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Archive for March 5th, 2011

WVON Radio seeks answers to save black businesses

Posted by Admin On March - 5 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

By Chinta Strausberg


“We black businesses, not only funeral homes, but others, we have to fight to maintain our integrity and not allow our name to be sold where our black clientele think they are coming to a black-owned business and that is not the case” – Spencer Leak, President of Leak Funeral Homes.

“Why are second and third generation African American businesses going out of business?” – Cliff Kelley, WVON Talk Show Host

Collectively representing more than 189-years of business in Chicago, four entrepreneurs appeared on WVON’s Cliff Kelley show to discuss the state of African American owned businesses, how can they survive in the 21st Century, and why it is important to properly train and pass the mantle to the next generation.

In the WVON studio were: Josephine Wade, manager of Josephine’s Cookin Restaurant, 436 E. 79th Street who has been in business for 68-years, Victor Love, Wade’s son, the owner who has had a dry cleaning business for 23-years, Kham Beard, the former owner of Kham & Nate Shoes once located downtown and at 87th and Cottage Grove who today manages 150 apartments, and Spencer Leak, Sr., president of Leak Funeral Homes, in business for 78-years.

Kevin Hicks, president of the Atlanta-based franchise consultancy Blackman Associates, called into the station with numerous solutions that if followed would help sustain black-owned businesses. According to an article in the Southeast Queens news,  Hicks is credited with bringing billion dollar interests such as Subway, Jackson Hewitt and Footlocker to Queens.

If small businesses represent the backbone of America, then African American family-owned businesses are the lifeblood to the black community, which has become more integrated and non-supportive of these establishments for several decades. As a result, black businesses are closing their doors.

According to the Office of Advocacy, which gets its latest statistics from the Census Bureau, there were 29.6 million businesses in the United States in 2008. Small firms having less than 500 workers represented 99.9 percent of the 29.6 million businesses and there were about 18,000 large businesses in 2006.

When WVON put out a call to discuss the closing of black businesses, like the historic Edna’s and Izola’s restaurants located in the heart of the African American community, Wade, Love, Leak and Beard jumped at the chance to explain why it is important to not only support Black-owned businesses but to prepare their children to pick up the mantle and carry on their businesses into the next generation.

Kelley, who said he is concerned about “why we are losing so many long-time successful businesses in the black community,” announced he would be running a series of programs on this topic every Friday.

Asked what is the problem and the secret to keep the doors of black-owned institutions open, Wade answered, “You look at corporations like Leona’s…it’s marketable and it’s a brand” just like her restaurant is. “But, it’s something about our culture that does not remain uplifted to continue to come in,” she said referring to the dwindling support by African Americans.

Wade said Blacks don’t get the funds to market in order to compete like other non-black restaurants do. “And, most of us eat, shop, go to the doctor…do offer what we see off of TV. If you’re not able to stay within the mainstream of the marketing process, then you can easily get lost… Once the newness (of a new restaurant) is lost, it’s business as usual,” she said. “We got to figure out how we can save businesses to keep people interested in coming.”

Kelley said everyone knows about Wade and Love’s restaurant, formerly called Captain Hard Times.  Beard and Leak explained how what the second and third generations must do to remain successful and stressed it wouldn’t be easy.

Beard said he realizes as a black businessman “it seems like we had to do more than the average business person had to do. We had to shine more, give a better service and offer a better product but you had to offer that product at less than other people were offering. We had to give more for less,” he said. “It continues on.

“It is very difficult for us to give more and give it less when competitors are buying it in greater volumes than we are buying; so it’s a difficult situation. I’m buying…by the cases and they are buying at the box car (level)…,” explained Beard.

“There has to be a sacrificing for a cause and I do not know if our community is ready to sacrifice for a cause,” he said. “For years, we’ve been trained to survive and in that survival, you have to get the most you can for your buck so as a consequence we’re constantly looking for what we can get more of for less,” said Beard.

He said when he had his shoe business, he held staff meetings each Saturday “to let them know what they were up against and the fight you’re up against is to be better,” Beard stated.

Kelley praised Beard for passing the mantle on to his daughters, Khamiya and Karyn Beard, who have a shoe store, Khamryn-B Shoes & Accessories, at 8301 S. Ashland.  Beard said they are celebrating six-years of being in business.

