Today, in 2021, There’s a well-intentioned, and brand new effort in Oakland to steer City of Oakland spending toward black business. Wow. Makes you think that was never done before, right? Well, in my history in Oakland, which goes back to April 8th of 1974, it has been done. The real problem is one that few want to address, so they ignore it, and leave it for the next generation to deal with, and that group passes over it too.
The fact is that Oakland has seldom laser-focused on developing black businesses to get work the City of Oakland itself creates. Even Oakland elected officials are loath to give story ideas to the tiny number of black-owned media operations focused on Oakland (two). For example, Oakland District Six Councilmember Loren Taylor, who’s behind the effort, partnered with The Oakland Post, but never reached out to Zennie62Media for Oakland News Now. Meanwhile, they have no problem promoting white-owned local media. Media is a business, folks. Keep reading.
The fact is that Oakland, including blacks in Oakland, collectively, have never been interested in full business assistance for just any black entrepreneur, only the ones they know and like. But before we focus on that, let’s go back to a report card on City of Oakland expenditures for African American businesses that was released in 2014.
Called Making the Grade: Contracting with Minority-and Women-Owned Businesses An East Bay Agency Report Card, San Francisco Bay Area, the study released by the Bay Area Business Roundtable in March of 2014 and with legal support provided by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, graded Oakland, among other Bay Area cities, in contracting to black businesses. Here’s what the report, which called Minority-Owned Businesses “MBE” and Women-Owned Businesses “WBE” said.
The results were divided in this way:
Data Quality. The City of Oakland received a B-grade in transparency, data collection, and ease of public use. Some of the city’s data is detailed and organized and isaccompanied by notes providing further context. For example, the City Council voted to increase the goal for local and small businessparticipation from 20% to 50%, so the data separates contracts awarded before from those signed after date the policy went into effect (Jan. 1, 2012). Moreover, the notes state the specific goal for disadvantaged business enterprises (“DBEs”) as 11.17%.Points were deducted,however, because the data isnot always organized in readable, cumulative fashion.In addition, data on professional services is not compiled as usefully as data on construction.
Participation Results. The City of Oakland received a B-grade in minority-and women-owned business engagement. Between Jan. 1, 2012 and March 2013, the city had achieved MBE participation of 47.38% in construction, the highest of any of the municipality or agency studied.It appears that this level of participation may be due to goals for L/SLBE that increased in 2012 from 20% to 50%. However, this large percentage includes woefully few African American-owned businesses, to which a paltry 0.4% of these contracting dollars were awarded. The data for WBEs are similarly uninspiring. From 2010-2012, the WBE participation was 2.92%, which dropped to 0.55% in 2012. Without detailed statistics about MBE/WBE availability, these numbers are difficult to put into context. However, the infinitesimal percentage of African American participation and the downward trend of WBE participation suggest that the City of Oakland has room to improve its practices for contracting with WBEs and MBEs, particularly so with African American-owned companies. The City is also falling short of its DBE goal for federally-funded contracts (6.99% achieved for most recent fiscal years, with 11.17% overall goal). In addition, MBE participation for professional services appears to lag that of construction, by a wide margin.
The Port Of Oakland Faired Much Worse In The Study, Landing A D-Grade
Data Quality.The Port of Oakland received a [C] in transparency, data collection, and ease of public use. Though the Port provided plenty of data,very little of it was broken down in helpful formats. For example, DBE data is reported cumulatively, with no disaggregated data for specific ethnic groups. The data is broken down along types of purchases, similar to some of the others, but this categorization is non-standard and fails to provide the context that direct comparisons with others’ data would. Like MBEs, WBEs are lumped into the port’s DBE numbers, so evaluation of WBEs as a separate and differently disadvantaged group is impossible. Finer break-downis preferable when examining the pervasive and often discreet effects of discrimination.
Participation Results.The Port of Oakland received a [D+] in minority-and women-owned business engagement. While the agency appears to strive to increase DBE participation, there have been some downward trends in percentage dollar value awarded to DBEs. One series showed a mostly flat trend of DBE participation from 7.3% to 8.4% to 6.9% over the past three fiscal years, despite DBE goals ranging from 13% to 18%to the current goal of over 20%. The Port’s reliance on race-neutral methods is likely preventing progress in this area; moreover, the consistent failure of the Port to meet its DBE goals through race-neutral methods strongly suggests that race-conscious measures are necessary. The agency would serve the community better if it maintained more detailed data on its contractors, and used that data to target the most disadvantaged groups. For example, the discrimination faced by WBE’s may be different than MBEs. Sufficient data gathering and organization would illuminate the weak areas which may give rise to creative solutions from within the agency.
And BART Was Just As Bad As The Port Of Oakland
Data Quality. BART received a D in transparency, data collection, and ease of public use. Its data was sparse anddid not separate MBEs from WBEs, did not break down MBEs by ethnicity, did not break down MBE/WBE awards by industry, and listed a cumulative total for awards from 2010-2013 rather than separating out by year. This lack of transparency obscures any hypothetical areas of progress, and frustrates the public’s ability to diagnose the agency’s shortcomings. If the agency refuses to keep and/or provide detailed records of its progress (or lack thereof), the public is likely to surmise that the increased participation of MBEs and WBEs is not a priority, a perception BART would do well to avoid.
Participation Results. BART received a C- in minority-and women-owned business engagement. 16.57% of contracting dollars werereported to have been awarded to MBEs and WBEs combined. However, as noted above, it is impossible to tell from this data how much of that dollar amount went to MBEs versus WBEs; whether certain industries or types of contracts fared better, etc…. Moreover, no overall goal is stated (though other publicly available information indicates BART’s DBE goal over the past several years has been in the 22-23% range). Recent publications from the Federal Transit Administration indicate that BART achieved only approximately 11% DBE participation in Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012. http://www.fta.dot.gov/documents/Top_50_FTA_grantees_DBE_goals_9-30-13.pdf Without disaggregated information from BART itself, it is not possible to tell whether the overall numbers being reported by BART are consistent with this information or not.
