By Tashi McQueen, AFRO Political Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
The Maryland Black Caucus Foundation held its 27th Legislative Weekend over the weekend, highlighting the Black agenda and recognizing excellence in Black leadership.
The Maryland Black Caucus Foundation is a nonprofit public policy organization that aims to embolden the African-American community through a partnership with the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (LBCM).
Evens Charles, CEO of Frontier Development and Hospitality Group, was keynote speaker at the Business Over Breakfast session on the morning of Nov. 19, and Maryland Governor-elect Wes Moore was the keynote speaker for the gala in the evening.
The inspirational weekend welcomed legislative members and the community to “Move Forward Together” through virtual workshops, networking sessions and a gala at Maryland LIVE! Casino and Hotel.
The weekend was topped off at the annual gala, where the Panama Band and Kevin Howard, jazz pianist, provided live entertainment.
The workshops provided space for citizens, experts, elected officials and industry leaders to discuss and shape policy that supports the 2030 Black Agenda in Maryland.
“In the African American community we finally have an opportunity to have a seat at the table,” said LBCM Chair Del. Darryl Barnes, a democrat representing District 25 in Prince George’s County.
Barnes noted that voters elected their first Black governor and attorney general in the state of Maryland this election cycle. Governor-Elect Wes Moore and Attorney General-Elect Anthony Brown join the first Black woman to lead as Speaker of the Maryland House, Del. Adrienne Jones.
“We have the largest Black Caucus in the Union right here in Maryland. When you start talking about opportunities, now is our time as a race and a people,” said Barnes.
The LBCM Chair spoke on how the economic landscape needs to improve for Black business owners. Barnes informed the audience that the Maryland officials have yet to meet the stated goal when it concerns the number of opportunities granted to minority business enterprises (MBE).
“The state of Maryland has an MBE goal of 29 percent. This past year we only had 14 percent the 29 percent. If I drill down from that 14 percent, Black folks only got three to five percent of that– it’s shameful.”
Barnes said with new leadership in place, he believes “Maryland is moving forward.”
Workshops during the legislative weekend addressed mental health in the Black community, equity and access in the cannabis industry for Black entrepreneurs, and the impact of appraisal bias and discrimination on Black homeownership rates in Maryland.
During the Business Over Breakfast event, a panel discussion was held that talked about building, maintaining and passing down generational wealth, the power of the Black dollar and how Black entrepreneurs can take advantage of federal funding for their businesses.
“Larger companies have an advantage over little guys,” said panelist Jimmy Rhee, special secretary of Small, Minority and Women Business Affairs of Maryland. “In the market system, inequality is baked into the system.”
Rhee said that small businesses need help raising “risk capital,” in addition to other costs related to starting a business.
According to the International Risk Management Institute, Inc., “risk capital” is money that is “required to finance the consequences of business risks.”
Rhee said that in order to see more Black businesses open and thrive, risk capital funds have to be “taken care of” in addition to other costs.
“That is the issue that all legislators and policy makers have to address.”
Ricky Dorell Smith, executive director of the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI Marshall) and chair of the Airport Minority Advisory Council’s (AMAC) board of directors, highlighted the sheer power of the Black dollar and the Black working class.
Smith detailed how employees of color keep the local airport, an international hub of travel, running smoothly.
Airports are enormous economic engines,” said Smith, noting that between “advertising, parking, food and retail,” BWI Marshall has more than 106,000 employees.
“12,000 actually work at the airport and 93 percent of those people are minorities,” he said. “They are amazing professionals, doing amazing stuff. We generate over $300 million a year in revenue. About 45 percent of all those sales are generated by minorities.”
C. Gail Bassette, director of economic development and strategic engagement at Bowie State University, said that pairing up with an HBCU is one of the smartest moves Black entrepreneurs can make, as Black colleges and universities have received major contracts and are looking to partner with subcontractors for a host of services.
Todd Rodgers, CEO and president of Logical Technology and Research also spoke to those gathered for the discussion on economics and financial literacy.
“The business breakfast was amazing,” said Lenora Howze, executive director of the AFRO. “Financial equity and entrepreneurship was the highlight of the event to make sure Black residents have access to funds we have been traditionally disenfranchised from.”
Aside from workshops and panel discussions, several elected officials were recognized for their work, including Sen. Antonio Hayes, who was honored as “Senator of the Year.”
The AFRO was also highlighted with the Foundation Award, adding to the list of accolades collected in the publication’s 130th year of service.
“We have laid the foundation that other Black businesses can use to grow and thrive for years to come,” said Howze, in reaction to the recent influx of awards the AFRO has received. “That’s amazing to be a part of.”
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