reWorking Michigan: Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce

Dec 19, 2011

reWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as citizens of the Great Lakes State explore new ways to make a living and build a future for their families.

This week from reWorking Michigan, our Monday report looks at a new organization in Lansing that's trying to help African-American owned businesses.

The Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce was chartered in August. Ask president Angela Pruitt why a black chamber is needed, and she'll answer with a question of her own: why not?

"There was a need," Pruitt says, "because unemployment rates are very high in the African-American community. Another reason why is to serve as a resource to disseminate information out to the African-American community, trying to make sure that information is disseminated through all communities, whether it's African-American, Hispanic, any nationality."

The Lansing Black Chamber has partnerships with companies like Comcast and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Mentorship programs are being offered to members. Pruitt adds that the key function of the organization is advocating for black businesses.

"Having a voice where you can go to if you feel that your voice is not being heard as a black business, to make sure your needs are addressed uniquely," Pruitt says. Just as women's needs are addressed sometimes, or children's needs, or elderly needs are addressed, everybody needs a voice. And sometimes, coming together and all those voices coming together sometimes brings about change."

The Lansing Black Chamber is affiliated with the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, also a somewhat young organization. President and CEO Kenneth Harris says the formation of the Michigan Black Chamber was announced in February, and local affiliates have been formed in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, Southfield, Pontiac, and Lansing. He hopes there will be 25 locals in the next year or two.

"There's more than 72,000 African-American businesses in the state of Michigan," Harris explains, "most of which are in the city of Detroit, where there's more than 39,000, which ranks number four in the entire country."

There's a U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, pushing a uniform agenda of advocacy, access to capitol, entrepreneurial training and contracting opportunities. Harris says the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus has endorsed the state organization, and a political advocacy day at the state capitol is being planned.

Tim Daman, president and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, says he's hoping to find ways to collaborate with the Lansing Black Chamber.

"You know, the one thing here at the Lansing Regional Chamber, we pride ourselves in having a pretty diverse membership base," Daman says. "And so, our expectations and hope would be that we would continue to work with the Lansing Black Chamber, much like we work with a number of the other regional chambers, from Mason to Grand Ledge, up to St. Johns."

Lansing Black Chamber president Angela Pruitt wants that sort of alliance, too.

"We're not an island," Pruitt says. "You don't survive on an island alone. We have to work together, and we'll be using resources that are out there. We won't be recreating the wheel, so to speak. We'll be tapping in to what's there and trying to get the information out there, and anything that's non-existent, that's not out there, trying to make sure that it does exist for the members."

The Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce has signed up 34 members since launching this summer, and Pruitt says another 20 are considering joining. Membership is open to all companies, not just those with African-American ownership.