The film “Boss: The Black Experience in Business” tells the story of enterprising African American entrepreneurs, including the founders of Black Wall Street in Durham. The film’s director Stanley Nelson joins host Deborah Holt Noel and North Carolina business leaders Dr. Henry McKoy, Carl Webb, and Nish Evans to explore the past, present, and future of Blacks in business.
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[UNC TV jingle] ['The Boss' by James Brown] - [Narrator] The documentary Boss: The Black Experience in Business tells the story of enterprising African-American entrepreneurs and business people from the earliest times to modern day.
In North Carolina, they included the founders of Black Wall Street in Durham.
We'll talk about their lasting legacy and impact on the future of black business today on a special edition of Black Issues Forum, next.
- [Announcer] This program was funded in part by a grant from the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, which is administered by the North Carolina Community Foundation.
- [Announcer] Major corporate funding for this program was provided by: ♪ Through the rise and fall ♪ Through the thick of it all ♪ I've been here ♪ Yeah ♪ Weathering storms standing strong ♪ ♪ We are right where we belong ♪ Whoa ♪ A little place to call home Additional funding was provided by the JPB Foundation, as part of Chasing the Dream, a public media initiative from WNET in New York, reporting on poverty, jobs and opportunity in America.
By the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
[upbeat music] [applause] - Hello and welcome Black Issues Forum.
We are here at the North Carolina Central University School of Education building, for a wonderful conversation about the history of blacks in business.
And we actually had this conversation inspired by a new film by award winning documentary producer Stanley Nelson.
And we'll have an opportunity to meet and talk with Stanley Nelson, as well as a panel of local leaders, in just a few moments.
The documentary is appropriately titled Boss: The Black Experience in Business.
['The Boss' by James Brown] - African American business is an essential part of this ideal of black liberation.
- Resilience, practicality, strategic thinking.
These are the qualities that business leaders have, but sometimes only emerge under the most stressful and sometimes unfair circumstances.
- In the tradition of making a way out of no way, black entrepreneurs were forced to sell to their own community.
But those businesses allowed them to become economically independent.
- Wherever we are we didn't get there by ourselves.
And because we did not get there by ourselves, we have an obligation to help those who need us.
We have an obligation to give back.
- If you look at African American business community traditions, there's always a sense that you do good by doing well, and you do well by doing good.
- Today's subject is the negro in business and industry.
['The Boss' by James Brown] - Nelson's documentary also touches upon many of the local stories.
And one in particular from North Carolina, the founding of Black Wall Street in Durham.
We wanted to share a little bit more about this story and its lasting impact.
- I remember a lot of black businesses concentrated in the same space or the same area that were just a bit larger, with more variety of businesses, than anywhere else I'd been.
In the black community there were hundreds of thriving businesses.
Many people, including my parents, said that there really was very little reason for any black person to go in the white community to buy a darn thing, because almost all of the products and services that they wanted, were available in Hayti.
- The tentacles that drove Black Wall Street to become the nationally and internationally recognized location that it is didn't start just because.
It was because of much of what was created, established, built, by people who were here in Durham, who had a drive and entrepreneurial desire to be their own master of their destiny.
Parish Street existed, and the financial success of the institutions were long established before, I believe, the term Black Wall Street became prominently used.
It evolved because of the credibility established on Parish Street, by the three institutions.
- That was a location of North Carolina Mutual, which started first, and it then later on was the location for Mechanics and Farmers Bank, which was located in the North Carolina Mutual building.
And then next door to both of those businesses was finally the Mutual Community Savings and Loans.
And that was what was called Black Wall Street by W. E. B. Du Bois.
- John Merrick came to Durham, along with another barber, and started to sort of build a future for Durham and the black community that we had no idea would eventually turn into North Carolina Mutual.
And it was really John Merrick and Dr. Moore that really built this company, as well as Charles Clinton Spaulding was the chief sales and marketing guy that they brought in.
And from that they also created Mechanics and Farmers Bank.
- The difference between this Black Wall Street and other Black Wall Streets like in Tulsa, was not that it just had black businesses, but it had black financial institutions.
It's all this infrastructure that really comes about because you have no place, you cannot buy goods and services on the open market.
- At that time there was segregation.
The white banks did not want to take the risk, because they knew darn well that our people were not employed at great salaries almost any place.
- Why did people, black people, colored people, Negros, why were they able to accumulate in whatever sums they were, money?
