‘Winning the future’ for black businesses
Photo by Wiley Price Michael Blake, deputy associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and an associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement, recently addressed about 75 African-American business and community organization leaders at FUSE Advertising on the Landing.
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 12:20 am
What is the Obama administration doing for the African-American community?
“That’s a limiting question,” said Michael Blake, deputy associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and an associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Blake spoke to about 75 African-American business and community organization leaders on April 20 to discuss some of the White House’s new programs. He also heard the audience members’ concerns that federal initiatives for minorities often don’t play out on the local level.
The event, held at FUSE Advertising on the Landing, was one of 1,000 events in 100 cities that Blake will hold to get the word out about these initiatives and how people can access them.
“This is showing that you can organize even if you are not present,” Blake said. “How do you identify people on the ground who do this every day? My job is to find the local leaders around the country.”
First, Blake announced a new website, www.whitehouse.gov/africanamericans, which lists the federal programs benefiting the black community. From small-business lending programs to health care, Blake laid out the “Winning the Future” federal budget 2012. After an hour of discussion, Blake said he heard a continual theme.
“You have people who run businesses who are ready,” he said. “All they want is a chance. They want access to the opportunities. One of the things I’ll take back is we need to continue to find ways to make people aware of the opportunities and then concretely make the connection to the agency who can provide that help.”
To help entrepreneurs in low-income and minority communities start businesses and create jobs in inner cities, the federal budget includes $13 million to continue the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders initiative (formerly Emerging 200). Overall, the budget supports $16.5 billion in 7(a) loan guarantees, helping small businesses operate and expand.
There are also several initiatives designed to promote entrepreneurship in underserved areas, he said. The challenge some audience members expressed was getting those opportunities enforced in Missouri.
Keith Turner of Turner Technologies Inc. said he was concerned that the new SBA programs targeting women will exacerbate a current problem where the wives of wealthy white business owners apply for the programs and take away opportunities from minority-owned businesses.
“We see it every day,” Turner said.
However, Blake said from a practical standpoint, “this will lead minority women to getting access to counsel and capital, which was never happening.”
Alan Green, director for the Office of Supplier and Workforce Diversity within the state Office of Administration, said when Missouri received the stimulus money for capital projects, few minorities got to participate.
“How can we get more access?” Green asked.
“The challenge in terms of why dollars didn’t get down to minority businesses like we wanted to,” Blake said, “the states had already decided where the money would go – which was completely out of our control.”
He said the administration could have worked more aggressively to ensure those dollars were getting to minorities. However, he said people should not assume that the federal government knows what’s going on at the state level. Overall, he was asking the leaders in the room for their help in spreading the information and staying connected.
“Policy is about people,” he said. “People need to understand the benefits of their health care and they need to understand that teachers’ jobs were saved. It may not be perfect and there is more to do, but all we are trying to do is help people.”
A Bronx, New York native, Blake said he feels his position of directing outreach to the African-American community is a good fit for him because he grew up in struggle. He said he never takes for granted that his mother was homeless and his two brothers served time.
“I can relate to what people are going through, which allows me a chance to be successful,” he said. “I know what struggle is, and I know what that feels like. My thing now is that I’m not just telling you about a program or a theory. I’m telling you because I know what it’s like to need some help.”
Blake encouraged people to go to the website, join the listserv, host events and tell the story. He aims to add one million African Americans to his listserv.
“If you have benefited from something this administration has done, tell the story,” he said.
He invited individuals to email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
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