Two Black Chambers, neither should be funded by the City of Monroe

   There are 517 known African-American-owned businesses in Monroe, and two organizations that represent them, neither should be funded by the City.

   Last week members of the Monroe Regional Black Chamber of Commerce made a news splash at the Monroe City Council meeting demanding that the City Council give $25,000 a year to its organization, just as it does the Monroe Chamber of Commerce.

   Mayor Oliver Friday Ellis heard this request for the first time during a citizen’s participation moment at the ending of the regular meeting.

   The city began donating to the Monroe Chamber of Commerce under Mayor James Earl Mayo. The purpose was to help underwrite the Chamber’s lobbying efforts to fund major infrastructure projects through the State Legislature and from the Federal Government.

  The investment paid off because the Chamber’s efforts helped connect Monroe leaders to key funding sources and landed millions of dollars for city projects. The Chamber also sponsors annual lobbying tours to Baton Rouge and Washington D.C. meeting with Congressional delegation as well.

   Kenya Roberson is the President of the MRBC, an organization she started in 2019. Recently, the group has appeared at council meetings at public forums to address concerns about black businesses in the three-minute comment sections of the meeting.

   While Roberson’s MRBC began in 2019, the Northeast Louisiana African-American Chamber of Commerce, headed by Atty. James Ross began in 1997. It hosts banquets that promote black businesses, inclusive of national speakers. It has been recognized as the official organization for African-American Business input. One state law designates AACC as the appointing body for Black business representatives on the Southside Economic Development District.

    Historically, Black Chambers existed because they were excluded from White Chambers or their interests were marginalized.

    The first Negro Chamber of Commerce in Monroe was headed by the late B.D. Robinson in the 1940’s. For nearly 25 years the Negro Chamber promoted the growth of Black owned businesses along the Desiard Street Corridor. It promoted business growth, loaned money to new start-ups, and became a political influence because most of the city’s 400 Black business owners were members. The dues were $5.00 a month (about $93 a month today).

    The Negro Chamber was the secret funding source for the local NAACP’s civil rights push. Major businessmen such as Dr. Miller and Dr. J.C. Roy who built the Miller-Roy building regularly financed the NAACP using the Negro Chamber to hide their involvements. Through their efforts, the NAACP led by Dr. John Reddix, filed suits to integrate ULM, Monroe City Schools, and the City of Monroe Fire Department. 

    There have been other attempts to form black chamber groups, including efforts led by the late Waldo Alexander and a grand attempt by the late Edward Bolden in the 70s and 80s.

    In 1997 the National Black Chamber of Commerce began to organize and promote business growth across the nation. With 190 chapters across the nation, it is funded by major corporations who pay as much as $25,000 a year dues, branch dues of $500 a year and business dues of $300 a year.

    It promotes black business development, start-up assistance, contract inclusion, and lobbies government on behalf of African-American businesses.

    The Monroe Chamber targets the general business community. An African-American chamber targets the specific interests of Black businesses.

    The purpose of Black Business organizations is racially distinct. They promote “Black” businesses specifically.

    Historically, our self-funded business lobby groups have been strong enough to speak, organize and promote Black businesses independent of government handouts.

    It would be “nice” if both black business organizations would work together.

    Because they need to be free of government control, neither should be on the City of Monroe’s payroll.