Growing Our Own Entrepreneurs: Community-Focused Future Making

 Spearmangroup 2008

Given the effect of business ownership on the Black community and the widening wealth gap between Black and White Americans, it’s time to invest in our future and prepare our youth for careers as entrepreneurs. This article discusses the need for and lessons learned from youth entrepreneurship education for Black youth. Middle and high school Black students, especially those who find themselves struggling academically, too often complain that school seems irrelevant to both their present and future lives. The lack of understanding these students have about the workings of the market—and their place in it— systematically denies them opportunities for pursuing their dreams. Consequently, without dreams to pursue, many Black youth have little reason to invest in education and their own development. Previous research has revealed that Black youth have the highest entrepreneurial expectations amongst Asian, Hispanic and White youth. However, research also shows that Black youth do not have access to enough entrepreneurial programs to convert their desire into achievement. Thus, there is need to create more entrepreneurial programs for Black youth with relevant vision, goals and objectives. A 1999 study by the Office of Advocacy in the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that between 1987 and 1997, the number of minority-owned businesses more than doubled. The revenues and number of employees nearly quadrupled.

Much of this growth, however, came from recently arrived Asian and Hispanic immigrants. Moreover, Asians produced more than half of the half billion dollars in revenue minority businesses generated in 1997. To help counter this trend, youth entrepreneurial programs have sprung up that train youth in Black communities. Here are some examples:  The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) teaches the fundamentals of business to more than 4,000 low-income kids a year. Its business model is typical of all the youth entrepreneurial programs.

The NAACP recently launched its $1 million Reginald F. Lewis Youth Entrepreneurial Institute, which helps young entrepreneurs write and implement business plans.   Under the slogan, "It's dough money, not dope money," Champs Cookies Youth Entrepreneurship Society trains 60 African-American children a year how to manufacture and market their edible products in the nation's capital.

On the surface, these programs seem highly beneficial, but after a closer look, questions arise about the lessons being taught. WHAT PRODUCTS AND SERVICES ARE CONSIDERED? Are Black youth taught to produce items genuinely needed by the community, or Pet Rocks and Saturday Night Specials? The business product used by NFTE throughout its materials is T-shirt silk-screening. The only important product consideration, according to NFTE, is that the product "must satisfy a need of the


consumer," not the many needs of the community. WHAT EMPLOYEE POLICY IS TAUGHT? When you learn how to be an effective entrepreneur, you also learn the importance of paying livable wages and giving health-care coverage to your employees. The NFTE training program has a section on "ethical business behavior," but the focus is on ensuring that customers feel you are punctual, reliable, courteous, and well dressed, and that employees do not feel "used" – no mention is made of the role of wages or benefits. WHO OWNS THE EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS? Is the ownership local, or is it a branch of StarKist Inc. with little commitment to the community? The NFTE entrepreneurship materials teach that: "Businesses come in three basic legal structures: The sole proprietorship, the partnership, and the corporations." However, the most popular business ownership structures in the community – cooperatives, municipally owned, and community stock-held companies – are not even mentioned. Too many youth entrepreneurship programs measure success by the number of local companies that become publicly owned, stock trading companies and the number of entrepreneurs transformed into millionaires. This is not good because when a company goes public the ownership link to a community is usually broken. A dozen thousandaires who keep ownership of their businesses local are far more important to the community's well being than one millionaire.

Unless an enterprise is anchored to the community through dispersed ownership, its owners are likely – once successful – to move to the suburbs (or, if they are successful, locate offshore in Mexico, India, etc). When that happens, of course, the economic multiplier and tax payments no longer benefit the community. On the other hand, businesses owned by community residents, can become long-term assets for local development. Unlike their global competitors with no ties to place, who tend to flee when labor and environmental standards rise. One of the few National Football League teams that has not tried to extort a new stadium or other bribes from the community by threatening to move if its demands were not met is the Green Bay Packers – a communityowned nonprofit. T I ME F OR A NEW MO DEL With the widespread, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, underemployment, unhealthiness and criminality in the Black community, a new model of entrepreneurship needs to emerge. If we seriously want to improve our situation, we must strengthen our collective economic position. This means working cooperatively. It also means the motive of men becomes increasing the quality of community instead of increasing profit in their pockets. Increased profit will come later from the more efficient production of literate, healthy and happier Black people in the community. The new model is important for several reasons: First, it comes from the united efforts of Streets University, Ikoja, Weed and Seed, local Black entrepreneurs, community-focused activists, and philanthropists. Second, it addresses the What, How, and Who (quality of community attributes). The new model teaches Black youth that fulfilling unmet local needs is, by definition, going to be better for the community than exporting yo-yos.


One such program is Urban SEED (Sustainable Economic and Environmental Development), based in Alameda, California, which encourages its trainees to focus on micro enterprises that grow organic food and generate renewable energy. Another is the Detroit Farmers Cooperative, which operates seven community gardens and five neighborhood-based markets, all run by seven young African Americans, 14 to 16 years old. In addition, the Hope Takes Root program in Detroit employs homeless men to grow food for local meals programs for the poor. Third, a community that moves toward selfreliance is often rewarded with a higher economic multiplier. Economists sometimes say that a community should be indifferent about whether a new business produces $100,000 worth of apples for export or $100,000 worth of apples for local consumption, since each injects $100,000 of productive activity into the local economy. However, there is a difference. In both cases, the business realizes $100,000 of sales and respends it in the local economy. However, in the latter case, consumers also spend $100,000 locally that they otherwise would have had to spend outside the community to import apples. Every time a community chooses to import an item it could just as easily make for itself, it is giving away another piece of its multiplier. Finally, a self-reliant community enjoys greater tax receipts. Again, the business taxes from the $100,000 exporter and the $100,000 importreplacer are identical. To satisfy the need for a new model of community-focused entrepreneurial education for Black youth, Spearmangroup, Ikoja, and Weed and Seed launched Streets University. Streets University is a youth entrepreneurial education program taught by experienced facilitators with both academic and industry experience. It consist of six weekly 4-hour classes, designed to transfer basic business know-how , as well as, teach Black youth about products genuinely needed by the Black community, treating employees

properly and bringing economic control to the community. The series includes a business-learning workbook that gives practical, hands-on, how-to instructions and email address for each student. A typical class consists of the business lesson, cultural impact, and workshop and group breakout sessions. This article has discussed the need for and lessons learned from youth entrepreneurship education for Black youth. In conclusion, a new model of youth entrepreneurship education, Streets University, has been developed. It comes from the collaborative efforts of Spearmngroup, Ikoja, Unify South Dallas, Black entrepreneurs, community-focused activists, and philanthropists. The new model addresses the need for more entrepreneurial education for Black youth, the What, How and Who quality of community attributes and moves toward self –reliance. Please help build a better tomorrow for our children and community by supporting Streets University with your encouragement, sponsorships, and resources.


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