 Black chambers and 265,000 business owners, is escalating publicity on its partnership with historic, Black-owned Liberty Bank. Both entities are determined to break economic barriers that have historically oppressed Black people.

“Our history is full of trailblazers and pioneers that fought to build our community from the ground up. We owe it to them to sustain our community,” says Ron Busby, USBC president/CEO.

“The top three concerns facing Black entrepreneurs are access to capital, access to capital, and access to capital,” Busby says. “As the voice of Black business owners, our focus during Black History Month is to highlight the importance of economic sustainability in the Black community and the dire lack of funding facing Black businesses.”

The USBC has launched what it calls a “buy-Black, bank-Black initiative” as a solution to spur economic growth in the Black community.

“Bank-Black is the single most powerful economic movement currently taking place in Black America,” Busby says. “Now is the time to utilize our Black banks as more than a place to hold our money, but as a resource for securing capital.”

As a part of this initiative, a USBC Bank-Black Credit Card is being offered in partnership with New Orleans-based Liberty Bank, a historic institution and one of the leading banks of the National Bankers Association (NBA).

“Through our relationship with Liberty Bank, we can now provide access of up to $10,000 with an unsecured line of credit at an annual percentage rate of 9.96 percent and with a credit score as low as 570. We think this is game-changing in that it now provides the needed resources for African-Americans to be able to move our communities to sustainability,” Busby says.

Black businesses have long suffered oppressive redlining by major national banks. Even the Small Business Administration has barely reached 3 percent in its loans to Black-owned businesses. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2014 that more than half of Black business owners do not apply for business loans when they need it because of fear of being turned down. According to a report by NewsOne Now, their “fear is justified” as “only 47 percent of Black business owners get the full amount they requested versus 76 percent of Whites.”

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that national banks tilting toward major mortgages “means fewer loans for Blacks, Hispanics.” This leaves Black-owned community banks to do what they have historically done – serve the underserved.

Despite the proven historic wrongs of government and corporate discrimination, NBA President Michael Grant says Black business owners must now find ways to rescue themselves.

“When it comes to the burden of proof of who is ultimately responsible for the economic survival of the Black community in America, I’m arguing that the burden of proof has shifted to the Black community itself,” Grant says. “It does not in any way remove the responsibility of government to be fair. It doesn’t remove the responsibility of corporate America to be fair and to treat Black consumers and their businesses with equity. But the burden of proof of who is ultimately going to save the Black community, I am arguing that this must be the Black community.”

Grant continues, “Even if it means our advocacy, supporting our own businesses, going to our leadership asking, ‘What are your plans for the economic survival of Black people in this country?’ the burden of proof has shifted to us. And this credit card, in no small way, says that we are accepting the burden of proof. We’re saying, ‘Okay, if our businesses are having a difficult time in majority banks getting access to credit, what can the Black banks do about it? How can we accept that burden? How can we step up and revive access to credit?’ That’s what this has done.”

Despite negative stereotypes, Grant points to the education and professionalism of African-Americans in business and in banking as what enables them to create their own economic strategies for survival.

For example, Liberty Bank President Alden J. McDonald, Jr., is the longest tenured African-American financial executive in the country. His nearly 45 years of experience in the banking industry was first established with his presidency of Liberty, which started with the bank’s founding in 1972. The bank’s website credits his “strategic vision and hard work” for the success of the bank. Assets have grown from $2 million in 1972 to more than $600 million currently.

“Our relationship and our partnership with the US Black Chamber is a partnership that will make certain that available credit is based on a level playing field,” says McDonald. “And one of the reasons why we feel the relationship with Liberty Bank is important is because Liberty Bank is very sensitive to the credit challenges of the community. And therefore, our underwriting standards are taken into consideration for the small business person.”

Grant stressed that Black-owned banks can strengthen the economy of the Black community while operating within a stringent regulatory environment.

