- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A new business group targeted toward African-Americans will encompass all of Southern Maryland, but focus especially on Charles County.
The Southern Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce, which will hold its first formal meeting later this month, aims to provide educational and networking opportunities chiefly, but not solely, to black entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners, the group’s leaders said Monday.
“I’ve been asked, why do we need a black chamber? My bottom line is simple. We need an organization that is providing services specific to what their needs are,” said Doris J. Cammack Spencer, president and chief executive of the new group as well as chairwoman of the Southern Maryland Consortium of African American Community Organizations, a coalition including local NAACP chapters and other groups.
Among the needs of black entrepreneurs are the social and educational events often provided by other business groups, but where black members might have felt unwanted, Spencer said.
“That’s what we’re trying to address. To be honest with you — and this is who I am, always — they don’t feel comfortable in these organizations. They don’t feel welcome. As I’ve also said, the cost to become a member is exorbitant, especially for minority companies,” Spencer said.
Creating a black chamber made sense as more black people, including professionals, move into Charles County, said Janice Wilson, the chairwoman of the board of the black chamber and the president of the Charles County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“We felt that because of the increased numbers of minorities moving into Charles especially, other counties not so much, but Charles County, we felt we needed to create a black chamber to serve the needs of that population,” Wilson said. “One of the primary goals of the black chamber is to bring awareness to the minority business community of opportunities and to create networking opportunities for black businesses.”
Among ideas under discussion, Wilson said, are workshops to teach people how to run for local political office and to help minority-owned businesses learn how to do business with governments under programs that set contracts aside for businesses that are considered disadvantaged, Wilson said.
Teaching entrepreneurship to the young could be another goal, she said.
“I’ve had this idea for a while: I want to offer help to young people. As you know, as many of us know, our young people need our help. They seem to be disconnected, from not society, [but] in terms of their education, maybe finishing high school but not heading toward anything. We’re hoping to offer some workshops on ... some things to help that population navigate their way through life,” Wilson said.
Another reason to support the black chamber involves “issues” with the Charles County Chamber of Commerce, Spencer said, including the formation of a competing business group by its former executive director, Ken Gould.
“The point of the matter is simply this: That’s crazy. I really and truly know that in order for us to do what we know needs to be done for our community … we need to cut through all this stuff. We don’t have the time or the energy to be dabbling in personalities. We are in the business of making a difference and providing resources that these businesses need to be successful,” Spencer said.
The Southern Maryland group is in “its very embryonic stages,” said Charles DeBow, vice president of special projects for the National Black Chamber of Commerce, based in Washington, D.C.
The Southern Maryland Black Chamber has not joined the national group, though its leaders are considering it and will attend a training next month, Wilson said.
National membership carries benefits including guidance in sustaining a local chamber, DeBow said.
“The easy, quick thing is that we’ve got a template for the best practices and procedures for starting a chamber and operating a chamber, and how to avoid many of the pitfalls that are the things that cause a chamber to become dysfunctional,” he said. “It’s very easy to start a chamber. It is extremely difficult to sustain it for one year, two years, five years.”
Among the traps that can ensnare new groups are “being too introspective,” or focusing on the special interests of dominant members. Another is duplicating too closely the efforts of other groups, DeBow said.
“You can easily tell a lot about a chamber by the diversity of the types of businesses and the types of activities that are being conducted,” DeBow said.
The Southern Maryland Black Chamber is organizing as a 501(c)(6), which permits it to engage in political activism, Spencer said, while the National Black Chamber is organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, DeBow said, meaning it must abstain from electoral politics. Most black chambers are organized along the same lines as the national group, but it does have 501(c)(6) chapters as well, DeBow said.
Eric Franklin, chairman of the Southern Maryland Workforce Investment Board and owner of a technology company, said he supports the black chamber’s mission but has not decided whether or not to join.
“I think it’s important that people give this organization an opportunity to prove their worth and value to the community,” Franklin said.
Besides Spencer and Wilson, the Southern Maryland Black Chamber’s officers are Mike Moses as vice president, Reggie Kearney as vice chairman, Dawn Tucker as recording secretary, Agnes Butler as corresponding secretary and Joyce Freeland as secretary. Except for Butler, all of the officers also are listed as members of the Southern Maryland Consortium of African American Community Organizations on the consortium website.
Annual dues are $50 for individuals and $25 for full-time high school or postsecondary students, Wilson said. Business memberships are assessed on a sliding scale: $100 for those with 10 or fewer employees; $150, between 11 and 25; $350, between 26 and 50; and $750 for businesses with more than 50 workers. Nonprofit memberships cost $100.
The first meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. June 28 at the Hilton Garden Inn at 10385 O’Donnell Place in Waldorf.
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