Milestone dates are always cause for reflection. So it is at McKenna Publishing, and the year 2015 is one of particular significance to us. At this time, we pause…looking back… assessing where we have been, as we plot our journey forward.
It seems only yesterday, but in reality it was 30 long years ago that we launched The New Orleans Tribune, a monthly news journal geared to the then-burgeoning Black middle class in the city.
1985. Oh, those were heady days. We had just emerged from the eight years of Dutch Morial’s tenure as mayor—a time when we high-fived at Gallier Hall, held our heads a little bit higher as we walked into City Hall; an era when, with no uncertain swagger, we took our seats on boards and commissions where we hadn’t been invited to serve before—exciting times, indeed.
After Dutch’s reign, we welcomed Sidney Barthelemy, the city’s second Black mayor and reveled in the doors that were being opened because he was “there” and others of us in increasing numbers were gaining entry as well. Then in 1997, three years into Marc Morial’s tenure with his almost laser focus on building an African-American business class and opening economic opportunities to all New Orleans’ citizens, McKenna Publishing launched The BlackBook, our comprehensive and much heralded directory of African-American owned businesses, professionals and service providers in the greater New Orleans area. The economic inclusion agenda that our young mayor was advancing as it related to empowering an entire community meshed with ours; and we were convinced that The BlackBook was an important way in which we could assist in an ambitious undertaking for the benefit of the city. This book provided a compilation of those businesses and services most often sought for easy identification and retrieval—an at-your-fingertips tool for consultation by consumers and procurement officers as to availability of skills and services, a clear guide as to where and with whom to spend one’s money, a directory that urged our readers to spend their money with African-American owned businesses as well as those majority-owned businesses that respected us and our money.
We believed then, as we do today, that so many of the social problems plaguing Black people have their roots in money and economic opportunities—the lack thereof, to be specific. So it was with an agenda built on the pilings of “silver” rights that most every issue of our fledgling paper proselytized around the need for our African-American citizenry to sit at the table as partners, a table that we came to realize would have to be created by and built by us for us. History had taught, as so many other ethnic groups had come to realize long before—that starting our own businesses, supporting our own enterprises, investing in real estate and protecting our own neighborhoods, and creating jobs for ourselves and others of us is our salvation. That is one reason we celebrated when the city’s fourth African-American mayor, Ray Nagin, awarded the largest contracts ever to two Black-owned businesses. Of course, we were proud of the good fortune of the individual businessmen. But more importantly, we believed that as their businesses grew and expanded, their support of the community through jobs and resources would also grow. We have not been disappointed.
With this in mind, we focused on bringing real power to the people by educating our readers on ways in which they could influence and control their own destinies while building stability in their communities. Conscious consumerism and cooperative economics have always been our rallying cry.
We published our first edition of the BlackBook 18 years ago; and we have not stopped. Just last year, we launched a media blitz with our partners Liberty Bank & Trust. Co. and radio station WBOK 1230 AM. Called “We Are the Missing Piece”, this campaign was intended to raise the awareness of the importance of spending money with our own. The effort urged citizens to spend $50 a week with Black owned businesses. We calculated that if only 100,000 African Americans living in the New Orleans metro area committed to spending just $50 a week with Black-owned businesses, the activity would generate $5 million circulating in the Black community each week.
What we were most proud of is that the campaign placed the accountability for and responsibility to our communities directly on us and our people because it is up to us. If we do not act and speak on our own behalf, no one else will. And to be sure, there is much work to be done.
Here we are today—50 years post Selma and 50 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Despite the fact that we have won some battles on our journey, recent months have been disconcerting ones. They remind us that the journey is not over. We have not arrived. Baltimore 2015 juxtaposed to Detroit in 1965 has caused some of us here at McKenna Publishing—those who are old enough to have lived through those trying times—to stop, really reflect and ponder.
Our people are filled with angst. Across the country from Ferguson, Mo., to New York; from Cleveland, Ohio to South Carolina and all points in between—wanton police brutality and disregard for lives of young Black males have grabbed headlines and dominated conversations, not only in this country, but around the world. Even the United Nations has weighed in on what they perceive to be the dismal gap between our America’s proclaimed ideals and its reality.
When we look at our young Black men dying in the streets at the hands of the police…and each other, we shake our heads in sadness. When we consider the stark unemployment statistics of African-American males compared to those of their White counterparts, when we consider the mass incarceration rate of the same Black men, when we consider the disparity in homeownership, when we consider how far we lag behind in all areas of well-being, we know that no one is coming to save us. Even as we acknowledge the bleak statistics, we know that now is not the time to back up or sit down. Now is not the time to merely march or participate in more hollow community conversations either.
Friends, if we don’t like what we see happening to our community, we must come together to formulate a strategy and then set about taking matters in our own hands. The American aphorist Mason Cooley was precisely right when he said that money is power at its most liquid. We must coalesce–determined to use the most powerful force we possess–our economic strength.
Make no mistake—the Black community is in a battle in America. And while protests and riots will draw attention, we must start treating our money like our soldiers if we desire results. How, where and why we spend our mighty dollar will win more battles than voting alone. The same way in which young people have galvanized and taken to the streets in cities across the country, we must send our money to frontlines of this war, with clear instructions to defend our cause, attack when necessary and take prisoners.
A buying power of $1.1 trillion is a formidable weapon indeed.
Let’s all start here and now with The BlackBook. So convinced are we of the importance of a resource such as the BlackBook that we have expanded our reach through the development of an app which we are releasing with this print and online editions of the directory. This new user-friendly program will make it even easier to identify and locate businesses and services that are there for our community.
We urge you to pick up and use your BlackBook every day; we also encourage you to keep your iphones with the BlackBook app close at hand or visit www.theneworleansblackbook.com. And last but not lease, educate your family members and friends of the value of supporting their own. Remind them of this important truth—the change we are looking for is in our pockets.