“Our banks, like any bank, have to adhere to the regulators. We can’t get around that. What we can do is when you come to our banks, we can talk with you, we can take a little extra time with you. We can tell you where the flaws are in your business plan, we can tell you that if you don’t qualify for credit, then here are the things that you can do so that you can become credit worthy. But, the bottom line is that the burden of proof has shifted to the Black community and its leaders and its organizations,” he said.

Ultimately, money in Black-owned banks is a win for everyone, Busby concludes.

“We want African-Americans to have money in Black banks because we feel that Black banks historically provided the resources in Black communities. But, we’re taking it a step further, understanding that banks truly make the largest profits by providing loans and receiving fees,” he says.

“And so we feel like this is a win, win, win. It’s a win for the Black bank, which has additional capital to lend. It’s a win for the individuals because they can now get capital at an affordable rate. And it’s a win for the community because the banks can now make the loans that homeowners and business owners need. The USBC takes great pride in commemorating Black History Month with a tribute that honors Black history and anticipates an even greater Black future.”

By Hazel Trice Edney (TriceEdneyWire.com)

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

“Be careful going in search of adventure – it‘s ridiculously easy to find,” travel writer William Least Heat-Moon once said.

Black-owned businesses, which rank No. 9 in Virginia, were not necessarily what Heat-Moon had in mind when he made the comment.  Black-owned businesses, however, offer a sense of adventure because they are ridiculously and increasingly easy to find. Census records show this sector increased by 54 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, revenue increased 45 percent, to nearly $5.4 billion.

Here are a few examples of gifts you can find off of the beaten path.  If you have more guests than spare bedrooms during the holiday season, take a quick exit off of the beaten track. Reserve a room at the Magnolia House B&B in Hampton, 232 Armistead Ave., Hampton.

“We have been serving the hospitality industry for 10 years and have a consistent 5-star rating on Trip Advisor,” said Lankford Blair, who has owned and has operated the bed and breakfast for 10 years with his wife, Joyce Hill Blair.

“Our guests tell us that their stay exceeded their expectations and they loved our customer service,” Blair said. “If you stay with us you can expect excellent customer service, hospitality and a great meal. Our guests leave full and happy.”

Here’s another adventurous gift idea. Give a custom-made quilt. JoAnne Cramatie has been making custom-made quilts for decades in Newport News. Her most popular quilts spread out to describe the Underground Railroad, Negro Spirituals, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Mahalia Jackson, and Muhammad Ali.

“Customers have told me that they love their quilt because I kept them abreast of the process every step of the way,” said Cramatie , president of the 5440 African-American Quilters Guild. “Everything that I put on it, I map out. Now I take pictures while I am making the quilt and show them.

This means they have a chronological history of the making of the quilt.”

Each specialty quilt takes about three months to finish. Prices range from $1,000 for king-size quilts, to about $800 for a queen-size quilt. Prices for specialty wall hangings range from $500-$700.

“If you want to buy a specialty quilt to give as a gift or an heirloom, consider a commission quilt,” said Cramatie, who heads an organization that has about two dozen members and is always accepting new members. The organization will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2018 in Portsmouth.

“Making a quilt is an adventure,” Cramatie said. “Each time I sell a quilt I get better and it boosts my confidence. Quilting speaks to my spirit because I can create something, look at it and feel good about it. That is no better satisfaction.” To commission a specialty quilt, please phone 723-2236.


Another out-of-the ordinary gift is a CIAA season ticket. Tickets are now on sale for the 2017 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament that will be held in Charlotte at Bojangles Coliseum  from Feb. 21-25.  The championship finals will be held at Spectrum Center, formerly known as Time Warner Cable Arena, on Feb. 23 through 25

“We are excited about the opportunity to host our men’s and women’s basketball teams in these two great venues,”  CIAA commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said in a recent statement.  “This allows us to expand our footprint across the city to deepen our engagement within the community the CIAA calls home, and create experiences that everyone can be a part of.”

CIAA season tickets will give you access to 22 games, live performances by national recording artists, premium vendors, great food, shopping, contests, prizes and more. Tickets can be purchased at www.ciaatournament.org/tickets and Ticketmaster.com. 