Because many of them worked at the factory.
Tobacco was big business in Durham.
- None of them, or the people who were downtown on Black Wall Street ever became rich.
They did not.
- Lots of people back then said that Durham had more black millionaires than anywhere else in America.
But what Durham did have was a stronger middle class, and more importantly a stronger blue collar middle class.
- Now, you take the 147 and you slice off, and then you separate South Durham, or Southeast Durham, which is Federal Street down central and all of that.
You separate that from everything else.
- It wasn't 147, although that hastened it.
Many of those businesses, because of the end of segregation and so forth, would eventually have gone anyway.
So it wasn't 147.
And the segregation, it was the end of the segregation that impacted it very much.
- And as soon as we started going through desegregation, and blacks had the flexibility to move and take their dollars along with them, they did that, and I think that it had a devastating impact on black owned businesses because a lot of those black customers ended up doing business with white owned businesses.
They were left with a smaller segment of the sub-market that they already had, and I think that was a major part of the demise of the black business community.
- There are a number of entrepreneurs, black entrepreneurs, who are focusing on addressing both the social elements, but also positioning themselves to be able to take advantage of the economic opportunities, both here in Durham and then nationwide as well.
- What I hope is that some of us that got this gray hair will give them access to whatever resources and relationships we have so that we add to their success.
- I don't think it's any different today than it was then in terms of someone who wants to be entrepreneurial.
Hard work, ethics, and in part a desire to make a difference.
Merrick, Moore and Spaulding had an imagination.
There were no people who had done what they did before them.
They saw a need, they had an idea, and they had a commitment to succeed and be great.
- Right now I'd like to introduce our terrific panel.
Dr. Henry McCoy.
He's the director of entrepreneurship and faculty for the North Carolina Central University School of Business.
He's also a business owner, sits on dozens of advisory boards, and is economic chair for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
Carl Webb is a communication strategist, real estate developer, and founder and CEO of Forty/AM Urban Development Group.
Nish Evans is founder and CEO of Lennox + Grae Incorporated, commercial real estate company.
And last but not least, certainly, Stanley Nelson.
Peabody and Emmy Award winning filmmaker and director who brought us Tell Them We Are Rising, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and now, Boss.
To all of you, welcome.
Thank you so much for making the time to come out.
And thank you audience for coming out to participate in this great conversation.
You'll certainly have an opportunity to participate and ask questions later on in our discussion.
But first off I wanna start off with you Stanley, to just share.
A lot of us have just seen the trailer of the film.
Tell us, what other stories are documented essentially in this documentary?
- Yeah you know there's so many.
We go for another hour and a half, so there's so many different stories.
We talk about Motown and the founding of Motown, which is kind of the first black business that really had a white audience.
We talk about a guy, Fuller, who was a millionaire and had a company in the late 40s and 50s, who was selling products, perfumes and other things, across the country and to white women in the south.
And when white folks discovered that it was a company owned by a black man they boycotted the company and he went out of business and died bankrupt.
We cover so many different stories.
I think one of the great things that we cover is the entrepreneurship of the hiphop mobiles who exist now.
And we end the film with a profile of Robert Smith, who is, at this moment, the richest African American in the country, who has a tech company and has over four billion dollars.
- It's an amazing history full of successes, of overcoming, of some challenges and defeats.
But it's just a really tremendous story, so thank you for bringing it to us and inspiring everyone.
I certainly was inspired by the film.
And I'd like to open up with our question to you, Henry, if you would share.
One of the central themes that emerges in this documentary is that of doing well to do good.
And I wanted your thoughts about how important that theme is and how it plays out today in the work perhaps that you do.
- Alright, thank you.
I would say that historically it was imperative for African Americans to think about their progress from a collective and community standpoint.
Doing well and doing good were connected at the hip in some ways.
I'll give you an example.
Hillside High School here in Durham, very early on many black high schools in the country only went to 11th grade.
But in order to go to colleges and things of that nature you had to have a 12th grade.
And so many of the local business leaders here in Durham formed in 1935 the Durham Committee on Affairs of Black People to create a vehicle by which to push the Durham school board to create a 12th grade for Hillside, to put in place sidewalks and to create crossing guards and things of that nature.
So by taking that collective approach, everybody moved forward.
