My friend Kristi Tally wrote this guest post for my blog as part of a larger conversation around increasing diversity among Raleigh's business owners. Let me know your thoughts by tweeting at me - @BonnerGaylord - using the hashtag #BInclusive
“Raleigh 4 U.” I have seen this tag line used quite often on the City of Raleigh’s literature and website. To the extent, I began to consider its true meaning and how - or if - this applies to all of the citizens of Raleigh. I am not sure of the origin of this slogan yet somehow I suppose it was adopted with intent to express to the citizens that our government is working for us - all of us. But, for whatever reason this motto exists, the greater question is, “for whom does our government really work?” Beyond the slogans and the catch phrases I wonder who Raleigh is really “for.”
You see, I am a native, lifelong resident, lifetime member of a local church and business owner here in the City of Oaks. Yet, oftentimes, even I feel more and more like a visitor. If I feel this way as a native, I cannot begin to imagine the effect on others who are trying their best to gain prosperity and success in the local economy. Or not to mention those who are in need of just getting a hand up. Few can overlook the economic vibrancy of many areas in Raleigh. Let’s consider the downtown district for example. Much of it lies in my hometown of Southeast Raleigh and I must admit I am in awe of the immense change over the past several years. Just take a drive or stroll down Fayetteville, Martin, Davie, Salisbury, Wilmington and Morgan streets then head on over to the Glenwood South district and the development in those areas is absolutely astounding.
It is breathtaking to observe the transition and shift of our city. Major events are held just about every week, friends and families enjoy time out downtown, major road races held, movie nights, gatherings after work at nearby restaurants, development projects seemingly on every corner, and the list goes on. Ah yes, Downtown. Yet, amid all of the celebrations, laughter, good times and massive development - therein lies a major and troubling issue - where are the black-owned businesses? I must applaud the small handful of those who have gained access in the new development coupled with those who’ve stood the test of time and maintained their businesses despite the changing dynamics.
However, there is a clear disparity in the number of black-owned businesses entering this marketplace that we must not overlook any longer. The strength of our entrepreneurial ecosystem lies in ensuring everyone is included and receives a fair shake at opportunities to grow and prosper their businesses. We must also reduce the “pockets of targeted progress” where only certain groups succeed and one primary demographic is disenfranchised and shut out as major growth and economic development is underway. So, how do we change this trajectory and build a system of inclusion and equality in our acclaimed city?
Here are a few suggestions for addressing these contemporary challenges:
1. First and foremost, our government leaders and their key partners have to be fundamentally committed to creating “One Raleigh” - an integrated Raleigh. An inclusive city that advances the cause of fairness and justice for all residents in every zip code. We also call on our government leaders and policymakers to lead whole communities - not just the “choice” segments of it.
2. Now is the time for all of us to unite as the citizenry, decision makers, elected officials and other critical leaders to embrace meaningful change for Raleigh by creating new opportunities for diverse groups of current and aspiring business owners. This vital dialogue should lead to actionable results and tangible change in our city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
3. The entrepreneurship conferences, workshops and professional development experiences led by the elected officials and their partners should purposefully bring together diverse communities that reflect the face of Raleigh - not be held as exclusive events for the advantaged. We can take responsibility to search our networks via social media, our local media and other outlets to ensure we are intentionally engaging businesses from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, industries and socio-economic circumstances.
4. The City of Raleigh’s Small Disadvantaged Minority and Women Owned Businesses Program should be fully resourced and financially supported in order to provide the most up-to-date resources for small business owners throughout the city and most importantly to level the playing field for all who are aiming to grow and develop their enterprises. This division should also be empowered to continue cultivating and nurturing viable partnerships with prime contractors and subsequently creating online portals or repositories so that subcontractors and primes can begin making valuable connections for procurement and possibly developing mentor/mentee relationships.
Governments are stronger when they make all citizens feel included. This can be an amazing moment in Raleigh history for us to awaken the conscience, raise awareness and change the course of history. It is only until then that can we can truly become... Raleigh 4 U.
By Kristi Tally
CEO and Founder, KD7 Enterprises, Inc.