I Have a Dream

Over the course of a year, no event brings me greater joy and inspiration than the convening of the National Minority Development Supplier Council Kellogg Advanced Management Education Program.

For 17 years I have been an adjunct professor and academic adviser to this program that brings together 40 to 50 entrepreneurs in Evanston, Ill.

For many of the business owners, returning to an academic institution initially causes considerable stress and concern. Some question whether they’ll be able to compete. Others express concerns about leaving their growing businesses for five days and the possible negative impact on their bottom line.

Within the first two days these concerns are behind them, and friendships form as they are inspired by Kellogg faculty members and outside speakers.

The council president reinforces her commitment to growth and development, and most importantly, business owners see their class as a unified force not only to help fellow classmates but the communities they live in.

When graduation day occurs every year it is difficult for me to hold back my emotions; I am proud of participants. And every year one or more of them will ask, “Jim, what do you think will be the future of minority business enterprise in the United States?”

I give them my sincere and honest reply: “It will depend on you.” I tell them not to expect a leader on a white horse to save them or minority business enterprises.

As individual entrepreneurs they have to design and implement the business case for minority business enterprise. They have to create the jobs and develop the globally competitive products and services. They have to train the next generation of leaders, and they have to demonstrate that working together they can have an impact. I state clearly that operating as islands might help them and their families, but not society.

Many of these entrepreneurs are first-generation business owners; they have experienced life in the inner cities in our prosperous nation. Deep down they want to give back, and many of them do, but they accept that life in the inner cities is getting worse, not better.

They accept that they have a greater responsibility to be change agents and they vow to organize themselves, to share contacts, to form strategic relationships and even invest in one another.

Despite the good efforts and intentions of the leaders in these organizations, for many in the inner cities their lives and the lives of their children have not changed dramatically. The clock is ticking, and their programs and projects are often too limited in scope, vision and content to have a major impact.

The truth is, just like my participants in the Kellogg program, operating as islands limits growth. In most cases there is no sharing of data, resources, concepts, personnel and sponsors to move the larger change agenda.

Many organizations will survive, meet payroll, provide jobs for a few, and their leaders will be asked to be panelists on TV talk shows. But at this time in our country’s history, is this enough, and should these be the matrices for measuring success?

Over the years I have attended just about every African-American and Hispanic-focused convention. In most cases, conventions are well attended, friendships are formed or re-established, big name personalities give keynote speeches, and panels are led by the same experts saying the same things they have been saying for the past 20 years.

I have a dream that all the organizations that are truly committed to helping the less fortunate meet together, plan together, share resources, concepts and personnel and get off their islands to effect major positive change. The old approaches and designs are focused on survival and not on major change.

The organizations that are stronger and have more money in the bank might have to take the lead. Hopefully when they do, others will accept and embrace their leadership, and appreciate the concept that all boats will rise with the tide.