Half smoke and Vernon Jordan

I’d been holding out, trying to be good for a week, but after worshiping at the historic 15th Street Presbyterian Church, I went to Ben’s Chili Bowl for my first chili half-smoke of my Washington, D.C. trip.
Just after I got in line and ordered a chili half-smoke without mustard, Vernon Jordan followed me in the door.
I re-introduced myself, reminding him that I had been White House and Capitol Hill reporter for the AFRO-AMERICAN Newspapers when he was president of the National Urban League.
Then I launched into my 30-second elevator speech about INNOVATION & EQUITY: Spurring Manufacturing Through Innovation in Black Communities next door at the historic Lincoln Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011.
To put the 11th annual symposium of the 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology in context, one need only look at other events happening in the nation’s capitol in the next 10 days.
Brookings Institution is having a symposium on innovation and the American economy on Jan. 12 and the Aspen Institute is holding a symposium on innovation in education the following week. Although this is the week of the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when one would presume we would get a little attention, neither event has creating jobs and entrepreneurship in African-American communities on the agenda. Events like these are precursors for the legislation and regulations that we all have to live with. But in most cases, African-Americans are not represented.
That’s why we are bringing INNOVATION & EQUITY to Washington, D.C., visibly making the point of the importance of targeted economic development by holding the symposium in the heart of the historic U Street district, in the Lincoln Theatre with associated events at three other venues on U Street.
Our agenda is to directly tackle the 16 percent black unemployment rate, including the even higher unemployment rate for experienced black technology workers, by supporting and capitalizing black-owned technology manufacturing companies, across a wide spectrum of cutting edge industries, in communities facing high joblessness.
The four areas which will catapult that growth are Education for Global Competitiveness, which will be addressed first thing in the morning by The Honorable Anthony W. Miller, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Education and a distinguished roundtable of educators.
Next is the legal framework for Creating Value Through Innovation, explained ably by Darrell G. Mottley, principal shareholder of Banner Witcoff and President-Elect of the D.C. Bar. Black inventors like Louis Latimer, Percy Julian, Lloyd Quarterman, Roy Clay and the late Dr. Frank Greene have laid the foundations for much of our modern industrial and national security economy. Since World War II, the industries that propelled African-Americans into the middle class have migrated out of our communities, leaving empty shells and battered neighborhoods.
It will take capital for value creation, not just miniscule contracts, to make that happen. Our panel on Catapulting Capital will include top officials from the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department. On Friday, I met with the special equities team at Calvert Investments in Bethesda, one of the participants in the Capital Court. They have identified manufacturing in underrepresented communities as a priority to social impact investments and are looking for good candidates to create industrial magnets in impacted communities.
Catapulting Innovation involves identifying some of the 1,000 blacks yearly who gain patents and surrounding them with the factors for success–expertise, capital, markets and labor. Our last section will feature entrepreneurs who have gone through various stages of the road from patent to public.
The 50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology have proven to be critical participants in the growth of the global economy individually.
The energy when we put these high achievers together in a single setting is stratospheric. Selectees are looking forward to the opportunity to connect with such venues as the Black Civil War Memorial, the Lincoln Theatre, Ben’s Next Door, Indulj and JoJo’s while presenting themselves as role models to future technologists from local schools and universities.
Mr. Jordan was nodding his head as I spoke. It was in line with the work he’s done for decades. It’s a job we all need to take on year-round, particularly leading into National Black Business Month in August, when the King Memorial will be unveiled on the National Mall.
While at 15th Street, one of the church ladies told me about being part of the last major event at the Lincoln Colonnade, a dance hall in the rear of the Lincoln Theatre, under the parking lot, in 1954. She was so excited that we were bringing a major conference to the area.
One hundred and fifty years after the launch of the Civil War, the economic emancipation of black America is still an unfinished work. The 225,000 names of Colored Troops on the Black Civil War Memorial at 10th and U call out to us to launch the same kind of campaign they mounted to end slavery.