Leak, who is passing his business on to his son, Spencer Leak, Jr., said those businesspersons in the studio, represented the first generation of a business. “I represent the second generation of my business, and what we’re finding and the data I’ve seen is that it is the second and third generations that are going out of business. I think you can attribute that to mindset,” Leak concluded.

“Young people need to know that when they inherit their mother or father’s business they have to be of a mindset of working longer hours and more days than their employees.”

Leak said employees “will not respect you unless you’re working more hours than they. You are there when they come and you’re there when they leave. To work a business means you’ve got to work day and night and these young people say ‘that is not fair…I’ve got a life to live’ but I never had that choice….

“When my daddy started me out in our business, I was 10-years old,” recalled Leak. “What was a 10-year-old doing? I was getting out of grammar school. I went there (to the funeral home). I answered the phone. I did everything that you’re supposed to do. I didn’t get any pay. The only pay I got was food to eat and a bed to sleep in.”

Kelley recalled a speech Leak made years ago when he admitted it was rough keeping the business going after his dad died. “I give credit to God,” Leak said. “God was the only one who could have gotten me out of the quagmire that my daddy left me in.

“My daddy was like a whole lot of folk, black or white. He never liked the tax that he wanted to pay and so my dad had me in a few tax problems, but I was able to balance that by the fact that my dad had an incredible name and people loved him. I was able to take that name by the grace of God and turn our business around but it required long, hard hours.

“Our young people who take over businesses have to realize not only taking over businesses but who are initiating businesses that they must be willing to work and work hard in order to maintain and sustain a business,” said Leak.

Kelley asked Leak how many African Americans go to white funeral homes to bury their love ones. “Too many,” said Leak. “Our funeral industry is the last resource that white corporate America has tried to take over and have not fully done it but they are making strides and they are taking over black funeral homes throughout our nation. They are doing it in Chicago and other major cities.”

“We must fight it not only to sustain our current businesses but to fight for the future of black funeral service and when I say black funeral service as opposed to white funeral service or Jewish or Hispanic funeral service that’s the nature of the business.

“People tend to want to go to people of their own color and their own ethnic group. That is not racism. That is just culture and there is nothing wrong with that,” explained Leak.

“We black businesses, not only funeral homes, but others, we have to fight to maintain our integrity and not allow our name to be sold where our black clientele think they are coming to a black-owned business and that is not the case,” said Leak.

Love said the black community “is not conscious now. We have fallen asleep. We have a song, ‘Wake Up Everybody.’ It’s time to wake up this community because we’re losing it, and we’re losing it daily. Our businesses are closing at a rapid speed.”

Love said he has run his dry cleaning business since 1988. “At this point, I am more compelled to receive the torch from my mom (Josephine Wade) to take what used to be called Captain Hard Times (now Josephine’s Cookin) to the next level. You can expect a new look in the place. You can expect new items on the menus…new advertisement. We’re going to roll up our sleeves….”

He said his mother has shared her money with the community from the church to the homeless. Kelley praised all of them for making similar contributions to the community.

Kelley asked Hicks how to make black businesses work in the 21st Century. Hicks said black funeral home owners “have done an exceptional job in fending off what has become a continued consolidation in their business by playing to their strength.”

Hicks said blacks must understand what their strengths are. “The first strength that we have as communities of color is personal relationships….” He said that is what has sustained black businesses. “We have to embrace those things as opposed to going out chasing non-existent business or business we think we can get.

“We have to maximize that which is in our community. Other communities value our community, which is why they are creating businesses there. We have to embrace that,” Hicks said.

He told of some people who began a magazine but instead of securing their base first they went out for a general market business “and found themselves belly up. We have to maximize those competitive advantages that we have…personal relationships,” said Hicks.

Blacks must also embrace new technology he said that must be a part of their businesses. “It creates easier practicing for purchasing, creates faster service for your customers. It creates other ways to keep in communication and contact with your customers. We have to look at embracing technology.

“We have to reinvest in our businesses,” said Hicks who also owns a restaurant. Saying the restaurant business is a very competitive industry, Hicks said, “I own franchises. My business assists people in buying franchises. What they understand is you have to reinvest in your business. Every three to five years, you will see the different franchises refresh their properties.”

He said people want to go to restaurants…and to be able to take their lady to a “nice place, where the service is good and the ambiance…is one that is compatible or competitive with those you would find any where in the city,” said Hicks.