Black males who want to shift the conversation away from ho-hum stereotypes, and learn more about the sometimes complicated journey from childhood to manhood will probably enjoy reading a new book you can order on Amazon.com. Dr. Theodore S. Ransaw said he wrote The Art of Being Cool: The Pursuit of Black Masculinity, to elevate the discussion.  

“Black male students did not have a place to explore their identity in a ‘safe-place,” said Ransaw, a research specialist and faculty member in the African and African-American Studies at Michigan State University.

So he wrote his book to launch a conversation that does not follow the well-known path. Separating myth from reality, his book stresses the importance of developing an identity, and examining childhood’s overlooked impact on young adulthood. The Art of Being Cool: The Pursuit of Black Masculinity is available at Amazon.com and www.africanamericanimages.com.

Or give tickets to performances at the Attucks Theatre. Harvey Mason will perform at the Attucks Theatre on Jan. 13 at 8 p.m.  Carmen Bradford will perform Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. Bradford performed with the Count Basie Orchestra from 1982-1990.

Finally, stray away from the beaten path by giving someone a ticket to the African and African-American wine-tasting weekend that will begin Feb. 10 in Richmond at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Tickets to the weekend-long event will include wine-tasting, competition, a brunch at Spoonbread Bistro, jazz, and multiple events at different locations including a mini conference for small business owners in the food, wine/beer/spirits, restaurant/food trucks and specialty gourmet food and beverage industries at the Behind the Business East Conference.

Featured wines and winemakers will  include Shoe Crazy, Mouton Noir Wines, Flo Brands, Heritage Links Brands, Serendipity Wines, and Brown Estates.

For more information, to register and purchase as well as read the latest stories, visit thevinewineclub.com.

The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) recently announced it had received a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The funding will support a three-year, multi-media public awareness campaign focused on the unique opportunities and challenges of the recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

With this grant, NNPA which is the trade association for 211-member Black-owned newspapers across the country, will engage its members in a campaign designed to heighten public awareness of ESSA. Focus will be on efforts and policies aimed at closing the achievement gaps for students of color and low-income students.

The newly passed law replaces No Child Left Behind and reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA). It received bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 10, 2015. The regulations are administered by the U.S. Department of Education and will go into effect on January 30, 2017.

Under ESSA, states will adhere to more flexible federal regulations that provide for improved elementary and secondary education in the nation’s public schools. The law also ensures that every child, regardless of race, income, background, or where they live has the opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.

By raising awareness of ESSA policies, NNPA will seek to empower parents to advocate for these policies for their students and communities. In addition, for opinion leaders, this is a tremendous opportunity to support policies and issues that will make a difference in closing the achievement gap.

The NNPA, headquartered in Washington, DC, is a trade association of the largest and most influential Black-owned media organizations in the United States.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., NNPA President, said the organization, and its members, are uniquely positioned to inform and advocate for the effective implementation of ESSA, which he categorized as the most significant civil rights and education law today.

“NNPA will be in the forefront of informing our readers of efforts to drive support for high standards, assessments, accountability, and equity in education and to ensure that we close the achievement gap. Despite the name change, no child should be left behind due to an inequitable education system,” Chavis said.

NNPA Chairman Denise Rolark Barnes said she is “proud that NNPA will be counted on to get the word out about ESSA to our 20 million newspaper readers and those who Follow and Like us on social media.”

“We look forward to inciting interest and action around ESSA and making it a household name throughout the community,” Rolark Barnes said.

“With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal – that every child, regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live, deserves the chance to make of their lives what they will,” President Barack Obama said when he signed the bill into law last December.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, issued the following statement when the final regulations were released in November: “Passing ESSA was a critical step in our work to make sure all children have access to a high-quality public education, no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make. ”

NNPA will lead efforts to inform and engage communities across the country beginning now through November 2019 by creating editorial content, coordinating special events, using social media to broadcast community announcements and coordinating ad buys in member publications and digital platforms.

By Stacy M. Brown
(NNPA Newswire Contributor)

It’s a trend that many are hoping won’t just turn into a passing fad.

