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Finding business angles in Black History Month

February 2, 2012

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Computer technician Audric Fox of Mitchell Technology Group reinstalls a computer hard drive. Photo: Memphis Daily News

Every February, myriad events nationwide commemorate and celebrate the country’s African American citizens.  And while many observances focus on history, heritage and culture, there are plenty of angles for business writers, too, on the experiences of black Americans.

Profiles and features of are a natural fit.

If you generally only cover incremental changes at companies run by African American businesswomen and men, like earnings reports or real estate deals, delve deeper for interesting stories about career trajectories or entrepreneurial endeavors.  I especially like stories about multi-generational businesses because of how the firms are generally so entwined with the history of the region and community and revolved around the basic needs of life, like restaurants and funeral parlors.  Flash forward to last year’s Inc. Top 10 Black Entrepreneurs and you’ll find IT, telecom, real estate, and aviation consulting firms.

As this Cincinnati Business Courier article points out,  in some areas still ‘there are not a  lot of multi-generational black businesses.’ Talk to experts about why — lack of access to capital, institutional racism, market factors, and more — and what conditions or factors may be helping to change that. Don’t forget to tap academic experts; this article notes that last year for Black History Month the University of Maryland business school held a diversity seminar — the participants and those at similar events in your region would be likely sources.


African American males — especially young men — are suffering the most from our moribund jobs market, as this Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article reiterates.  And with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment situation report due out Friday (Feb. 3) —  including detailed tables on unemployment by race, sex, and age — you might want to start exploring the issue and drill down into numbers for your region via the BLS regional reports.  Talk with employers, job-seekers, educators, advocacy groups, community leaders, and others about the roots of this drastic mismatch between the market and the men who aspire to its jobs.  What apprenticeship, mentoring and other programs are businesses creating to address the issue?

The African American consumer.

Despite reports like this one from the Memphis Daily News about the economy’s effect on black wealth, the African American consumer still has rising purchasing power — check out this Nielsen page about its State of the African American Consumer Report, which details factors like income growth, TV use, mobile phone use, Tweeting and more among the black community.  How are consumer goods firms, advertising agencies, small businesses, service firms, and others adapting to the growing market and wooing African American customers?  I’ve been struck, for example, by the candid Ancestry.com commercial where the spokesman says something like “As a black man, let’s face it, I knew where my family tree might lead..”  That’s laying it on the line and in some ways even turning a potential liability for Ancestry.com into an opportunity to connect honestly with potential customers.  How are other companies — from health care to retail — similarly tailoring their messages?

Be sure to check out the U.S. Census Bureau’s Black History Month gallery for a plethora of ideas, many business-related.


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