How do these recent events impact black people: Mayor Charlie Hale’s 2015 priorities; the recent firing of Catherine Mater, the chair of Department of Transportation Commission; Carol Smith’s Portland Public Schools reorganization plan, and the Governor’s vision for the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act? They all have huge implications for black people, both specifically and as they interrelate to each other.
The simple fact is that the Mayor’s agenda for equity and shared prosperity is tied closely to the educational equity agenda promoted by Carol Smith. If these agendas are not aggressive supported and addressed, the Governor’s Workforce and Opportunities agenda for blacks and the poor will be just more empty symbolism. Politically-powerful white prime contractors, who are typically opposed to economic diversity, can take comfort in the Governor’s firing of the principled chairman of the Transportation Department. This likely means maintaining the status quo, trending fewer job and business opportunities for blacks regardless of the Workforce and Opportunities Act.
There is a glimmer of hope that the first and only black transportation commissioner appointed by the governor can stand his ground. But we all know in the next few years there is going to be a huge transportation bill coming out of the state legislature, spending billions of dollars on infrastructure repairs, including Portland streets. By not intentionally lobbying the legislature, the transportation commission and the City, will blacks again passively allow this massive economic opportunity to slip through their fingers?
Is it time for a fulltime Black Business Advocate? Given the broad range of economic interest facing black people, the answer is a resounding YES. There isn’t an organization or individual in town with a distinct, effective focus on developing black businesses and creating a pathway to black wealth. But first some effort must be made to educate the entire community about the urgency of the need. A good starting point is to begin reading the works of Dr. Claude Anderson, James Clingman, John Hope Bryant, Harry Alford and others. Black folks can’t expect others to do for us what we will not do for ourselves.