Celebrating Black Businesses at Black History Month 2013 – Ade Sawyerr

Mayor of London Black History Month Event.

Many things have been celebrated in black history month over the years but I doubt whether there has been any celebration of black people in business in Britain so in this brief note I intend to chronicle the history of black business development and celebrate the initiatives in the hope that more assistance will come in the way as we look forward to contributing to the brighter future of wealth creation in this country.

We have come a very long way from the days when black people did not routinely aspire or even think of self employment; setting up a business was but a dream for most.

I know there were several small black-owned businesses around 35 years ago, travel agents, hairdressing salons, night clubs, takeaways and restaurants, newspapers, patty shops and bakeries, records shops and various other businesses though most were devoted to personal services.

Research into black businesses

In 1980, the UK Caribbean Chamber of Commerce had brought their difficulties to the attention of government.  The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee commissioned some research and called for several papers and published in December 1980 the report titled: West Indian Businesses in Britain.

Several others carried out research on the back of this initial report to assist in the development of policy on how black people in business in this country can be assisted.

  • Martin Kazuka wrote ‘Why so few Black Business’ for the Hackney Business Promotion Project
  • Alan Brookes researched Caribbean businesses in Lambeth
  • Peter Wilson focussed on Brent for the Runnymede Trust in 1983
  •  Ade Sawyerr also contributed to the effort with my research on Particular problems faced by black controlled businesses in Britain with some proposals for their solution for his MBA dissertation at Manchester Business School in 1982 which broke academic ground on the subject.

Most of these reports revealed that black businesses faced several problems:

  • Black businesses were small and remained so because they focussed on personal services serving a captive ethnic market.
  • Access to capital and credit was difficult in the face of unwillingness by banks to lend partly because they did not understand the businesses and did not have confidence in them as entrepreneurs.
  • There were problems with access to premises and skilled staff and competent managers
  • Markets were generally closed to them because of their size and this led them to focus on their own communities.

These could be resolved with concerted action by government, the private sector and the academics working together and by facilitating organisations also providing assistance.

But it was left to Lord Scarmann who had been asked by government to inquire into the Brixton disorders who having found that ways of policing Brixton was totally unacceptable bemoaned the issue of young black people who were unemployed and to a large extent had no stake in the british society.  He was bold enough to suggest a raft of employment training initiatives and went further to push government into action.  Scarmann wrote …..: but I do urge the necessity for speedy action if we are to avoid a perpetuation in this country of an economically indisposed black population.  A weakness in British society is that there are too few people of West Indian origin in the business, entrepreneurial, and professional class.

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The late Nii Armar-Kojo Armar

Akli! and all those terms that easily came from your register – patent, absolutely, bottom line, those emphatic words will not resound any more.  You are truly at rest in the bosom of the Lord! Even in your last days when you were ill, very ill, you were still in your early-adopter mode: your aramis, your parker pen set, your accelerated learning programmes and yes your phone with a double or triple sim card.

for you things had to be done a particular way; a proper way, a perfect way.  your suits were immaculate and you always wanted to have that special tie pin and cuff links and yes again the gold cigarette lighter and the clutch bag.

But in your last days, the DVD set that you wanted was to enable you to watch and listen to the sermons from your church – Central – the pastor came to the home and prayed for you.

So we all wanted to remember you in a particular way even when you were fast deteriorating – so i have gone to my archives to pick this photograph of you for our memories.

Image

My dear wife, Ahinae did all she could to nurse you back to good health, to make sure that you were comfortable in your last days, my son Olumide ran all the errands around you, and several others participated in that effort of daily visits to the hospital and care home, and you  fought with all the life you had in you to the end till  your maker came for you, perhaps too soon, but only he knows the best time. and for us mere mortals much as we try, we will never understand the mystery of death.

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