By James Clingman
In consideration of the latest shenanigans from Congress as it pertains to the economic conditions facing most Americans these days, unemployment and underemployment being the most serious, the case for entrepreneurship is more important than ever. For Black people especially, whose unemployment rate is double that of the national average and even as high as 50 percent in certain cities, the need for entrepreneurship cannot be denied.
Education and training, business startups, and firms that have the ability to grow and increase their number of employees are all essential factors for any group of people interested in economic empowerment. Black folks have an urgent imperative to revert to the days when we owned and operated not only individual businesses but entire economic enclaves in various cities across this country. The nostalgia we feel when we remember Black Bottom in Detroit, Hayti in Durham, Harlem in New York, Greenwood in Tulsa, and Sweet Auburn in Atlanta should provide us with the incentive, well beyond the emotional side of it, to move in that direction.
In my entrepreneurship classes, after teaching the glowing history of business ownership in this country by Black people, as well as our entrepreneurial skills and acumen even before we were brought here, I offer the following suggestion: “Make something or do something and sell it to someone.” That’s simply what entrepreneurship is all about. Of course, we need to heighten our presence and participation in manufacturing, distribution, and starting businesses that lend themselves to growth or “scale,” as some would say, in order to move to a point of being able to control projects, industries, and systems rather than always be at the mercy of those who do.
How do we accomplish that? We can start by simply hiring ourselves, individually at first and then expanding to hire others. We cannot afford to wait for the folks in Washington to provide jobs for us, nor can we sit back and think the private sector will help decrease our rate of unemployment. Even if they do finally get it together in Washington and on Wall Street, hire yourself by starting some kind of business, and when things get better you will be ahead of the game.
Hire yourself by turning a hobby into a revenue stream. Hire yourself by offering your skills to someone who needs your services. Hire yourself by selling what you know; after all, we are in what Peter Drucker called a “Knowledge-based Society.” Hire yourself and make your own job, and stop allowing the sweet sounding political rhetoric to lull you to sleep.
In his book, Job Shift – How to prosper in a workplace without jobs, William Bridges writes, “The first thing we must do is to demand that our politicians have the courage to abandon the fantasy that jobs can be recovered or recreated as they once could have been. We need to understand that there is no way we can pump out more jobs as though they were industrial products, and every time our leaders play into our old fantasy that that is possible, they do us an enormous disservice…promising more jobs is an effective electoral tactic. Furthermore, it sounds public spirited and humane.”
Bridges also says, “The disappearance of jobs, with every passing month, is more and more a change that has already happened. It is also a change that can be exploited by individuals and organizations that know how to do so.” You can find more information on this subject in William Julius Wilson’s seminal work, When Work Disappears, which should be a staple in your personal libraries.
Another writer, James Brown, also known as the Godfather of Soul, put the following words of advice to music when he said, “Let’s get together and get some land; raise our food like the man; save our money like the mob; put up a factory and own the jobs.” How are we ever going to be economically empowered if we do not own our jobs?
Consider this quote from Charles Handy: “Less than half of the workforce in the industrialized world will be in ‘proper’ full-time jobs in organizations by the beginning of the twenty-first century.” We are already 12 years late, folks.
Whether you like it or not, jobs as we have known them are gone for good. So even if you are not convinced of that reality, do your children a favor by encouraging them to pursue some form of entrepreneurship by hiring themselves, even as they seek jobs from someone else’s company.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.