When reflecting on Juneteenth, three words come to mind: inhumane, resilience, grit. These words reflect the violent atrocities perpetrated against Black people for hundreds of years, but these words also reflect Black people’s ability to persevere with an inextinguishable fire to fight for the rights of all people.
To appreciate this view, it’s important to understand the history.
About 157 years ago in Galveston, Texas ― June 19, 1865, specifically ― enslaved Black people received word of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, stating that they were no longer enslaved under the law. The celebrations that followed marked the beginning of what became known as Juneteenth – combining June and the day of the actual announcement.
It’s worth noting that the 1863 proclamation was not announced in Texas until two years after being signed into law by Abraham Lincoln and that the proclamation did not truly deliver on the promise made. New laws and practices were systematically put in place and institutionalized to intentionally prevent Black people from access to viable employment, business and land ownership, education, support networks, and financial resources. Despite Black people’s resolve, these laws and practices significantly hindered their ability to build wealth for themselves and future generations.
Today, Juneteenth is a day, a week, and in some cases a month of celebration. It’s a time to commemorate that resilience and grit. It’s also a time and an open invitation for all of us to reflect, assess, and plan for our future. A future that embraces our diversity as our strength and a future that unites and honors our collective action to create justice, equality, and opportunity for all.
The many impediments that Black people have faced for hundreds of years have significantly affected Black generational wealth and, by consequence, our economy. For instance, Black families are less likely to receive inheritances, and when they do, the amounts are smaller, according to one McKinsey & Co. study. The gap in inheritances between Black and white recipients is some $200 billion annually, the consultancy concluded.
One of the most viable ways to help close the wealth gap is through Black business ownership. Indeed, another recent McKinsey study, found that “the median net worth for Black business owners is about 12 times that of Black non-business owners.”
That’s why we should celebrate and honor the many Black business owners that are not just surviving the current socio-economic conditions, but are thriving despite it. Their stories are not only ones of success but also of lessons in how their failures did not deter them but helped to fuel their resolve.
It’s also about how their success did not occur in a vacuum either. These Black business owners had other people, resources, and networks that they could access and rely on as well. And we should lift up the individuals, organizations, and corporations in their networks that are in relationships with Black businesses.
It’s also a time to remember that there are many other capable Black business owners who do not have adequate access to the capital, resources, and networks required to achieve lasting business success. And even more Blacks who want to start businesses, but have no access to needed resources.
In fact, The Brookings Institution's report on Black-owned businesses in the United States identified some 3.12 million Black-owned businesses, generating $206 billion in annual revenue, and supporting 3.56 million U.S. jobs.
“In a parity scenario [with the 135,000 of those businesses that have more than one employee] Black-owned businesses would generate $1.6 trillion more than they do today,” McKinsey noted.
Indeed, “if all minorities owned businesses in proportion to their share of the labor force, we would see up to one million new businesses, nine million jobs, and $300 billion in worker income added to the U.S. economy,” McKinsey further estimated.
That’s a win for everyone.
Over the last two years, there has been an increase in the sense of urgency and commitment to address many of these disparities, particularly among large corporations. That reflects significant movement in the right direction. The next step toward success is to continue to hold ourselves accountable to the right metrics that demonstrate measurable progress for Black businesses and for our collective economy and society.
Holding ourselves accountable, I am optimistic.
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