Late last month, Essence magazine noted that after years of slow-burning idealism, #BuyBlack has seen a community-wide takeoff.

And, as the holiday season moves into full swing, the #BuyBlack campaign has led many to imagine what would happen if African-Americans – the largest consumer group of color in the United States with an estimated $1.2 trillion in spending power – routinely demonstrated allegiance to the 2.6 million Black-owned businesses that exist in America.

“I think the #BuyBlack initiative is a good move for the Black community and not just because of dollars and cents,” said Walt L. Jones III, principal of the SEQ Advisory Group, a Bethesda, Maryland-based management consulting and advisory firm dedicated to helping businesses achieve the highest level of performance and efficiency. “There’s the deeper perspective of reinvesting in our own community and building up the local businesses, some that are owned by our friends, neighbors, and relatives.”

The idea of Black capitalism goes back many decades, according to an NPR report which cited the advocacy of civil rights activists Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey for African-Americans to create and do business with each other to build wealth within their own communities.

The #BuyBlack movement has helped Black-owned banks to realize substantial gains. In one month, this summer, Washington, D.C.-based Industrial Bank opened more than 1,500 new accounts with deposit balances of about $2.7 million – or more than the number of accounts that are usually opened in a six-month period.

At Baltimore-based Harbor Bank, new accounts totaled about $10 million in deposits, said Joseph Haskins Jr., the bank’s president and chairman.

“Because of the [#BuyBlack] movement, we’ve received many telephone calls from individuals and organizations who’ve shown a lot of interest,” Haskins said. “Once folks learned or discovered that we are Black-controlled, things took off.”

Results from the most recent Nielsen study revealed that the Black buying power has continued to increase, rising from its current $1 trillion level to a forecasted $1.3 trillion by 2017.

Black buying power has seen an 86 percent increase since 2000 and accounts for 8.7 percent of the nation’s total. The growth in Black buying power stems in part from an increase in the number of Black-owned businesses as well as from an uptick in education among the African-American population, which leads to higher incomes, the report noted.

Also, despite historically high unemployment rates, African-Americans have shown resiliency in their ability to persevere as consumers.

Being a Black-owned business in the beauty industry presents a unique set of challenges that has encouraged retailers, said Richelieu Dennis, the founder and CEO of Sundial Brands, the largest Black-owned beauty company in the country which manufactures Shea Moisture, Shea Girl, Nubian Heritage and Madam C.J. Walker beauty culture.

“So, I am especially encouraged to see the raised level of consciousness that many Black beauty bloggers are driving to bring attention to an issue that has long been a challenge for Black-owned beauty brands,” Dennis said.

“Over the last 25 years, I’ve received questions and judgments about our products and our business that I’m pretty sure few, if any, White-owned businesses have ever had to answer like ‘Since you’re Black, your products are just for Black people, right?’”

The reality is that Black beauty is at the forefront of the beauty revolution – from the mass shift to demanding natural ingredients to the natural, textured hair that we now see on runways, in advertisements and on the covers of international magazines and beyond, Dennis said.

Dennis continued: “So, we have to be positioned to serve all consumers as other groups evolve into embracing new, more inclusive beauty standards. It is critical that we capture the market we have created and that we don’t leave it for someone else to capitalize on which has historically been the case.”

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

The future looks bright for Black Brand, a new non-profit in Hampton Roads, which is an affiliate of The National Black Chamber of Commerce Inc., and the U.S. Black Chambers Inc.
So why does the future look bright for the area’s newest Black Chamber of Commerce? The new non-profit was incorporated on Sept. 22, officially launched on Black Friday, and held its first fundraiser on Nov. 25 at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in downtown Norfolk. Already, the non-profit already has about three dozen members.

“I feel we are a lighthouse on a rocky shore that people can identify with,” said Bert Bergan, who spends about 20 hours a week working without pay as the non-profit’s chief operating officer. “All day long, I am taking phone calls and responding to inbox questions and texts. There’s always some contribution that needs to be made. I anticipate the level of interest will increase.”