And so I think that historically you've seen that, I think modern times you hope that there's a continued connection, but of course we don't have the same conditions that we did at one time, and so it is possible for individual black business leaders and folks to move forward without necessarily trying to pull the collective forward.
But I think that like any other time, I think we have black business leaders who really care about the community, and they come together to try to figure out how to address issues, whether it be jobs or education or things of that nature.
So I think that that is still a part of the legacy that we see even in modern times.
- Thank you.
Nish I wanted to ask you, you know, as Henry said, there are... We don't have the same obstacles that we once did, but there are new obstacles to progress, and you're a young entrepreneur.
Share a little bit about some of the openings that you see, but also some of the continuing obstacles to black entrepreneurship, particularly for African American women, who are the fastest growing group of black entrepreneurs.
- I would say more so the technical aspects.
You know the business tend to continue to be, I think, systemic challenges for our community.
So access to attorneys, to accountants, and although it's very simple to get them, having someone who has the patience, right, as you're scaling your company, I think is one of the things that a lot of young entrepreneurs are looking for.
As you mentioned, yes, maybe more so the social challenges are not as prevalent.
But I think they tend to take a different form sometimes.
I'm thinking about with my first acquisition of our real estate building, have to pitch to investors.
They did not look like me, and that was fine, but a lot of times there was this sense of kind of having to prove yourself, having to go above and beyond maybe what another entrepreneur would present in terms of the deal.
So I think the technical aspects are still a challenge within our community, but as you mentioned, I think we're starting to see that coming together, sharing that knowledge with one another.
I think also having the ability to lean on our legacy.
I'm very grateful that through my transaction I've formed a very great bond with Elaine Curry, who actually was the former owner of my building as well as the homes, Meredith and Irwin Homes.
And so just being able to reach back and to ask them for advice and to have that guidance, I think that's what our generation is also very proud of as well.
- And Carl, many would say, and I think it's probably true, that Durham is a city that is growing, a city that is on the rise.
Based on your experience and what you've observed, what's your opinion on how African American business owners and people in business are participating in that economy?
- Well Durham is going through a major transformation and it has been for about the last 10/13 years.
I think that there're tremendous opportunities for African American entrepreneurs to participate in this growth.
But the challenge is, as it has always been, is access to capital.
And one of the biggest hurdles in the size and scale of the opportunities today, it comes down to your ability to raise money.
And I think when you look at Stanley's piece and look at the long term impact of having your value suppressed through being formally enslaved and not fully compensated for the value that you brought to the table in building this country, having no long term wealth.
The great thing that we have in common Nish, is that I started my business in the same building that you eventually acquired.
And the reason that I was able to do that back in 1982 was because I had real angel investors in Meredith and Irwin Homes.
They provided the capital necessary for me to create a business, and I think that that's the very point, is that a lot of what it takes for the more mature generation is to invest in the next generation that's moving forward.
And at the end of the day, it will always get back to access to capital.
- Well that goes back to one of the quotes that you share in your documentary.
Frederick Douglass said that the life is the money when it comes to these businesses, and there's so many terrific quotes that are in the documentary that you share.
As you went through and did the research and learned about all of these stories, how surprised were you to see kind of the rise and the fall in how things have... When we hear some of those numbers that are shared in this documentary, I'm just taken aback.
- Yeah I think a lot of it was new information to me.
I didn't really realize how many times in different cities across the country African American communities had kind of gotten it together and risen up and then kind of been knocked down.
I think one of the next stories in the film is the story of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
That had its own Black Wall Street, and just in like one day of violence the whole thing is destroyed.
I think it's over 100 houses and businesses are destroyed in a riot, just again because of jealousy from the white community of the success of the black community.
So it's really surprising.
The other thing this as a filmmaker was really surprising, was the footage from Tulsa, Oklahoma, that we found, that I had never seen before, of black people and their businesses and black people in their houses.
And you can see the pride in their faces.
A black guy with a sheriff's badge, you know, he's the sheriff of the black community.
Just kind of amazing, a different way I think to think about the African American community historically is through businesses, and that's one of the things that really attracted me to making this film.
- Your documentary certainly helps us to see what the impact of having a business is, and that social responsibility aspect as well.
But I wanna get back to talking about wealth.
And you know, you kind of introduced the topic, but Henry, when we talk about wealth and where black entrepreneurs and black business owners are today and able to impact the community through their work, how are black businesses doing it?
Are they able to make that impact?
