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 non-profit public policy organization that aims to empower the African American community through a partnership with the Maryland Legislature Black Caucus (LBCM).
Evens Charles, CEO of Frontier Development and Hospitality Group, was the keynote speaker at the Business Over Breakfast session on the morning of Nov. 19, and Maryland Governor-elect Wes Moore was the keynote speaker at the gala.
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 concluded with 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 in support of the 2030 Black Agenda in Maryland.
“In the African-American community, we finally have an opportunity to sit down at the table,” Del said. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the LBCM, a Democrat representing District 25 in Prince George’s County.
Barnes noted that voters have 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 House of Maryland, Del. Adrienne Jones.
“We have the largest Black Caucus in the Union right here in Maryland. When you start talking about opportunity, now is our moment as a race and a people,” said Barnes.
The LBCM President spoke about how the economic landscape needs to improve for Black entrepreneurs. Barnes advised the public that Maryland officials have yet to meet their stated goal for the number of minority business opportunities (MBEs) granted.
“The state of Maryland has an MBE goal of 29%. Last year we only had 14% and 29%. If I elaborate from that 14 percent, Black people only have 3-5 percent, it’s shameful.
Barnes said that with new leadership in place, he believes “Maryland is moving forward.”
Workshops over Legislative Weekend addressed mental health in the Black community, equity and access to the cannabis industry for Black entrepreneurs, and the impact of valuation bias and discrimination on Black home ownership rates in Maryland.
During the Business Over Breakfast event, a panel discussion was held that talked about building, maintaining and passing on generational wealth, black dollar power, and how black entrepreneurs can take advantage of federal funding for their businesses.
“Big companies have an advantage over little kids,” said speaker Jimmy Rhee, special secretary of Small, Minority and Women Business Affairs of Maryland. “In the market system, inequality is built into the system.”
Rhee said small businesses need help raising “venture capital,” in addition to other costs related to starting a business.
According to the International Risk Management Institute, Inc., “venture capital” is money that is “needed to finance the consequences of business risks.”
Rhee said that to see more Black businesses open and thrive, venture capital funds need to be “looked after” in addition to other costs.
“This is the problem that all legislators and policy makers must address.”
Ricky Dorell Smith, executive director of Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI Marshall) and chairman of the board of directors of the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC), 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 travel hub, running smoothly.
Airports are huge economic engines,” Smith said, 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% of these people are minorities,” he said. “They are fantastic professionals, they do incredible things. We generate over $300 million in revenue annually. About 45 percent of all these sales are generated by minorities.”
C. Gail Bassette, director of economic development and strategic engagement at Bowie State University, said associating 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 work with subcontractors for a range of services.
Todd Rodgers, CEO and president of Logical Technology and Research, also spoke with panelists on economics and financial literacy.
“The breakfast meeting was fantastic,” said Lenora Howze, executive director of AFRO. “Financial Fairness and Entrepreneurship was a highlight of the event to make sure Black residents have access to the funds we have traditionally been disenfranchised from.”
Aside from the seminars and panel discussions, several elected officials were recognized for their work, including Senator Antonio Hayes, who was honored as “Senator of the Year.”
AFRO has also been honored with the Foundation Award, which adds to the list of accolades garnered in the publication’s 130th year of service.
“We’ve laid the foundation that other Black businesses can use to grow and prosper for years to come,” Howze said, in reaction to the recent influx of awards received by AFRO. “It’s great to be a part of it.”
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