Monday, August 09, 2004 - 3:08:58 AM PST

Three Groups that advocate for black firms mull future

Author: Chauncey Bailey , STAFF WRITER - Section: Local News

Some suggest merging the three organizations, others say they should stay separate, work jointly

OAKLAND -- Many of the city's African-American businesses still are struggling despite the emergence in recent years of three different organizations that fight on their behalf.

As a result, some community leaders are suggesting all three groups -- the Oakland Black Board of Trade and Commerce, the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce and The Black Wall Street Merchants Association ( -- should join forces to become more effective.

Others, however, caution that the economic development mission in the black community is too great for one organization to tackle, and if each group plays a unique role they can coexist as friendly rivals.

The three organizations, after all, have distinctly different styles. The Black Board of Trade and Commerce tends to be more confrontational in advocating for jobs. The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, on the other hand, is more corporate in its approach. And The Black Wall Street Merchants Association favors the social and networking touch.

Community leaders say one problem all face is that directories of black businesses -- such as the Wells Fargo-sponsored Black Yellow Pages, or the Black Business Listing published by C. Diane Howell -- are not comprehensive.

African Americans cannot easily locate black enterprises seeking customers. As a result, those businesses cannot grow and create jobs.

Other blacks say poor service or high prices at some African-American owned stores have prompted potential customers to shop elsewhere.

Ed Dillard, president of the Oakland Black Board of Trade and Commerce, said his goal is to represent an estimated 4,000 black-owned businesses in Oakland, some of whom have com-

plained they don't have access to City Hall contracts.

"We are building our membership and getting contracts for black businesses," Dillard said.

He and others have team-ed with Tom Cloman, an executive with African-American-owned Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Members held their first meetings on Saturday mornings five years ago at the company's offices at 4844 Telegraph Ave.

"We were formed," Dillard said, "because another black chamber was inactive and blacks needed help."

Last year, when Dillard learned few blacks had received public contracts for the Bay Bridge reconstruction project, his organization pressured city and county officials, and finally the state Department of Transportation. Consequently, minorities received more jobs, he said.

Dillard has also worked with black churches and the Bank of America, once criticized for issuing too few business loans to African Americans.

The group draws praise for being an effective pressure group, but membership is not as large as Dillard would like.

The Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, which formed last year, has a new office on the second level of the Eastmont Town Center in space leased from the Port of Oakland.

The chamber is less confrontational and more corporate in nature than Dillard's organization. Steered by Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church and former Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb, who now is city administrator in Washington, D.C., the chamber's ranks and coffers are growing.

"We want to bring the black business community together," Jackson has said. "Other ethnic groups have come together and now it's our turn."

The chamber's office is available for members who want to have private business meetings in a professional setting.

Jackson had served as the first president of Black Men First -- a self-help organization formed in response to black-on-black homicides. Now he wants the chamber to "link with black churches," which generate more economic clout in the community than many black businesses. Black Men First had worked to get black businesses to place a uni-fying logo in their windows to draw black customers, but that effort fizzled.

The chamber has been lauded for getting and keeping Bobb involved, but now community leaders say they are waiting for results and not more rhetoric.

The Black Wall Street Merchants Association began in 1999 after Rev. Michael Carter, Sr., its chairman, noticed many of the city's black-owned storefronts -- retailers, restaurants and barbers -- were along International Boulevard from 45th to 109th avenues in East Oakland.

Rev. Carter, Sr. and others decided to take advantage of their proximity. "We want to serve as an advocate for commerce in the African-American community and we have been an effective social and business networking organization," said Rev. Carter, Sr., who was inspired by a black business district in Oklahoma started by a sharecropper. The district flourished for 91 years before it was leveled during a race riot in 1921.

Rev. Carter's organization has a Web site ( and holds forums to promote business-improvement strategies and the recirculation of blacks' dollars in African-American-owned businesses, as those enterprises support each other through referrals. Members want to see 500 jobs created by next year, 200 new businesses by 2007, and a $12 billion black business community by 2009.

Community residents say they are encouraged by the group's efforts, but some observe it does not appear broad-based enough to be effective.

For more information about The Black Wall Street Merchants Association, call 510 777 9300 or


Black Wall Street Merchants Association
The Black Wall Street Merchants Association is a not-for profit enterprise that serves as an advocate for commerce in the African American community, that promotes ethics, and that seeks to preserve the economic growth, social and cultural vitality of the community. Since its founding in 1999, it has served as an effective business and social networking organization. It seeks to establish and maintain good working relations with African American, Churches, organizations and businesses from 50th Avenue to 109th Avenue Bound by International Boulevard In Oakland. The BWS Merchants Association's Work Plan is based on service and advocacy. Ensure member's investment is returned in direct services that promote, market, and support the districts and individual businesses. Advocate effectively for the implementation of the policies essential to the continued revitalization. Press & Media Team, www.

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