Census records and scholarly reports support his predictions. So the future looks bright for the new non-profit because Black consumers, specifically a total of about 1.5 million in Virginia, earn and spend billions of dollars each year, according to census records. And in a 2012 report titled, Blacks in Virginia Demographic Trends in Historical Context, Michele P. Claibourn said, “Blacks are the largest racial minority in Virginia … The City of Petersburg had the largest concentration of Black Virginians, 79 percent. Blacks total more than 1.5 million, or one in five Virginians. . .This proportion has been quite stable since 1970.”

Bergan, who heads Black BRAND is familiar with the data. “We are spending $442 million a year on used cars for example,” said Bergan, who served four years in the Coast Guard, from 1999-2003. “We are spending billions each year on food and housing-related services,” he said. “We need to take this conversation mainstream among ourselves and just let our community know we are our own solution.”

Black BRAND, in plain terms, is an acronym that stands for Business, Research, Analytics Networking and Developing. Membership packages range from $275-$1,000 a year. To achieve at least five goals, which the non-profit established and aims to reach, about two dozen founding members contributed $10,000 for start-up expenses at the non-profit’s first three-hour meeting that was held in the Slover Library on June 25.

Bergan, who heads the new non-profit discussed the organization’s five goals. First, the non-profit aims to create a safe environment where minority owners “do not have to worry about repercussions or being called names,” Bergan said. The new non-profit also aims “to create nurturing environments for us to have the right conversations that promote the right behavior so we can create the right solutions. This organization has some strong people at the table.”

One person who sat at the table when the non-profit was launched this summer was Blair Durham, who serves as the non-profit’s co-founder and co-president. “We plan to have our first 100 members by the end of the year,” said Durham, a 2005 Virginia Tech graduate.

“As a team we made a $10,000 investment to start the business,” Durham said. “Everybody has invested time, resources, money, contacts. But we do have to unify and build trust. We are doing as a team what we are asking the community to do, working together and investing together.”

“This is the third attempt to launch a Black Chamber of Commerce in this area,” said Durham, who has been married for a year to Black BRAND founding member Bushari Durham.  They have a daughter. Durham described the non-profit’s first meeting. “Bruce Smith and Gaylene Kanoyton, who worked with the previous Chamber of Commerce, met with us and worked with us. They were honest about the challenges they had already faced. They told us that the challenges they faced including working together. This is a labor intensive undertaking and (the former members) told us that they often did not have the time to devote to the Chamber of Commerce.”

The new non-profit is mindful of the past but is focusing on the future.

Durham said the new organization envisions having  100 members before 2016  ends. And anyone can become a member. Just choose a membership package from  three tiers.

“That’s it,” she said zeroing in on other goals. “We plan to launch an app by Jan. 1,” she said. “It will be free to our members. It will allow business owners to create their own web page with their logo and business hours and to notify their consumer base. It will provide coupons and discounts to the business owner’s consumer base. It will be a business directory.”
The non-profit also plans to provide courses and boot camps to new business owners, as well as a graduate program for seasoned business owners. “It is all free to our members,” she said. “We plan to strengthen the community by pulling businesses together.”

But developing trust is one of the crucial challenges that the new non-profit faces. Black and white organizers have historically derailed many promising business ventures, a fact that both Bergan and Durham acknowledged.

For example, the Department of Justice launched more than 1,000 felony convictions against white-collar, high-level executives during the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s. African-Americans and Hispanics, meanwhile, during the recent Great Depression were more susceptible to deception and predatory lending practices and were disproportionately steered into higher-priced loans despite the fact that many – based on their income and credit profile – would have qualified for the best-priced terms.

“You will hear the financial services industry say we are reaching out to communities, but the proof is in the perception of the community,” Washington Post, columnist Michelle Singletary wrote in a June 15, 2011 column in the Washington Post. “If the community doesn’t perceive you’ve reached them, then you haven’t.”

Pinpointing the fundamental challenge that many new companies, especially those that aim to serve minority consumers encounter, Singletary wrote, “Many financial services companies have taken advantage of consumers, including African-Americans. We only have to look to the recent financial crisis to find evidence of deception and predatory lending practices. … But African-Americans are no different from other investors. They want financial peace and will invest and save better when companies earn their trust.”

