20 Years and Counting

Today is the 20th anniversary of eAccess Corp., which I’ve run since 1988.

In recent days, I’ve had a couple of reasons to reflect on those two decades. Yesterday, a mortgage consultant seeking our help to support a local business obtain financing happened to mention that she had home schooled her child using our most well-known product, Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vol. 1, 1500-1900.  

He’s now sharing it with his young children.

A teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary School shared a walking tour of the Fillmore area with us last Monday and she also related building a curriculum around that book.

Because of the layers of intermediaries and distributors, I’ve met a tiny fraction of the 10,000 people who bought that book. But when searching WorldCat, we can see the libraries that have it on their shelves and five of my other books, including Success Secrets of Black Executives, Grampa Jack’s Secret, Black Monday: the Aftermath of the Million Man March. Our other authors like Anna Lee Walker’s Reach Wisely: the Black Cultural Approach to Education and Sylvia Wynter’s Do Not Call Us Negros: How ‘Multicultural’ Textbooks Perpetuate Racism are also in university libraries and are cited in the literature of educational pedagogy.

It’s been more than a notion to operate a scholarly press on the Africana experience. Black people often do not take themselves seriously, and most other folks don’t either.   We came along at a time of great energy in black book publishing and many of our contemporaries have gone on to other things. Competing with divisions of huge conglomerates to market our textbooks and other titles to schools and to gain access to shelves is a Herculean task.

When my friend Peter Wiley, chairman of the 200-year-old John Wiley and Sons, recently penned a reference, he said we had done history for the right reasons, to empower everyday people to understand their own lives, not just for ivory tower deliberation.

The disillusioning feeling comes when we constantly hear people say we need to be more exciting, more entertaining.  Our biggest disappointment was  the failure of the first new daily newspaper for African-Americans in 60 years, Griot, the African-American, African and Caribbean business daily, which we launched in 1995 and maintained for three years.  People told us that was too much information — to keep tabs on exchange rates, African and Caribbean stock markets, economic factors affecting black communities nationally.

However, we’re seeing the results of the failure to become economically fluent in the subprime crisis.  It is truly amazing some of the schemes our people have fallen for in hopes of appearing to be affluent without the underlying financial foundation.

As the need has continued, we’ve taken other approaches to share knowledge, converting Griot to blackmoney.com and launching National Black Business Month at the urging of pioneering civil engineer Frederick E. Jordan.

We’ve also become known as an advocate for equal opportunity in high technology, the field that brought me to the Bay Area as editor of the San Jose Business Journal.  Back then, blacks were prevalent in high tech because of the military connection.

Bad policy and business choices have not only shut the doors in Silicon Valley but left our nation as dependent on foreign technologists as we are on imported oil, with equally dire consequences for our future.

Now, as we report in Silicon Ceiling 8, Santa Clara County (San Jose) has fewer black computer workers than the counties including Birmingham, AL or Cleveland, OH.

Once again, it is the small victories that let us know us labors are not in vain.  For six years now, Congress has refused to dramatically increase the H1-B visa because of our continuing testimony to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees about the abandonment of equal opportunity.  We haven’t had the enforcement by the executive branch of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to match that so we have to hope that a new administration will cut through the excuses.

On a day to day basis, I’m usually thinking about what we haven’t done – most schoolchildren in Californa do not find out about the state’s black heritage, most African-Americans are financially confused, to put it mildly, and our agenda gets set by people who don’t  have the best interests of our community at heart.

However, working as a historian gives some personal context. Every time I read a newspaper clipping from the 1890s or a church minutes from the 1850s, it reminds me that each of those people did their part to move society forward.  I would expect they would never imagine why someone would pay $100 in a used book shop for their church or lodge program, why there would be exhibitions on their wax recordings or tours of the houses where they lived.  Folks who drove cabs for a living could not have foreseen black businesses grossing in the hundreds of millions.

Neither W.E.B. DuBois or Martin Luther King Jr. ever made more than $15,000 a year. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in our annual State of Black Business reports, the average income of most black businesses is not much more than that, particularly adjusted for inflation.

But we are all making a difference, either for good or worse.  So I feel a commitment to the folks who will be hopefully looking over my shoulder 150 years hence to live up to the pledge we heard from Dean Tony Brown as students in the Howard School of Communication in 1972 — “communicate to educate to liberate.”

I went to Howard thinking I was a sprinter.  After a few practices with my teammates from Nigeria and Trinidad, I was shifted to crosscountry.  That included a regimen of running from the campus down to Capitol Hill and running the steps of Capitol at 4 a.m. and at 4 p.m. each day. It was really a metaphor for life. The highest heights are conquered only one step at a time.

If you want to dance, go some place else.  If you want to grow, check us out for the next 20 years.There are a lot more steps to climb.  We’ve all got work to do.

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