And if so, how so?
If not, what's missing and how dramatic is that?
- The truth is that you can't disconnect black business entrepreneurship from the overall black community.
I mean those things are intertwined.
And in a lot of ways you have to really get beneath the data to really understand what's going on today.
So if you pull up census data, if you pull up kind of the popular careers, to say well there's no better time to be a minority entrepreneur, no better time to be a black entrepreneur.
Black female businesses are rising, and they growing faster than any other group.
You have African American male businesses growing.
And so it looks like hey, this is the time to be an entrepreneur.
But if you get beneath the surface, you'll find something very different.
What you tend to find is that many of the businesses that are being started, they start and they essentially stay a one person operation.
So what we would think of as sole proprietors or even kitchen table business and things of that nature.
The way wealth is created in this country is you grow businesses, those businesses expand, they hire employees, and you see that cycle.
And you're not seeing that in the African American community.
In fact, black businesses are the only business demographic in the United States where businesses with employees is actually decreasing.
Every other business group, whites, Asians, American Indians, Hispanics, are actually growing, whereby back businesses with employees is actually declining.
And that goes a lot of times back to capital, right?
African Americans get into businesses like anybody else, with the idea of wanting to do well, wanting to grow a business.
I also find that even with my students, when I talk to the students, they also have that other additional desire when they start businesses, right, what can I do to change the community?
What can I do to make an impact where I come from?
And so those two things really go together, but if you look at broader trends, for example, the median wealth of African Americans is expected to hit zero in the year 2053.
That means it's going down.
And you cannot, again, disconnect that trend from the challenges that we have in businesses, whereas white wealth is continuing to grow.
And so keep in mind that 2053, that's less than a decade after minorities are expected to become the majority of the country.
So what you have here is you have a growing population of people whose wealth is actually going down.
Latinos are expected to hit zero in 2073.
And so we see these tremendous challenges.
Without wealth you have a very hard time of creating businesses or launching businesses and growing businesses, acquiring businesses.
And so those are some of the challenges that we face, and it's certainly tied to historical legacies of slavery and black access to capital redlining, which not only impacts the housing but also impact the businesses.
Those things are things that we still suffer from today.
- Well it's certainly true, you can see how that argument is valid, and that lack of wealth and lack of capital.
But Carl, take us a little bit back to the founders of NC Mutual and Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and help us understand what it was that they were doing, what was the landscape they were operating in without wealth, or with wealth, and able to establish and create opportunities for African Americans and impact the community.
- First of all, you know, I'm not that old, but.
[laughing] I used to be the young guy in the room.
But you know, you're talking about guys, people, in this case three men, that did phenomenal things with zero.
John Merrick comes to town, while he starts in business as a boots black man.
That's I mean like shining shoes, that's what he did.
He eventually, working in a black barber shop, started cutting hair.
And from that, moves to Durham after one of the more well to do families in Durham was seeking different barbers.
These barbers were actually recruited from Raleigh, and John Merrick as this guy to do the work.
So you know, here's a guy, formally enslaved, starts out in Raleigh, ends up in Durham, and he has one barbers shop.
Eventually, the documentary I think mentioned eight, and from information that I've seen it's more in the range of five to six barber shops.
All of them were black barbers.
And half of the barber shops, three of them only did hair of white customers.
And this is a guy who then builds a relationship with Washington Duke.
And you know, not so much the kind of friendly relationship, but if you were sitting there with a razor at your throat you sort of try to understand what this man is about.
But Merrick was pretty smart because in those times they didn't have country clubs and men's clubs for black or white men.
So that barber shop really represented an opportunity for new ideas to grow, and Merrick was smart enough to glean that information.
This guy eventually took lumbar and wood from a number of the manufacturing facilities, tobacco barns, reclaimed the wood and then started building homes within the Hayti community.
You know, Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore.
You know, this guy, all of these folks have this Columbus County connection in North Carolina as well.
And Dr. Aaron McDuffie Moore comes to Durham as the first black physician in Durham, and the only physician, black physician, in Durham.
And again, they don't just worry about themselves but they are men that are driven by their values and their beliefs and their faith.
And they help build a community.
It wasn't about just building a business.
I think you heard Andrea Harris talk about a lot of these black businesses, it was never... It should have been about making money, but it was really about job creation.
In the case of Merrick, Moore, and eventually Spaulding, who's a guy who was working in the grocery store that day, brought in and Spaulding went on to be the longest serving president that they had.