Black BRAND aims to regain the trust of minority consumers with three strategies.  “Our first solution is to increase Black business revenue,” Durham said. “Our second solution is to launch membership-based training and to improve the certification process for minority businesses. Our third solution is to increase public awareness for the need for Black economics.”
Black BRAND, in other words, aims to change the old paradigm, said Durham, who said her faith-based beliefs and her ancestor’s examples  motivated her to help launch the new non-profit this summer in the Slover Library. Her grandfather, O’Neal Fornville, owned “a thriving barber shop,” she said. He and her grandmother, Edna Wade Fornville operated several successful businesses in the Norfolk area.

“They had a concept of ownership, and without that concept, there will be no real change,” said Durham, pointing to another successful entrepreneur, her brother, O’Neil Fornville III, a Norfolk State University graduate who has owned his own trucking authority in North Carolina for 18 years.

“To me, it (Black BRAND) was a matter of coming full circle,” Durham said. “To me, it was inevitable that frustrated  with the plight of African-Americans, we would come together to carry on in the spirit of our ancestors.”

By Brendan O’Hallarn

Sophomore management major Janay Brown is an anomaly. Not only did she earn a great grade with her senior high school project in Haymarket, Virginia in 2015 to create bacon-themed sweets, Brown turned the idea into an Internet-based bacon business, and brought it with her to Old Dominion where she developed it further at the Strome Entrepreneurial Center.

Known as Full Belly Delights LLC, the business has taken off. Her bacon-filled treats are produced and shipped from a facility in Virginia Beach.

“It’s going great, actually,” Brown said. “It’s been hard work, but really fun to watch this business grow.”

At the recent Student Entrepreneurial Expo, Brown and her mother served flavored bacon truffle samples from two long tables at one end of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center. Chatting engagingly with customers who came by, the mother-and-daughter sales team spoke passionately about favorite flavors.

Full Belly Delights’ bacon truffle delights, bacon pops and flavored bacon come in flavors like tiramisu, sriracha and caramel, and many others.

“I’ve always had a passion for the culinary arts and enjoy cooking, eating and trying new foods,” Brown said.

A big focus of Brown’s business is on presentation of the bacon-flavored sweets. Each type of flavored bacon (except deep-fried) is marinated in a secret homemade recipe before being prepared.

“Our mission to our customers is to strive for top quality in presentation and in taste as we handcraft each order that comes to us,” Brown said.

The business is getting attention on and off campus. Full Belly Delights has been featured in local media outlets. This month, Brown was awarded one of three $3,000 prizes during the first annual “Lion’s Lair” entrepreneurial competition, hosted by the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, Old Dominion University Alumni Association and Entsminger Entrepreneurial Fellows.

Brown said working with fellow student entrepreneurs through the Strome Center has been a tremendous boost. She said the ability to trade ideas, share frustrations and support each other has helped each entrepreneur in a quest to create their own career.

That was the impetus behind the 2014 gift of $11 million from alumnus Mark Strome ‘78, which was used to create the Strome Entrepreneurial Center.

The Strome Center exists to support University-affiliated entrepreneurs at every stage of the business lifecycle. There, students, faculty, staff and alumni receive coaching and build business connections.

For the past three years, six faculty members have also been selected annually for the Entsminger Fellows program. They are charged with bringing entrepreneurship into the University’s academic colleges.

Old Dominion also maintains a decades-long effort to be a resource for the local business community through support initiatives such as the Center for Enterprise Innovation (CEI), which evolved from the University’s Business Gateway in 2014. The CEI seeks to foster local economic growth through a series of interconnected programs created to help local entrepreneurs, such as the Technology Applications Center, Women’s Business Center and Hampton Roads Veterans Business Outreach Center.

