Marcus Mosiah Garvey left us a rich legacy of accomplishments and ideas that still motivate and inspire people of color, to pursue entrepreneurship and nation building; among his famous quotes, there’s one that has driven my mission and purpose in life. Garvey admonished us to, “Canonize our own Saints, create our own Martyrs and elevate to positions of fame and honor, Black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our history.” His wisdom and insight should inform us that he had learned the profound lesson, which no one else is going to elevate or esteem us in a way that rewards us or pays homage to us and our posterity. Garvey had more than a passing knowledge of biblical scripture that clearly states, “A prophet is usually dishonored in his own country, and by his own people.”(Paraphrase)Mark 6:4. Correcting that anomaly is our job; if you have the ability to read this column please immediately begin to examine your attitudes and responses to the achievement and success of people who look like you and your children.
Ever so gradually a few major companies and established brands are grudgingly admitting to the impact of Caribbean American spending power and the vast potential of its growing consumption. Those who are missing this promising marketing opportunity are either culturally unaware or “willfully lazy.” But there is no doubt in the minds of Caribbean-American entrepreneurs of the value of this market and the unique niche opportunity it presents. However, these entrepreneurs like all other immigrant entrepreneurs all face the daunting challenge of business creation in the USA, it’s a sobering, complicated and risky process that makes even the most determined immigrant entrepreneur think twice. It takes what my Mom would describe as “intestinal fortitude” to penetrate the barriers, avoid the obstacles and overcome the hurdles that litter the path to business ownership in America. Ask an immigrant who has done so, and you would have just met the real-life version of someone who has more than one superpower, but remains oblivious to that fact, because of their focus, passion and fortitude.
Yet, despite those odds, did you know that nearly half of all fortune 500 companies in the USA were founded by immigrants and their children? Immigrants are responsible for the founding of over 52% of Silicon Valley start-ups, and while immigrants make up roughly 13% of the US population, they account for 18% of existing small businesses. The Small Business Administration credits Small Businesses as the engine of the American economy, which accounts for employing considerably more people than the so called Titans of industry.
Those facts beg the question – What about us? How are we doing as Caribbean immigrants? The answer is a resounding – Very Good! We are doing very well for ourselves actually! Ignore the self-defeatists, the naysayers, the harbingers of doom, and the dream stealers. John Newbern’s Law best describes them in a humorous way: “People can be divided into three groups – Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.” The really good news is that we are witnessing an exponential increase and intensity in entrepreneurial activity in the Caribbean American communities in New York City, which is most noticeable in parts of Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem/Manhattan, Bronx and Nassau County, Long Island.
Among these insurgent immigrant entrepreneurs are Caribbean-American business owners like Bobby Clarke and Louis Grant of Irie Jam Radio/Bridge 99 FM Radio. The launch of Bridge 99 FM Radio in Jamaica, W. I., represents a giant leap forward for Jamaicans in the Homeland and for those in the Diaspora. Bridge 99 links the organic voices, music and culture of the unique experience that is Jamaica, while allowing those of us in the diaspora to participate more fully in the political and social dialogue that we support back home. Yes, Bridge 99 has given us a megaphone into Jamaica that can readily inform their productive sectors of our needs. This is visionary stuff; this is entrepreneurship at its best; bridging the analog and digital divide to provide more entertainment, information, cultural and trade connections allow for more social cohesion and economic power.
The month of July really served up some of the best business news our community has experienced in a while; not to be outdone, a young Caribbean American man originally from Antigua gave us the gift of the first new Caribbean owned and managed Automobile Dealership and Showroom in Great Neck, Long Island, that we can call our own. Jemehl Thomas more popularly known as “Jemehl the Car Guy” put his money where his mouth is and opened his dealership – Superb Motors along one of the most coveted Showroom locations on Northern Boulevard in Great Neck. This location offers you the ambience, comfort and security which are so important when you’re making a big-ticket buying decision; and, isn’t it reassuring to know that for once you’re going to be treated fairly and respectfully?
It is those developments that drive me and my indefatigable Whereitzat team to “Tell Your Stories,” and by doing so, we become authors of our own stories and our narratives, as well as guardians of our own images, bypassing the filters and revisionist pens of those who would pervert our accomplishments. Since we have defined our mission, the rest of our job becomes easier because the subjects of our stories are authentic Black men and women who have worked tirelessly to ensure that their communities are well served.