Now what we're doing at North Carolina Mutual, the property that I own along with my partners, is trying to preserve that history and legacy, because to Henry's point, out of literally nothing, they built a company that had an economic impact of over 40 billion dollars in its 120 year history.
So, yeah we don't have things, but they prove that you could do a lot with little.
- And Stanley, I wanted to ask you to share a little bit about another story that's in the documentary about Merck Corporation and the CEO Ken Frazier.
It's a really, I think, important story and just wanted you to share a little bit about that, and the connection between success in business and political impact.
- Yeah I mean I think one of the great things about that story is it does connect those things, and one of the reasons we love the story because Mr. Frazier is the head of Merck, one of the biggest drug companies in the country, a black man.
And he's appointed to a commission by Donald Trump.
As he says it, he felt that even though he didn't agree with everything Trump said, he felt that it was really important that he is in the room, that a black man is in the room.
And so he does that, but then after the incident where the woman is killed in Virginia, and Trump's failure to denounce the right wing white terrorist, he resigns from the commission very publicly and says... And does an act of his own conscience.
And I think that that is really important because it says that as an African American, even if you are president of what's basically a white company, you still have something that you owe to the African American community.
And we thought it was a really important story for us to tell in the film, because we feel that one of the things, the idea of doing well but also doing good, can carry over not only from a mom and pop shop, not only from kind of a black owned black business that serves the community, but also to black people who are heads of largely white companies and do global business.
That there's still something that as an African American, that you owe to the black community.
- Yes, Carl?
- I think that we've had tremendous success politically with black leadership.
You can't look at any elected office where there's not African American representation.
And what I've noticed when working with my colleagues and partners.
The way that they leverage their political connections, and the way that we leverage our political connections are different.
And I think that if you look at from a public policy standpoint and look at the dramatic transformation that we've seen in Durham, especially downtown, a lot of that by and large has been driven by the public sector, through tax incentives and participating in public-private partnerships.
So there's a very important role that our elected officials play in unfortunately choosing winners and losers.
And I think that once our elected officials can make a better connection on the economic uplift in development that should happen from their leadership roles, then we would... We're not gonna see the kind of change that we want.
We have all of the political power and no, a very limited economic power.
Downtown Durham has less than 4% African American business ownership.
Less than 4%. In a city that doesn't have a racial majority, how is that, that almost half black almost half white, and you have 4% of your business that is African American owned.
There is some accountability that I think that we should all have or feel, and that I think our elected officials should be mindful in understanding how their investments can help to improve the condition of black economic development.
- That's one of the things I think that we hit on in the film, is in the 70s and 80s, how the wave of black mayors that came in in Atlanta, in Detroit, in other places, spurred black businesses and really changed the landscape til today, Atlanta's a very changed place.
- I just wanted to say, to Carl's point.
So I looked at some data from Durham over the last decade and city investment and county investment from the public sector side.
What I found was kind of an interesting phenomenon in terms of kind of how investment gets done when you're kind of connected to the white community versus communities of color.
What I found in the... When public investment connects to the white community it tends to situate well, right?
When it connects to the black community it tends to kind of further tether you to the social fabric.
And so what I mean by that is for example, you may have a developer that comes into town and they have investors and they're looking to hit a certain threshold of investment for those partners.
And maybe they need a part in that, or maybe they need a public sector to come in and help to increase that investment that they can return to their investor.
So it's already profitable but they just maybe need to get to a threshold that their investors like.
And so the public sector comes in, partners, public-private partnership, and the deal gets done.
In communities of color, what you tend to have, you end up getting a community center or something to that effect that people can go and kinda aggregate, and I always say talk about how poor we are, right?
And so I mean those are two very different things, and I'm not sure that it's necessarily like conscious per se, but I mean that's how the investment plays out in a lot of ways.
So again, that helps to further increase that wealth gap with the support of the public sector behind it.
And so interestingly enough, I found in data that the more liberal a community is, actually the bigger the inequity is economically between blacks and whites.
- That's fascinating, just fascinating.
You know, right now, I wanna go ahead and invite our audience to participate.
You can come up to any one of the microphones that are staged here, or here, and ask a question or make a comment.
I'm gonna pull you back into the conversation though Nish, I mean there's been a lot shared with regard to where black business is, where the community stands, where investment perhaps needs to go, and maybe a question as to why these things are.
