by Joyce Kyles, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Speaking to a diverse mix of business leaders, government officials and candidates seeking office, Congressman Cedric Richmond implored the movers and shakers of Memphis to spend their dollars in Memphis’ most vulnerable communities.
“When you have a limited number of dollars to give and you have to give out contracts, give those dollars to your most vulnerable communities,” said Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and the U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. “It is those communities who will provide you the biggest return on those dollars and those dollars will multiply the most.
“That one contract can create and expand into additional ideas and opportunities to grow those communities in a positive and thriving way, becoming something that uplifts the community,” he added.
Richmond’s speech was part of the March 16 Moving the Needle on Minority Business meet-and-greet focused on improving the presence of minority businesses in the greater Memphis area. Sponsored by The Redwing Group, Metro Service Group and Jerry Hall and Associates, the invite-only affair was held at the Crescent Club.
Richmond pointed out very early in his presentation the connection between the success of Metro Service Group, a licensed contractor in New Orleans, and the success of the city of New Orleans, asserting that if Metro is doing well, it means that New Orleans is doing well. He shared how there has never been a time that he’s called on Metro Service to hire ex-offenders to give them a chance or said, “I need you to sponsor this Little League team, this after-school program or this church trip,” and they didn’t do it.
“When you build capacity within your own community, you’re actually solving the problems within that community,” Richmond said.
“Dr. King didn’t wait until he grew up to be a leader. He led the Montgomery boycott at age 26. The other thing is, Dr. King wasn’t poor. He grew up middle class like many of the people in this room. He didn’t sit back and say, ‘I got mine. Go get yours.’ He was in Memphis fighting for the sanitation workers. We have an obligation to fight for those who aren’t doing as well as we’re doing.”
Richmond and others also spoke on the role of diversity and relationships within the business community.
Ron Redwing, CEO of The Redwing Group, said, “As we embark on MLK50, there’s been a real push and a fight for true economic equity in this city and in this community. As we move towards that, this was a good opportunity for us to continue to encourage the private sector to engage with small, African-American businesses and it was certainly a good opportunity to have Congressman Richmond to come and shine light on the Congressional Black Caucus’ push towards economic empowerment…
“We expect government to do what government does, and we want government to be involved. But government can’t do it alone,” Redwing said.
“With our numbers being as dismal as they are; under 1 percent being spent with African-American businesses, we certainly want to encourage the private sector to engage more and do more and be more of an active participant in ensuring that the dollars that they spend are spent with African-American businesses.”
Carolyn Hardy, president and CEO of Chism Hardy Investments LLC, shared the importance of understanding that many of the women who have been successful with moving the needle have all shared similar stories of feeling intimidated when pursuing business opportunities. Hardy said seeking mentors and sharing ideas are extremely helpful and pursuing an education is also key.
Norma Lester, secretary for the Shelby County Election Commission, encouraged the idea of relationship building, not being afraid to step out and ask for help and, like Hardy, expressed the importance of having mentors.
In closing, Richmond encouraged attendees to have the mindset that no matter who wins the contract, “we’re going to team up and demand access to the whole pie. And, we must also reward those companies who are doing right, giving people chances and supporting the communities. We need to recognize that it’s not always the popular or easy choice. Therefore, we should lift them up, stand by them and support their efforts.”
Leon Gray, director of Community Outreach/Media Relations for Shelby County Juvenile Court, expressed his appreciation for Richmond’s visit.
“Anytime you can have someone who is a proven public servant outside the 901 who decides to come and talk to us about the progress they’ve made, how they made it, plans they have for future progress, then my ears perk up. I’m willing to listen.”
(Joyce Kyles is an Amazon best-selling author and executive director of Walking Into A New Life, Inc.)