This bra doesn’t fit, so I’m not gonna wear it anymore!
No, don’t get excited. We aren’t talking about bras in this segment. There is nothing sexy going on here. But, while not sexy, this is a very important topic. We are talking about government procurement and how the current system, as it relates to how procurements are handled, it just doesn’t fit. It’s like a bra that’s too tight in restrictions, so you can’t wait to get home and take it off. If only we could remove some of the restrictions, the bra would fit so much better.
But what does that have to do with procurement and communities of color? That’s easy. The current system doesn’t fit. Communities of color are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, and while we are more likely than not to catch the coronavirus, we are less likely “to catch” a government contract. And when it came to assisting small and minority businesses in communities of color, we were left out of obtaining loans under the SBA Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. I know you’re surprised. Me too. How did that happen? Listen. Let’s stop playing. We knew that was going to happen. But this nonsense has got to stop. It’s time. This is utterly ridiculous, so I don’t want to just talk about it anymore. We need action NOW, and at the same time, we also need to be mindful of the aftermath of this pandemic.
Because of this pandemic, it is almost guaranteed that the government will have a limited number of funds and that, going forward, the procurement opportunities on the federal, state and city levels will also be limited. It is estimated that 50% of small and minority businesses will close. Our elected officials should be creative about what can be done to ensure everybody eats. Instead, some are already working to roll back affirmative action initiatives that are in place so people in these same black and brown communities that we claim to care so much about don’t obtain opportunities. When will it end? I am beginning to feel like Oprah Winfrey in “The Color Purple”: “All my life I had to fight.”
For too long, we have sat back and allowed those who want to keep people of color out to say, “We want to work with minority- and women-owned firms, but we can’t find them, and when we do, they don’t have capacity.” Crazy how people were able to find people of color in Africa and the Caribbean islands, without GPS, risking life in limb in boats that, I am sure, were not as sophisticated as the ones we have today. But give them a list, with names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, and they just can’t find anyone. This has nothing to do with finding capable firms or capacity. This has everything to do with the system being rigged.
In reality, there is a difference between capacity and stupidity. Capacity is: You have a project; you provide the funds for the project; and I bring the materials, man and/or woman power, and everything else needed, to get the project done on time and on budget. And if you have another project, under those same parameters, I can get that job done as well. Stupidity is: You have a project; I use my funds or borrow money; I bring the same materials, man and/or woman power, and everything else needed, to get the project done on time and on budget; and then I sit back and wait for you to take your time to pay me. In some instances, you try to nickel-and-dime me on the cost of work that has already been completed, and I wait two years.
See. This scenario is like that bra. We keep trying to make it fit, but it never will. The system and society keep telling us, “The bra fits. It fits, so just keep wearing it; try to adjust the strap in the back.” And we do. Even though it’s too tight. Even though it leaves marks on our shoulders when we take it off. Day after day, we continue to put it on, struggling to make it fit. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It will never work.
Look. Do you want to create change as it relates to this cycle and how the government works with minority and small businesses? It’s easy. You, the government, need to start investing in your own projects. Stop putting the responsibility of finding people of color on others, and take the responsibility on yourself. Take more of the financial risk. Provide deposits for your own work. Stop putting the burden of financing your projects on the backs of those who can afford it the least. And stop taking forever to pay people after the work has been completed. We can’t talk about Donald Trump and his actions and about the way he has treated those who have done business with him and BE Donald Trump at the same time.
News flash! It’s 2020. Our hands are not tied; we don’t have to continue to do things the way they have always been done. In fact, the definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. So, let’s stop being insane. Let’s do something different. Create a system that is fair and equitable and that works, and you will create a ton of successful and thriving small businesses. These firms know the work and they know how to get things done. We all know that. People of color have already demonstrated that they have the ability to build things, be effective and get the job done; just look around at this beautiful country that was built on the backs of our ancestors.
Let’s be honest about the fact that the current system, and model, is not sustainable and will never result in growth for the minority community and that, by design, it was created to put small businesses out of business. There are so many businesses that are struggling to keep their heads above water because, much like the health care system, the housing system, the education system, etc., this system is not working. Until we have that honest conversation nothing will change. But if we want to, we can help these firms.
Going forward, if we want small and minority businesses to do well, we have to ensure that the policies and procedures that are put in place create a different outcome. And please let’s not create opportunities on one end and barriers on the other. We’re on to that. Let’s be honest about the fact that this change will not happen organically. It is unfair to the minority community to continue to pay into a tax system that is building wealth and legacy for others while communities of color continue to struggle. Whether they are working 12 to 14 hours a day or are living on public assistance, the struggle is real and enough is enough.
We say we want to come out of this pandemic differently. Well, here is where we can start. We all know that creating change in how our tax dollars are spent is how we create the change needed as it relates to health care, housing, education, employment and so many areas in which we know disparities exist.
So, I am calling on @realDonaldTrump (alright, I know that one is a long shot), but I am also calling on @NYGovCuomo and @NYCMayor to commit to creating a program wherein 50% of any contracts issued by the city and state go to the minority- and women-owned business community. Let’s be like wise King Solomon and split the baby down the middle. And don’t do it in a way that other firms are awarded contracts with goals to find minority firms. These should be direct contracts. I know you can do it. Governor Cuomo has already demonstrated his leadership abilities and how, when he wants to put his mind to something, he can get the job done.
Remember. Those tax dollars that are being spent represent dollars that are coming from communities of color at the same, if not higher, rate as everyone else’s communities. The minority communities deserve to see those dollars at work for them. And they should be afforded an opportunity to benefit from the funds they have contributed, allowing them to build their businesses and their legacies just like everyone else. You have the ability and power to create change. It is my hope that you will use your power for good.