The Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum Inc. recognized eight pioneers of minority business development at its inaugural induction ceremony earlier this year. The event, sponsored by PepsiCo Inc. and held at the Harvard Club of New York City, honored Susan Au Allen, president, U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce; the late Hector V. Barreto Sr., a founder of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and father of Hector Barreto, the current administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Earl G. Graves Sr., founder of Black Enterprise magazine; Renaldo Jensen, director, supplier diversity development, Ford Motor Co.; James H. Lowry, vice president, the Boston Consulting Group; Harriet R. Michel, president, National Minority Supplier Development Council; former Maryland Congressman Parren J. Mitchell; and Abraham S. Venable, former director, Office of Minority Business Enterprise, U.S. Department of Commerce.
Six of the eight inductees are African-American, attesting to the role of African-Americans in spearheading and sustaining the fight for equal opportunity for minorities in business. Mitchell, for example, is often referred to as “the father of minority business” because he introduced several crucial pieces of legislation while serving as the first Black congressman from Maryland. In 1976 he attached to President Jimmy Carter’s $4 billion Public Works bill an amendment that compelled state, county and municipal governments seeking federal grants to set aside 10 percent of the money to retain minority firms as contractors and subcontractors. He also introduced the legislation that became Public Law 95-507, which requires proposals from contractors doing business with the federal government to spell out goals for minority subcontracts.
In 1978, Lowry wrote the U.S. Department of Commerce’s existing blueprint for servicing the minority business community. At the time, the former associate director of the Peace Corps in Peru headed his own consulting firm, James H. Lowry & Associates. The study he prepared for Commerce, “New Strategy for Minority Business,” called for increased attention to larger minority business enterprises—those averaging $100,000 to $250,000 in annual revenues—that could produce jobs in their communities. It was a major departure from Commerce’s focus on assisting MBEs that averaged $50,000 in revenues.
Then there’s Venable, a former Woodrow Wilson fellow at Princeton University, who was the first minority to head what is now the Minority Business Development Agency. While there, Venable oversaw the beginning of a massive concerted effort to bring minorities into the mainstream of American business. He subsequently served as executive director of urban affairs for General Motors, for which he made several trips abroad to advance trade between GM and African nations.
All the inductees “are pioneers in their own right, and we are happy to honor them and induct them in the first calls of the Minority Business Hall of Fame,” said John F. Robinson, president of the National Minority Business Council Inc.
The Minority Business Hall of Fame and Museum (www.mbhf.org ) is the brainchild of Robinson, Don McKneely, president and publisher of Minority Business News and Carol Daugherty Foster, editor of Minority Business News. It was founded in April 2004 to spotlight the achievements of men and women who were pioneers in opening opportunities for equal access for business owners of color. The museum chronicles the vision, tenacity and courage of the inductees for future generations.
By Robert Acquaye