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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Black Businesses Lack Connections

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It was during an Amway business convention in Albuquerque some 20 years ago that Ruben Hopkins got his first inkling of what ailed the African-American business community.

"I'd look in one room and see 50 or 60 white Amway distributors, talking, sharing ideas, networking," he remembers. "Then I'd look in another room and only see five or six black people. And I wondered, 'Why is that?'" These days Hopkins, as president and CEO of the Wisconsin

It's a long, difficult struggle, but Hopkins, who served 13 years in the U.S. Army, soldiers on. "The African-American community is not as supportive of business as it could be," Hopkins says. "Black businesses tend to be isolated from one another. There's a basic lack of trust."

He says that isolation is why Milwaukee doesn't have a defined African-American business district that reflects the culture. "We have an Hispanic district in Walker's Point, where you can find great restaurants clustered together, but no district comprised of successful black-owned business," Hopkins says. "That's part of what we have to change."

He bristles at the lack of black business support for African World Fest. "None of the other ethnic festivals have these prob lems," he says. "The Germans support German Fest. The Irish support Irish Fest. The gays support Pride Fest. Who steps up for African World Fest? White corporations.

Why is that?" Last year's festival was sponsored by WE Energies, Miller Lite and Goodwill. This year's festival was cancelled for lack of funding.

"It's time for the black business com munity to call a time out," he says. "We need to just start over again, and build a system to communicate and help each other to grow." "That's accurate and sad," says Shannon Jefferson, a Black Chamber of Commerce member and owner of Gibraltar

"Networking is important for me, but too often I find the attitude in my own com munity is 'What can you do for me?' rather than "What can I do for you?'" Black Chamber of Commerce, is spreading the gospel of business networking and information sharing to the 3,000 black-owned businesses in his organization's database. Only 60 are chamber members. Industries, Inc., a commercial and residential cleaning service. Black Chamber of Commerce, is spreading the gospel of business networking and information shar ing to the 3,000 black-owned businesses in his organization's database. Only 60 are chamber members.

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