But what do you see needs to be done, needs to happen, to move things forward?
We're talking about, I mean Stanley has presented a documentary that chronicles 150 years of African American leaders and entrepreneurs, and we're seeing the rises and the falls and the failures and the successes.
And over this time period, now what?
Here we have this Black Wall Street revitalization movement going on.
You're a young person, you're an entrepreneur, what do you see needs to move the needle forward for the community?
- Sure, I think to Carl's point, in terms of us talking about deploying capital to black entrepreneurs.
I think even in my situation, oftentimes you'll see that whether it's investors or financial institutions, oftentimes they wanna police the capital that's being deployed.
So it's you're smart enough to kind of bring us this, or to do your homework in this capacity, but like we still think we need to hold your hand.
And I often see that sometimes.
And that provides almost a crutch, so to speak, I think for some African American businesses.
And so I would just say with our younger generation, you prepare for the conversation, you understand how am I gonna make money with an investor, how am I gonna repay a lender?
If you're doing your homework and you're able to answer those questions, I really think it's up to the people who have their finger or their hands on the capital to deploy it, is to step back and to allow us to show that we're smart enough.
We're smart enough to know where it's needed in the community, we're smart enough to know where it needs to go in terms of scaling our businesses.
But I think the biggest thing is we're smart enough to know how to leverage our relationships or our partnerships.
Going back to my point about the technical resources.
So before I make a move I'm speaking with a seasoned investor like Carl, or I'm talking to my accountant or to my attorney to really strategize how to maximize this opportunity.
But yes, the access is definitely it.
Like I said, also leveraging those partnerships is gonna be key to our businesses really scaling.
- And Stanley, as your documentary brings out, this progress in every instance, it doesn't take place in isolation.
In some instances you've got, for example, here Black Wall Street Durham, you've got investors from say the white community who are bringing money to the table.
Or you talked about Motown, and Berry Gordy, and that white audience.
So how else do you see that relationship playing out in terms of making sure that African Americans are not isolated as they move forward to have a stronger voice in business and an impact on the community?
- I'm just sitting here thinking, I think it's really... One thing that's really important for African Americans is that we do our homework and really understand whatever business it is we're interested in becoming involved in.
I have a documentary film company, we're growing, we're getting a lot bigger.
But you know, it's because we've done one film at a time and we know what we're doing and it's gotten bigger.
I think that it's really important.
Excellence is really important, because, for African Americans, because we have to understand that we're up against... The odds are stacked against us and that's just the reality of the game.
That's just how it is.
I, maybe 20, 30 years ago I got a big job, working with some guy I wanted to work with, big guy on TV, I won't call names.
And I was talking to somebody and they were saying to me, 'Well you know, a black man has to work 'twice as hard as a white man.'
And I said, 'Okay, thank you.
'Thanks for telling me.
'Thanks for reminding me, and that's what I'm gonna do.'
And that's what I did.
So I think it's really important that African Americans understand... We don't wanna sit here and complain, but that we understand what it is we have to do and we do it.
And I think that's kind of what the model is that we see over and over again in this film, is people who understood what they had to do and did it, and were excellent at what they did.
- We are excellent.
I mean if you see, in most cases, diversity in a room that looks like this panel, you're looking at most cases some of the best and brightest, because the crap that you had to deal with to get in the room in the first place, and the preparation and the ability to stay in the room is vital, because you know, this idea that we're not prepared already, you're talking about parents and family members that made tremendous sacrifices to send this generation to the best and brightest and the best universities all over America.
So if you're in the room, you're in the room and you're prepared.
You just don't need to have training wheels placed on you, and hell, I mean we have more non profit and community groups doing the work that when I came up in Durham, the lending and the business was being done by people who were in business to do it.
Now we got a plethora of non profits, and to me non profit is just... Just the idea of not making money off of something.
Wow. [audience laughing] But that's what we have.
And we have, to Henry's point, a lot of organizations that are leveraging this depressed position that people of color have, and building organizations and usurping the power that we should have.
- Wow, wow.
I'm gonna take a question from our microphone.
Please, if you'd like to state our name and your question.
- I really appreciate the dialogue and the documentary, and actually hosting this event here in Durham.
As a Durham City council member I heard Carl Webb call us out, and I wanted to make sure I come up and ask the question what do you think we should do?
