It has been a while since my last correspondence, and there has been a lot going on in the business world as it relates to the Austin community. This summer, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Austin was one of the hottest real estate markets in the city of Chicago. You can see new commercial construction happening on Madison Street, and residential construction in other areas in our community. Austin has been in the national spotlight with the opening of the first Wal-Mart in an urban area. There has also been talk of creating a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district to encourage developers to build in Austin.
But one of the most important things that has happened to me as a businessman is the opening of the new Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy.
The ABEA, as it is called, was designed as a school that focuses on African-American youth having the option of opening their own businesses in their communities. So it was a no brainier when we, the Austin African American Business Networking Association were approached by Rev. Flowers of the Westside Ministers Coalition and Dr. Michael Bakalis of American Quality Schools and asked if we would be willing to work on a design team to help draft a new school concept under the Chicago Public Schools Renaissance 2010 Plan.
When the process first started it was so exciting to see many community organizations, along with ministers, the Transition Advisory Council and business owners, working together to strategize on a long-term plan to educate African-American youth. I felt that it was such a worthwhile effort that I resigned my position with the YMCA and committed to a full-time position at the new school.
The AAABNA has committed both time and resources because as Mama Brenda Matthew put it when she spoke at the ABEA Wednesday Enrichment day, “If you students cannot make it, we will die.” That statement is the God’s honest truth. It is important that as a race of people we take the utmost care as it relates to our children and be ready to do everything within our power to train them, to raise them up, and to see them not as the problem but as the solution to what ails our black community. We can no longer write others a blank check and say, “Here, you do with our children as you please.” We must get involved.
Let me share some alarming facts. There is a higher rate of employment in the African-American community for Hispanics than for African Americans. There are more African-American males in the penitentiary than in college. AIDS transmission is at record levels for heterosexual blacks between the ages of 14-23. Oh yes, let us not forget that, even though the Austin community has the largest concentration of African Americans in Chicago, there is not one standing monument that recognizes the contributions of this community’s majority (African Americans). Do we really believe even after 400 years that another race of people will understand and do the very best for our children? If that was the case CPS would have African-American studies as a four-year priority and not as an elective. I contend that if we ever decided to be black first, learn about ourselves first, and study the vast African and African-American history, we would began to see a people rising from their sleep. We have an opportunity here to produce some young black entrepreneurs.
I used to teach in my business course that a big part of business is about race and race is business. So if you do not study the habits of the people whom you wish to serve then your business will more than likely not make it. African Americans spend 94 percent of their monies with others. I believe that it is because we do not understand race-based marketing. We have been given an opportunity to train up our children in the direction that they should go, and they will not depart from it when they are older. It would be good to see some of those same faces that I saw when the school was being proposed and it would be good to receive a few calls asking what’s happening at Austin and what can I do. It is my hope that we will wrap ourselves around our schools, for if our students cannot make it, we die.