A Momentary Aside To Shine Light On Ethnic Racism In Oakland As Presented By An Elected Official In 2010
The numbers and report you saw do not happen by accident. They occur because, at the heart of some so-called well-intentioned elected officials in Oakland, is an attitude about other minorities that’s purely racist, and yet has been ignored by others. And I specifically point to the words of then-Oakland Mayor Jean Quan in 2011, when she said in a speech before a Chinese Media group that was showed in my vlog at Zennie62 on YouTube “We know that Chinese Americas probably read more news papers than the average American. And that Chinese newspapers report local news better than the media as a whole.” Well, stop and imagine if Mayor Quan were white and said “We know that White Americans probably read more news papers than the average American. And that white media reports local news better than the media as a whole.” Think about the reaction she’d have received.
If that got out, there would be hell to pay, but because she said “Chinese” no one batted an eyelash in the room, nor did few who watched my vlog, then. But the prejudice – that Chinese Oaklanders were better informed than someone black, and by assumption, better educated, and better than black media, was expressed.
And that was done by an elected official, the Mayor of Oakland, who should be concerned about making sure blacks received contracts from the City of Oakland and that Oakland had a healthy number of black businesses. Instead, Jean Quan, in the middle of an environment where she felt safe to say those words, expressed where her concerns really were, and they were not with black businesses. Again, no one except this black Oakland vlogger took issue with this, then. And my bet is that few in Oakland will care today. But attitudes like that, from on high, serve as the gantry for poor black business development in Oakland.
With that, efforts have been made to make sure Oakland black businesses received work. Take the NFL and City of Oakland-sponsored event to connect Oakland business, and in particular, black-owned firms, with opportunities created by Super Bowl 50 in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have a 15-video playlist from that day’s happenings at the Scottish Rite Temple by Lake Merritt, and that you can see here, and here’s two examples in Arista Flowers and Dollene Jones:
The point is that the City of Oakland’s history consists of many efforts to try and get black businesses to take advantage of opportunities, but Oakland has never focused on growing the number of black businesses within its boundaries. Black business incubators have been tiny in number in Oakland’s history, and to this day, a search for “oakland black business incubator” yields only Oakland News Now / Zennie62 On YouTube’s September 2020 interview with the founders of the Oakland Black Business Fund.
But the one Oakland black business development program that should serve as a model for today is focused only on cannabis entrepreneurs. The City of Oakland’s Cannabis Equity Grant Program at https://www.elevateimpactoakland.com/ recognizes the need to help African Americans build businesses that are then able to really take on the jobs offered to them. But, again, its focused only on cannabis startups. It is not designed to focus on Oakland as a whole and it underscores a larger problem: the complete lack of tech-focused programs for black business.
The assumption about business is that it’s bricks and mortar. The programs today, especially for black business, forget about tech. For example, today, media is a tech-play. In other words, a black media organization has to own its own website and rent server space. It has to have the coding knowledge to be able to overcome constant denial-of-service attacks, sometimes many times a second. Coding means having some programming knowledge. The firms in Oakland that can help blacks learn coding are few, far between, and in today’s Pandemic-harmed economy, now closed.
Type “black programmers oakland california” and you get zero listings of anyone who’s a programmer. You do see a tiny group of non-profits that help black teens paced by the The Hidden Genius Project https://www.hiddengeniusproject.org/about/. But nothing for blacks in Oakland as a whole.
When Afro-Tech was here, it was produced by Blavity CEO Morgan DeBaun, a great role model who raised $10.6 million for her startup and is out of Los Angeles. The event drew 10,000 blacks in tech to Oakland, and there was one black media organization focused on Oakland who constantly produced information about its activities, and that’s Zennie62Media’s Oakland News Now / Zennie62 YouTube.
There was no sustained effort to grow Afro-Tech in Oakland, and today, there still is not one. Tech is the future of business. If we don’t work to shore up the number of black tech businesses in Oakland, these problems of the City of Oakland not getting contracts to African Americans is one that will persist.
Blacks in Oakland must focus on what blacks in Oakland business do, regardless of the person. In my case, black Oakland elected officials almost never steer story ideas my way; but they regularly give them to white media. And The Oakland Post, owned by the legendary Paul Cobb, competes in search results with another publication of the same name out of Michigan, and lacks daily, updated, Oakland news. You would say “team up” and my response would be “I have tried” and nothing has ever came of my overtures. Moreover, once Paul passes on, my fear is the Oakland Post will stop being a black-owned publication.
I even worked as a consultant to The Oakland Post in 2016, and increased its traffic and even video output by 300 percent. But the affair spurred me to create Oakland News Now and Zennie62Media’s Delaware corporate version from scratch, and because I believe news is a tech play, today.
The Future Of Black Business In Oakland Rests On Business Development And Blacks Teaming Up
The point of all of this, is that the future of business in Oakland starts with business development. That means more than loans – it means grants, investors, websites, training, and mentors. It means elected officials who don’t act like they expect blacks in business Oakland to kiss their ring, and instead reach out to them, first. It also does mean government and white business firms reaching out, but the point here that I’m making is that black folks must support black folks – even if it’s just a word of encouragement. And it doesn’t matter the personal relationship choice of the black person in business. Interracial marriage, LGBTQ, whatever – that’s their business. What should count is that they’re black and making an effort to have their own business. Period.
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