A crying need. A germ of an idea. A determination to make a difference. These are the elements that led to the 2009 founding of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. Despite meager startup capital and few business relationships in Washington, D.C., it wasn’t long before power players in the District took notice of our bold leadership and unapologetic approach to advocating for Black business owners. In the decade since, members, supporters and sponsors have rallied to join this new, “unapologetically Black organization” in our quest to change the fortunes of America’s Black-owned businesses and the communities they serve.
At our inception in 2009, our mission was simple: to capitalize on the energy and euphoria resulting from the election of the nation’s first Black president and use it to amplify the concerns of Black business owners. We knew in order to truly be the voice of the nation’s Black business owners we had to build intimate relationships with business owners, institutions, corporations, nonprofits, and individuals who were invested in the Black business community. We worked alongside some of Black America’s top business leaders to develop our 5 Pillars of Service: Advocacy, Access to Capital, Contracting, Entrepreneurial Training, and Chamber Development. Through our 5 Pillars, we support African American Chambers of Commerce and business organizations in their work of developing and growing Black enterprises.
Within the first year of our founding, the USBC gained the support and membership of 113 Black chambers of commerce from across the nation. These early-stage investments gave us the leverage, influence, and credibility we needed to legitimize our role as effective spokesman for the concerns of Black business.
At the three-year mark, we were in full stride, building relationships with the administration, elected officials on Capitol Hill, and with local and state elected officials in states where we had a chamber affiliate. Our relationships with Black chambers and other business organizations allowed us to gain deeper insights into both challenges and opportunities faced by Black entrepreneurs. With a clear understanding of those challenges and opportunities, we were able to effectively advocate for Black entrepreneurs on Capitol Hill for legislation and policies that encouraged small business growth.
The economic recession, race-related police brutality, and other intense social uproars diverted the nation’s focus from economic empowerment for Black business owners — and the election of President Trump, quite frankly, has brought its own challenges. Despite these factors, we’ve navigated intensely difficult economic and political times by staying true to our reputation of being unapologetically black and by embarking on innovative ways to reach broader demographics of Black businesses including the creation of our National Black Business Directory, which consists of a listings of local, national, and international black-owned businesses.
We also expanded our programmatic and member benefits by offering our most impactful resource to date: our Bank-Black Credit Card program designed to broaden access to capital for Black entrepreneurs. In 2016, USBC partnered with New Orleans-based Liberty Bank to create a unique credit card with one of the nation’s lowest interest rates of 9.96% APR. Liberty Bank is one of the largest Black-owned banks in the country. Our partnership with Liberty Bank allows us to make a dual impact by supporting both a Black-owned bank and Black business owners.
Our efforts have not gone unnoticed, leading the way for us to be named the 2016 “Advocate of the Year,” one of the highest award distinctions given by the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). With 10 years of service to the Black business community, March 8, 2019, marks our 10th anniversary of service to Black business owners and Black America at large. As we celebrate our anniversary and prepare for our annual National Business Conference, we are reminded that we’ve achieved great success because we stand on the shoulders of past and living legends, who continue to support and guide us on our mission towards the realization of economic empowerment through entrepreneurship. To date we advocate on behalf of a collective 300,000 Black-owned small businesses; and will continue to adamantly serve as the leading voice of America’s Black business owners.
Busby is president and CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.