In July, the ODU Innovation Center – Norfolk, a partnership between CEI and the City of Norfolk, was launched. It provides area entrepreneurs with collaboration space and a comprehensive program of services designed to grow a community of scalable entrepreneurial businesses within Norfolk’s Innovation Corridor.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief  Reporter
New Journal and Guide

Norfolk native and  Booker T. Washington High School product,  Bruce Smith had a stellar career in the  NFL,  highlighted by four  trips to the Super Bowl as a Defensive Linemen with the Buffalo Bills. After his career ended in 2003,  he turned in his NFL uniform, formed Bruce Smith Enterprises, LLC and instead of chasing elusive QBs, he pursued real estate development opportunities.

Over the years Smith has built an enviable reputation as a partner or direct investor in various projects. But he has not achieved any meaningful development projects on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront which attracts thousands  of tourists and generates millions for the city. Smith said it may be because he is an African-American.

Smith expressed his dismay in a letter on November 18 to Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms which caught the Mayor’s attention.

That’s not the case at all, responded Sessoms a day later which led Smith to hold a press conference on November 28 at Rudee Loop, one of the areas he wanted to help develop, but the city turn him down. Smith stood behind a lectern and addressed about 30 supporters and print and broadcast media, taking an aim at the mayor for refusing to commit to doing a disparity study to determine if indeed Virginia Beach policies deter Blacks and other minorities from securing city contracts.

In his November 18 letter to Sessoms, and sent to members of city council, the governor, 24 members of the House of Delegates and 10 Senators, representing portions of the Beach and other parts of the  region, Smith spelled out his stand on the matter of his inability to develop property at the Oceanfront.

“I have endeavored for 10 years to do business as a real estate developer in the Virginia Beach Oceanfront,” Smith wrote in the three-page letter. 

“With the business relations and contacts I have fostered through my 19-year NFL career, I have been able to partner with Fortune 500 and 100 companies to create world class projects that would undoubtedly be a boon for the city of Virginia Beach.

“Yet despite my efforts and the inherent merits of these projects that would generate thousands of jobs and revenue for the city, I have been met with  unwarranted opposition,”

Smith said when he has asked why, “I have received only the most evasive and nonsensical of answers in response … such as ‚we don‘t want a cookie cutter project or a chain restaurant…we are not ready to develop that site or someone else has a better project.”

 Smith wrote that he noted even the local media has pointed out that he may  be  ‘the wrong Bruce,” a reference to  Beach Developer Bruce Thompson, who has been awarded some $18  million in city funds to rehabilitate the old Cavalier Hotel.

“At the stage of the process, with all the qualifications I have brought to the table as a developer, it is certainly not unfounded that I would point out  the possibility that  I am being unfairly marginalized and excused on the basis of race.”

Smith asked if the city was still applying  the “implicit mandates of the old Jim Crow South which would require that economic empowerment and enfranchisement be reserved for whites.”
“Is the Virginia Beach establishment safely guarding its gates to ensure that its most hallowed and exclusive club remains forever closed to minorities?”

Smith noted in the letter that city leaders call  Virginia Beach the “greatest city in the  country.”

But, Smith said, the city will “not achieve that greatness  which is within its grasp if  it does lead with inclusion and racial diversity.”

Smith requested that the city conduct a disparity study to define the reasons why minority developers have not been allowed to participate fully in the city’s procurement system.

Mayor Sessoms  responded to Smith’s  letter the following day and denied  that race plays a part in why he has failed to secure a meaningful development deal in the city.

In the November 23 edition of the edition of the Virginian Pilot, Sessoms said  Smith’s claims had no basis in fact, and were “totally wrong.”

Sessoms said that during his seven year tenure as mayor,  he has focused on increasing city contracts with minority businesses.

“I welcome with open arms Bruce Smith doing business in the city of Virginia Beach,” he said.

“The doors of this city are open to anybody and everybody,” he said in the Pilot article. “I reiterate how important it is to have more diversity of investment at the Oceanfront; that doesn’t have one thing to do with race, as far as I am concerned. I would like more people to have a stake in investment at the Oceanfront.”

During his press conference at the Rudee Loop, Smith said if the city has been unable to reach its minority contracting goal of 10 percent in the eight years Sessoms has been mayor, “this is a very serious problem.”

