Opinion Columns & Blogs

Success for minority businesses is vital, and there’s a group out there that can help

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Before I entered the business world, I worked for the Milledgeville poverty program in Middle Georgia and Atlanta. I remember a conversation I had with a community organizer, a former Black Panther. He said: “Black power is important … but green power is more important.”

His words were accurate. Like it or not, the bottom line in America and the South is that it is the bottom line that is important. To get respect, you have to have money. Ethnic and racial groups that have come to the U.S. have generally only been accepted after they have been here for a period of time raised their income level and joined the middle class. Of course, the black experience is unique — and something white Southerners would rather not think about, for good reason. For the most part, African-Americans are descended from slaves who were forcefully kidnapped from their homes. And black Americans were mistreated by white Americans both before and after slavery was legally ended — a fact not fully understood by some Americans.

Filmmaker Spike Lee named his company 40 Acres and a Mule for a reason. It’s in reference to a broken promise made by the U.S. government to black Americans after the Civil War to assist them in getting on their feet to partially make up for centuries of oppression.

Some conservatives forget why blacks in America are behind whites economically. It is the legacy of slavery, caused by the founders of this nation and their prodigy. And, discrimination is still a reality. However, we must not ignore the substantial economic progress that the African-American community has made over the last 60 years since the civil rights movement changed our nation. Successful African-American businesses are the foundation for getting more economic power, insuring that black people get the respect that they deserve. It is not easy to succeed as a small business. My father, an immigrant, worked his way up from the bottom, eventually becoming a junior “sweat equity” partner in several businesses.

When I retired, I looked around to see where I could volunteer by helping small businesses to grow and succeed. I found Score in south Atlanta. I have been an active member ever since, mentoring hundreds of small businesses (primarily black).

Score, a nonprofit organization, has existed for over 50 years and has 11,000 volunteers nationally, including in Macon/Warner Robins. As a resource partner of the federal Small Business Administration, Score has been assisting small businesses to grow and prosper via free confidential mentoring and professional workshops, which are free or offered at minimal cost.

Score mentors have a wide range of skills. Mentors have assisted people to either enter or increase profitability in a variety of industries. Score will attempt to match a budding entrepreneur with someone who knows the industry he or she is interested in.

Within five years, about half of businesses go under. However, with hard work, and effective mentoring, hopefully your small business will be successful.

And, that is the only way to achieve true equality in this country. The golden rule in Macon and the U.S. remains ... those with the gold rule.

There are many Score chapters in Georgia. To register for a seminar or request a free mentoring session, just Google your local Score chapter or go to middlegeorgia.score.org or columbusga.score.org.

Jack Bernard is a retired corporate senior vice president and former county commissioner in Middle Georgia. He mentors and teaches business planning for Score.