“We are sending a clear signal that we can no longer afford to do business as usual in this community,” said Darrell Cobbins, president and chief executive officer, Universal Commercial.
Cobbins was among a group of notable minority business owners and leaders who gathered at the National Civil Rights Museum to address economic and business disparities in minority business contracts in Memphis and Shelby County on Tuesday. The first of those business leaders to address the crowd of media, business owners, and concerned citizens was Ron Redwing.
“Our goal is to spotlight these disparities in a way that brings about swift and significant change,” said Redwing, president of 100 Black Men of Memphis. “If Memphis is to rise and become a ‘world-class’ community, all of its citizens must be active participants in its economy.”
The coalition’s aim is to increase the number of minority and women business contracts in Memphis and Shelby County over the next five years, aligning its efforts with the City of Choice and Blueprint for Prosperity initiatives. As a group, the coalition has committed to target this change based on a focused agenda carried out through dialogue, strategic partnerships and direct action.
During his address, Cobbins highlighted Memphis’ well-known poverty statistics, as well as the multiple disparity studies that have been conducted. Both clearly show that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
“We all own some of the problem, but we now should own some of the solution.” Cobbins said, emphasizing that “the task before this community is not recruiting a middle class, but creating one.”
Patrick “Trey” Carter, a self-described “second generation social entrepreneur” and President of Olympic Career Training Institute, said, “Twelve years ago I went off to college to get an education. My father told me to bring that education back to Memphis to help your city and make sure you can make a difference in your community (which is what I did).
“It is going to take more than a conversation to make Memphis a city of choice for young professionals; there has to be action to ensure the legacy continues.”
Beverly Robertson, president of the National Civil Rights Museum, said it was particularly fitting that the group took its stand at the museum, which incorporates the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated after coming to Memphis about the same issues: income inequality and poor working conditions.
“Dr. King also said we die when we become silent about issues that matter, and this is an issue that matters,” said Robertson. “Ensuring that minorities receive their fair share of contracts with the city and county government is an issue that matters.”
Under her leadership the National Civil Rights Museum underwent a multi-million dollar renovation, with Robertson proclaiming that 45 to 50 percent of the work going to minority contractors. The intended lesson from that reference was clear: there are qualified and available minorities, if you are intentional about inclusion.
“We can no longer afford to be silent,” said Robertson. “We can no longer be indifferent about an issue that affects the economic viability and sustainability of this community. A rising tide floats all boats and we want the tide to rise for all the citizens of Memphis, Tennessee.”