Blacks represent about 30 percent of the  city’s population.

Smith has reported that he has a stake in the Hyatt Place Hotel at the Oceanfront and previously was a partner in the Cosmopolitan apartments at the city’s Towne Center. Smith honed his developing skills working with the Armada Hoffler Development Corporation.  He has three development projects in D.C.

According to his business resume, he was the main developer in a project in Blacksburg where he built a Hilton Garden Inn  and the Smith Landing Apartments. Smith has sought some input  into the development of the Beach Dome site and the Rudee Loop, which the city is developing with housing and commercial  outlets.

For the past several years, according the 200 Plus Men of Hampton Roads, its leaders have urged all of  Hampton Roads’ cities to conduct a disparity study to determine the level of minority participation in each city’s procurement system.

But  only the school board of Portsmouth and  the city of Hampton have undertaken any studies.

Bruce Williams, who chairs the 200 Plus Men’s Economic Justice Committee and is the owner of a P.R. firm at the Beach, has spearheaded the effort to get area locales to do the studies
Williams said the studies would shed light on the  lack  of traction that minorities, especially Blacks,  have  been able to make to compete for city contracts.

The mayor said last week that instead of a study,  the city should invest in expanding the minority procurement  program  and build better ties with minority businesses.

In 2008, the Virginia Beach City Council established a business target of 10 percent of Small Minority and Women-owned (SWAM)  goods and services; construction; and architectural and engineering services. This past year, it had achieved   6.5 percent of its SWAM contract goals. But Black  leaders at the  Beach say that if you single out Black businesses, the figure stands at less than 2 percent.

“If you look at what he has done,  in other places on other projects, his resources, his connections and career in the NFL, the question is why not?” said Bruce Williams about Smith. “Why can’t he be a viable developer at the Beach? How many chances did they give the guys who proposed to redevelop the Dome area?”

Williams continued, “Other people, it seems, are encouraged to  do so and their proposals are vetted. Why not Bruce Smith? If this were in D.C., Atlanta or New York, this would not be a question.  People smile at you and shake your hands, but that has not gone anywhere. I  think enough is enough.”

Virginia Beach native  Delceno Miles also owns and operates the Miles agency, a P.R. firm

“I am not sure what his proposals were for the  Dome site or the Rudee Loop projects,” said Miles.  “But he has a proven reputation  as a developer. He could go to Buffalo  where he played in the  NFL or D.C. but he wants to invest  here at the Beach.” Smith lives in Virginia Beach.

George Minns is the  President of the Historic Seatack community’s Civic League and is  seeking re-election to the Beach’s NAACP Presidency.

Minns, who is known to challenge the city on various policies and issues affecting the African-American community, said based on his research and personal experience, contrary to Mayor Sessoms’ declaration, he believes Smith’s claim.

“I have had personal experiences with the racist  traditions and policies toward Black people in this city of Virginia Beach,” said Minns. “The city of Chesapeake, created the same year the Beach was, Norfolk, Portsmouth and other cities have resolved many of their racial issues, but it seems the Beach has not.

“This city generates thousands of tourists, including Blacks who also spend dollars at the  Oceanfront, where the money stays to pay  for various projects,” said Minns. “But this has not translated into any economic progress for Blacks down there.

“We are 28 percent of the city’s population, but we represent  just 1 percent participation in procurement,” he said. “There are  30 Black police officers, few Black fire fighters, no Black circuit court judges  and soon, no African-Americans on city council.  This city wants to project a progressive and diverse image to lure  tourists here. But it has not lived up to it.”

Gary McCollum recently ran for the state senate  and fell short. He was a long time Executive with Cox Communications of Hampton Roads.

“In 2008 the city promised  to  expand its Small Women and Minority-owned (SWAM) representation for procurement contracts to 10 percent” he said.  “The last number I saw was at 1 percent. Something is not right.

“They say Virginia Beach is the greatest city in the world,” said McCollum. “But for some and not all, it seems.”

Stay in the Know with Us!

Weekly Newsletter
Your stories. Your Community.