Kelley said he too is concerned about the second and third generation black businesses failing. Leak said, “Our culture expects us to do a better job than our counterparts. The second and third generation owners must understand that they must adjust to the fact that they must do it better. They are expected to do it better and they cannot reject that because that creates a negative perspective for them in addressing their clientele,” said Leak.

Beard said when his daughters began their business he’d stop by and give them constructive criticism. His daughters complained about his constant criticism.  He gave them as his reason the motto he learned as a child in Arkansas “to make the best better.”

To succeed, Beard said blacks must “find a void that’s in the field they are trying to approach and make that field better. You have to find the void that is lacking in the field.” Both Beard and Leak said hard work is key to succeeding.

Wade agreed saying she begins her day sometimes at 12 a.m. or 1 a.m. and puts in an 18-hour day from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. “I am conscious of restoring your business to give a new look, but I think everything that has a new look does not always work.”

Wade said many times when you refurbish your business blacks patronize your restaurant but once it is no longer new, they disappear. And, she said the pricing competition is great. “Downtown you’re getting $30 for a steak and you’re getting $13 or $13.95. You can’t compete with that. I understanding about changing the look…, but you have to deal with maintaining what you do have. Churches never change their structures sometimes, but they stay full. It’s a mater of what works for one person may not work for another,” said Wade.

Hicks, who buys restaurants and franchises in large numbers, responded: “While I did suggest that you should refresh the restaurants and reinvest” in them, Hicks said, “You cannot compete if you’re buying the product at a higher cost than the people you are competing with which brings about the next step in entrepreneurship that we as another generation has to do…to follow what my Asians or my Pakistani partners have done.

“Hotels are franchises. The Pakistani group…controls 70 percent of what is called limited service hotels…. The way in which they did this was that they would bring family into the businesses…. They would collectively even if it were a different family form associations and go to the bank and demand specific credit terms and demand from the purchasing entities specific purchasing prices…,” Hicks said.

Kelley vowed to run a series of these forums each Friday to show how blacks can stay in business. He said more African American businesspersons would participate in his show next Friday in an effort to help sustain black businesses.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.

The Michael and Mechelle Epps Foundation kicks off Literacy Arts Awareness in NYC with visit to Rikers Island

Posted by Admin On March - 5 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

mike_epps_foundationMichael and Mechelle Epps visit children from Harlem Children’s Zone and P.S./I.S. 76


New York, NY (BlackNews.com) — In the face of the staggering number of 42 million Americans who cannot read, write or perform simple math, and nearly 1 million in that number being young people who drop out of school each year–stand-up comedian, actor, and host, Mike Epps and his wife, actress Mechelle Epps, are focusing their efforts on improving the lives of at risk youth through literacy arts.
The Michael and Mechelle Epps Foundation’s Youth Literacy Arts program uses art activities from a specialized curriculum that combines music, theatre, and writing. The goal is to improve grammar, expand vocabulary and encourage the ability to communicate through written word.
A special performance that includes poetry, art and music by the students of P.S./I.S. 76 and The Harlem Children’s Zone was held on Friday, February 25, 2011 from 11:00am -12:30pm for the Epps. Michael and Mechelle spoke to elementary and middle school kids about the importance of education.
“We decided to start the foundation because we know a lot of kids could be great adults, if they had the proper support as children. Last year, NBC reported that nearly 1.2 million teens hit the street every year unable to read or write. And according to CNN, 7,000 high school students drop out every year, that’s one every 26 seconds,” says Mechelle, a mother of two daughters with Mike.
Michael and Mechelle Epps also received a Proclamation from New York Senator John Sampson, Leader of the Democratic Conference at Questan’s Restaurant, 2113 Frederick Douglass Blvd, in Harlem from 1:00pm – 2:30pm.
The couple kicked off their initiative under The Michael and Mechelle Epps Foundation Thursday, February 24, 2011 by teaming up with Lynis Walters, also known as, Grammy Award winning hip hop artist, “Queen Pen,” to visit adolescents in the Institute for Inner Development (IID) and Faith in Reentry program at Rikers Island. Walters has been intimately involved in developing at risk teens and speaking in juvenile prisons, group homes, and inner city schools.
Mike delivered a motivational speech to about 300 youth ages 16-18 in Rikers encouraging them to focus on their talents and their ability to succeed regardless of their current circumstances. He also treated them to a 20-minute comedy show.
“For the last 14 years or so I’ve been working with at-risk adolescents and I can not stress enough how much preventative measurements work with these children. What Mike and Michelle are doing is not only necessary, but also brave. Our children deserve a chance. It’s easier to build a child…Then to repair an adult,” said Queen Pin.
The Rikers visit was followed by a reception on Wall Street to introduce the initiative to New York’s philanthropic community.
The Epps plan to hit several other major cities, with plans to start full development in Indianapolis, IN, Mike Epps’ hometown.