Recognizing that as Dr. McCoy mentioned, the more liberal we are, the less equity there is for people of color.
And so I know as of this moment, we have our mayor who's proposed a 95 million dollar bond without any equity in plan.
And so I'm concerned, and I would love to hear what your thoughts might be on that.
- Thank you very much.
- I've been doing a lot of talking.
[laughing] - How convenient.
- I don't wanna get in trouble, I gotta do business with these people.
[laughing] - I do too, but uh.
But I say this, I think that... You know the truth is like the housing and economic development actually go hand in hand.
So I certainly think that housing and affordability is important.
But I also think that creating pools of capital for businesses to thrive is also important because that's the other side of affordability and housing, right?
How much money do I make, what is my income?
And so, to the question about the 95 million dollar bond and coming to Durham, I would say that no one's ever accused me of thinking small.
And so I think that we should make sure that whatever capital we're bringing into the community, be it bonds or public sector, that they should also be capital tied to that, that addresses this issue of access to capital for community development and minority businesses.
So I think the two go hand in hand and I would like to see more of that connection.
- [Audience Member] Thank you.
- And I think also looking at local participation.
If you look at the 95 million dollar bond referendum that we're gonna have.
A leader that we have, Willy Lovett, used to be the head of the Durham Committee, used to say, let's look at who pays and who benefits.
If you look at the majority of the community development projects that have happened in Durham, they have been done by firms that are not based in Durham.
Durham does a poor job, also in my opinion, in growing its local talent, and forcing or encouraging relationships with local businesses and some of those larger firms from outside the area.
And so I think that we also have to be thoughtful around where we place this 'affordable housing'. If you look at downtown Durham right now, and you look at the various districts where we have affordable housing and affordable housing slated, the property that I own is, one of the owners, the North Carolina Mutual building, well we have a new affordable housing project that's gonna be built across next to the transit site.
And then the city, in its efforts to bring a developer in for the police station, has also mandated affordable housing.
And I think that that's... I'm excited about that, but if you look at some of the other districts in downtown, I don't think they have the same kind of volume of affordable housing.
No matter what we say, we know where the poor people are.
And people make decisions based on that.
- I actually teach media, mass com, here at North Carolina Central, but embedded in that is entrepreneurship.
When my students, all of my students in my intro class, have to create a business of some type.
Hopefully it's one that they actually really wanna do.
Lately some of them on to create new businesses that are doing really well.
One of the things that they keep asking about is something that you've mentioned a couple of times, Carl, is that they're concerned about where do they get the capital, and what, Miss, is it Ish?
- [Nish] Nish.
- Nish, excuse me.
One of the things she pointed out was her board of directors down here.
How do they find that now?
Because it's a lot harder to find those people to help them get the capital and the intellectual capital to make their ideas come to fruition.
- So my situation was a little different.
I came from the world of venture capital, and so for me I was underwriting deals for life science and technology companies.
And I was seeing the white guys that are coming up with the same ideas, getting nine million, 10 million, 20 million dollars.
And for me it was just a wake up call about what type of legacy am I building, why am I not risking it all in terms of some of the things that I was interested in, which was real estate development.
And so for me taking that job, I would say yes I did leverage some of those relationships with those investors, but quite honestly it took being in a new space to just start asking people in your network.
When it comes to talking about friends and family capital, like that's even a subject that a lot of times we can't even have in our communities because a lot of our wealth is tied to home ownership.
And so for those families to have to tap into home equity line of credit or some other form of credit in order to be able to lend you is very challenging.
But I would just say for young entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, really it's just asking your network, who do you know in this particular space?
And quite honestly it's just having to be persistent in seeking out additional sources of capital from their lines.
So quite honestly, the first 40 days of my deal, I talked to middle aged white men.
And that taught me a lot about business, it taught me a lot about how to redirect the conversation to focus on economics, because that was our way of presenting myself in the deal, is don't focus on me being a black woman, let's talk about how we're gonna make money.
So sometimes the answer was yes, other times it was no.
Most of the time it was no.
It just wasn't a fit for their investment appetite.
But to me the win was being handed off to someone else in their network, and then in terms of both black investors, it was a very similar situation.
But I think once again it's just stating here's my intent, and asking within your network, and that gets you to the capital.
- What next?
We've talked about a great history in Durham.
We understand about a great history that Stanley has shared with us.
