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Black Business: Where You At?
12/6/2016 3:56:41 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

Helping communities move from just surviving to thriving.  That’s what Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC) executive director Omar Muhammad said about an event planned for this weekend. He was inviting me to a panel discussion that will highlight the organization’s efforts to create opportunities in its member communities.

I had called Muhammad to get some information for this column. Over the past few weeks it’s become more apparent to me how development of the State Port Authority’s new facility at the old Charleston Naval Base is impacting adjacent neighborhoods.

A few months ago I was talking to a friend from Mount Pleasant whose family is locating a business in the Howard Heights community on Spruill Avenue. And a couple of weeks ago I met a lady at the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance meeting whose company is locating to the Neck Area. Both are white folks and neither lives in the area.

It may not be politically correct to say this, but I’ve been thinking how gentrification is coming to that predominantly black area and will change the racial demographics. That in itself is not a problem.

My problem always has been how such changes never improve the economic status of the existing residents, but instead brings in a new group with greater economic status. Poor folks just get pushed somewhere else. That dynamic played itself out in downtown Charleston over the past 30 years. I think most people realize it’s happening in North Charleston now.

So the question I have is what are the folks who live in that area doing to improve their economic status? LAMC got $4 million some 10 years ago to mitigate the impact of the port authority’s impact on adjacent communities. They’ve had some challenges doing that. Who trusts a bunch of black folks with that kind of money? Not even black folks! But that’s another story.

So as the port facility nears its targeted date of completion in 2019, we’re beginning to see more tangible evidence of the activity – rail and roads development are starting to take shape. The construction of the facility alone is anticipated to cost about $1 billion. Its economic impact over the next several decades, I find unimaginable.

And where are black folks in all of this? Mostly complaining about being displaced.

I read an article yesterday about the difference between responding to a situation and reacting to it. In the article, a guy was rowing a boat and saw another coming straight at his. He yelled and yelled for the person in the other boat to move to avoid a collision. Nothing happened. When the boats collided, the rower looked in the other boat and learned there was no one in it. The other boat had broken from its mooring and floated into his. Instead of reacting with yells, the rower should have responded by moving his own boat out of the way.

As the new North Charleston port facility develops, black folks either can react with yells and screams or respond by taking part in the activities. Apparently other folks are responding.

I asked Chicora/Cherokee Neighborhood Association President Rebecca Rushton if the residents of her community are focusing on the economic opportunities developing with the port authority facility. Not yet, she said. I ask, if not now, then when? What are black folks waiting on? Rushton said Chicora/Cherokee has changed drastically in the last year. Business is coming, she said. We’re still waiting.

Chicora/Cherokee presently is an economically depressed area. Most residents are renters who are not vested in the community, Rushton said. That’s rapidly changing. Dorchester Waylyn Neighborhood Association President Tanang Williams said when she saw how beautiful the new Chicora Elementary School on Rivers Avenue is, she realized that the community soon will undergo drastic economic change. Again, forgetting political correctness, she said people just don’t put beautiful buildings like that amid the blight that is present day Chicora/Cherokee without the anticipation of change.

I also recently corresponded with Black Lives Matter Charleston leader Muhiyyidin D’baha who said, “… we must work to shape our own social order with or without approval or permission from any other authority besides ourselves. It is our responsibility to protect our children and create safe and secure environments for them to grow up in. We need processes of deliberation and decision-making to create the communities we want to live in, in the ways we choose.

“We need to ‘sankofa’ - reach back - and get those practices of village life in which we are all concerned about the children, in which we all expect a certain standard of conduct, and through which we can solve our difficulties by appealing to a council of trusted ones and elders. This is our cultural way and this is what we must return to in order to heal our disorders.”

Muhammad said others can’t be blamed for positioning themselves to take advantage of opportunities that are coming. Current residents also have that right. LAMC is trying to do its part.

Through an agreement with Palmetto Railways, which pledges to invest $3 million for construction of a new community center, LAMC will invest $500,000 toward the project. Muhammad said LAMC in June regained control of approximately $3 million left over from the $4 million mitigation settlement it received from the SPA about 10 years ago. The recent release of LAMC’s remaining funds will enable the organization to pursue job training, workforce development, revolving business loans and continuing environmental programs, Muhammad said.

LAMC’s hammered out a deal to commit 15 percent of the total spending for the construction of the port authority’s facility to minority contractors. But beyond that, those who want to participate in the long term entrepreneurial benefits of the development have to begin preparing themselves. That means learning the processes it takes for licensing, financing and other things relative to conducting ongoing businesses. Everybody wants to be in business, but few prepare, he said. And since some starting entrepreneurs need help, he suggests collaborative ventures.

LAMC has committed some $300,000 to economic development through a partnership with the Lowcountry Development Corporation. Muhammad suggests that interested parties go to their website for information. The web address is Our goal should not only be to survive, but to thrive.

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