‘Beyond Parity’ theme shapes Economic Development Forum

Three-day event designed to elevate

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The Mid-South Minority Business Council (MMBC) Continuum’s 11th annual Economic Development Forum got underway at the Guest House at Graceland on Tuesday.

The three-day forum puts weight on the importance of creating an inclusive economy for minority and women business enterprises (MWBE) and notes the lack thereof – hence the theme “Beyond Parity.”

“Parity just means equal. It doesn’t equate to increased revenues and wealth,” MMBC president Jozelle Luster Booker said. “Parity just means that everyone shares and participates. We want to move beyond that level of thinking by creating conversations and identifying ways we can elevate.”

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a social change strategy firm, was the keynote for the event’s power breakfast on Wednesday. She detailed why America needs an inclusive economy.

Like many in the audience, Rockeymoore is a minority business owner and was able to offer anecdotal experiences in her own journey to empower others. She told the story of her grandfather, who was a first-generation freed slave, father of nine and a serial entrepreneur.

“My grandfather owned several businesses and although he wasn’t a multi-millionaire, he was able to leave an inheritance for all of his children which is almost unheard of in the black community.”

Rockeymoore used that example to highlight the lack of capital that MWBEs have and provided possible solutions.

“We can’t all be like Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and start businesses with our parents’ wealth,” Rockeymoore said. “And if you’re like me, you don’t have any millionaire friends to borrow from. So how do we establish capital?”

Sponsors that value inclusivity, business training geared towards the ABCs of a sustainable business and democratized access to education and financial capability were all possible solutions given to close the gap of racial wealth and eliminate an exclusive economy.

Every five years the U.S. government conducts a census of businesses owners. In the latest census, statistics showed that the vast majority of entrepreneurs didn’t have employees. Between race, gender and ethnicity, African-American women business owners were last in terms of the percentage. Only 2.5 percent of African-American women had employees. Almost 70 percent of firms without employees had sales under $25,000 per year.

Wanting to conduct her own census, Rockeymoore researched data from 2007 to 2012 finding that there was a 20.2 percent increase of businesses because the number of firms owned by women of color went up dramatically at that time.

She also discovered that if people of color were proportionally represented among other business owners, there would be 1.1 million more businesses owned by people of color, 9 million more jobs and $300 billion more in workers’ income.

Businesses are assets that can create wealth. Studies show that entrepreneurs have a better chance at closing the racial wealth gap than those who are employees.

“Yes, entrepreneurs do have a better chance at closing the gap but because of the systematic factors of the government policies that prevent minorities from the same opportunities, it is unlikely,” Rockeymoore said.

It would take an African-American family 228 years to build the wealth of the average white family.

Anita Knowles traveled to Memphis from Tupelo, Miss., for her fourth time attending the forum to learn more about how MWBEs can begin to move beyond parity.

“I am a part of the Minority PUL Alliance and we are a nonprofit organization that provides support to minority businesses,” Knowles said.

“We currently serve 117 members and I can’t wait to be able to share this new knowledge with them about having a business plan and shifting their mindsets to expand and sustain their businesses.”