But what next to take African American entrepreneurs and business people into the future?
In just a few seconds.
- I say it's going back to segregation and the idea... I agree, integration actually had a lot of benefits, and one of the challenges we have now is figuring out well what is it that collectively pulls the community together.
A lot of folks come from out of the area to go to church, and then they go back home again.
One of the challenges that we have, I mean during segregation, is that regardless of what your profession was, you still suffered the same indignities as everybody.
And that was a driving point to collectively move a community forward.
- But now.
- But now it's hard to find that.
I would say the last time that we had that collective push was trying to get President Obama elected.
- [Deborah] So we've got our work cut out for us.
- We do.
- [Deborah] Nish.
- I would say one, we have to stop restating the problem.
I think going back to a comment from earlier is that there's a lot of talk about diversity, about inclusion, and we've had this conversation for how many years now?
So I think we need-- - [Deborah] A long time I would say.
- I think we need to stop that conversation, but I would also like to say, one, to answer the question here, is that we have to groom ourselves not only for entrepreneurship, but to also be investors.
And so I think what we don't see when we're talking about recycling dollars is that if we see a lot of the more what we deem successful entrepreneurs or billionaires, a lot of those individuals have groomed themselves, their companies, but then they've also positioned themselves to where they're now key investors for these up and coming organizations.
So if we take the Facebooks of the world or the Twitters, that's all coming from one company that's just reinvesting their dollars into these larger companies.
And so I would just say, getting back to the intergenerational wealth and access to capital, for within our community we need to focus on both the entrepreneurship and the investment part as well.
- [Deborah] Carl?
- One of the things that we're doing is as part of preserving the history and the legacy of North Carolina Mutual, a company's that's been around for 120 years, and that iconic structure, the tower at Mutual Plaza.
My partners and I, we have been working on an extensive redevelopment of that building that will build on those pioneers that came before us.
But we're creating a coworking space designed by entrepreneurs and creatives for the next generation called Provident 1898.
Provident was the original name of North Carolina Mutual life insurance and Provident Association, founded in the year 1998, which is also the year that we had a terrible coup d'état in Wilmington.
So that's what we're doing.
We're gonna have the millennials hanging out and having their meetings in the Merrick, Moore and Spaulding conference rooms.
We're gonna tell the history of accomplishment from the basement to the very top.
And we're gonna need the help of everyone to make that happen.
- Thank you.
- [Deborah] Stanley, your lasting impact.
What do you want people to take away from your movie?
- Well I mean I think one of the things that African Americans have wanted since the beginning of our existence, is just to have some peace.
That's why you have 100 black towns that were formed in the west.
I think that's what we've wanted.
And I think one of the things that it's easy for us to do is to become complacent.
We have a black president, we now have a post racial society.
That's what we were talking about and we became complacent.
I think that what's happened now is we know that we don't have a post racial society.
I think black people are gonna be forced to understand how bad things are in this country, and what it's gonna hopefully do for African Americans is force us to pull together once again.
Because I think, you know, what's happened in this country in the last couple of years, for most African Americans, including myself, has been a slap in the face, of what I believe this country was about.
And so you know, we have nowhere else to turn but to each other.
And I think in some ways that's a good thing.
- Stanley, thank you for providing films like Boss to trigger our thinking and trigger great conversations like this.
I'd like to thank Dr. Henry McCoy, Nish Evans, Carl Webb, and certainly you, Stanley Nelson, for spending your time with us.
And also thank our terrific audience for coming out and for your questions and comments.
[audience applause] For more information about today's program, please visit us online at unctv.org/bif.
And we look forward to seeing you the next time.
Thank you so much for spending your time with us.
I'm Deborah Holt Noel for Black Issues Forum.
Have a good night.
[audience applause] [drum music] - It taught me a lot about how to redirect the conversation to focus on economics, because that was our way of presenting myself in the deal, is don't focus on me being a black woman, let's talk about how we're gonna make money.
- The more liberal a community is, actually the bigger the inequity is, economically between blacks and whites.
- I think that what's happened now is we know that we don't have a post racial society.
I think black people are gonna be forced to understand how bad things are in this country, and what it's gonna hopefully do for African Americans is force us to pull together once again.
[drum music] - [Announcer] This program was funded in part by a grant from the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, which is administered by the North Carolina Community Foundation.
[upbeat music] - [Announcer] Major corporate funding for this program was provided by.
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