Lady Jane brings etiquette back to schools

Posted by Admin On March - 5 - 2011 2 COMMENTS

 Teaches life skills to enhance career success


By Chinta Strausberg


For more than 35-years, Jane Myles, better known as Lady Jane, has been a hair stylist who also teaches youth proper etiquette manners, modeling, social and communication skills she says helps to build integrity and the confidence they need to compete in today’s global market.

Lady Jane, who began her career with Cleo Johnson School of Model and currently owns the Lady Jane Beauty Salon, also heads the JAM Arts Company where she takes her self-esteem program into schools like Paul Robeson, Harlan High Schools and the Saint Sabina Ark program.

Her goal is to teach students the ABC’s of etiquette to improve their professional and personal lives she believes will also make them more employable.

Lady Jane was one of several vendors at the recently held African American Wax Museum exhibit held at the Saint Sabina Ark. She is dedicated to empowering youth to function with confidence by enhancing their social skills she says builds confidence, which increases their success rate.

“I offer modeling and charm classes and deal with pubic speaking, teach table manners, body alignment to let them know the importance of correct body posture,” Lady Jane said.

“We impart basic Christian values that differentiates us from more traditional etiquette classes that provide only formal manners training,” she stated.

“It is very important for students to take etiquette classes because we’ve lost so much manners.” Years ago, public high schools taught home economics, which include a section on etiquette and sewing.

In recent years, former Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th) introduced a bill calling for the restoration of etiquette in the Chicago Public Schools. Ocasio is now a senior advisor to Governor Pat Quinn.

While those self-esteem programs have long been removed from the public school system, Lady Jane is reviving these much-needed courses even though her outreach is limited to just a few schools. She says teaching etiquette is vitally important to the growth and maturity of our youth.

 “In recent years, chivalry has died out, and I think once it is back in the minds of young men, things will turn around,” she said. “Young ladies have to also gain more self- respect and self-esteem,” she said.

Her program opens with frank dialogue coupled with public speaking tips. “They have to tell me something they are thankful for…,” Lady Jane said explaining she tries to plant positive seeds in the minds of her students while encouraging them to bury the negativity in their lives.

Lady Jane teaches her students key points in social etiquette which includes the importance of maintaining eye contact, shaking hands, introducing themselves, show proper respect, common courtesies; helping behaviors; avoiding rude behavior; how to behave in public places; communication skills; proper greeting and introductions; conversation; listening; nonverbal communication; public speaking; telephone etiquette; the importance of saying ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘excuse me.’ She also teaches table manners and modeling techniques.

She also teaches the students personal hygiene and how to carry themselves properly including lowering their skirts. “And, guys are not allowed to wear baggy pants,” she explained.

“The class is not billed for trying to find Tyra Banks’ next top model. We’re trying to build etiquette for their life…language and life skills” so they can become gainfully employed.

Rather, she said her program is a viable solution to the aggression and violence today’s youth are facing. She quoted a figure of more than 80,000 teens nationwide have been charged with criminal offenses in the first nine-months of this year.

She feels the reason is because the youth “are dealing with issues of low self-esteem and failure to learn the difference between right and wrong” two ingredients she says will result in the “consequences that can be devastating.”

“Children with confidence in a social situation handled themselves much better, and deal with others with ease,” she stated. Lady Jane says her class offers youth a change to take another road in life’s journey—the right road that will lead to greater confidence and higher self-esteem.

At the end of her class, there will be a fashion show and a formal dinner where they are not allowed to speak negative thoughts.

Lady Jane allows them to take photo shoots the students can use if they want to pursue modeling.

Her beauty salon, called Lady Jane, located at 1756 W. 89th Street.

Other vendors present at the Saint Sabina Ark Wax Museum event were Marcus Johnson from Marcus Johnson & Accessories, 67th and South Chicago, and Cedric Robinson with Sacred Treasurers and Gifts, who has an online business store at: www.sacredtreasurersandgifts.com.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.

Devin James takes his agency global (with the help of Southwest Airlines) and creates hope in action

Posted by Admin On March - 5 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

devin_james_globalDevin James, founder of The Devin James Group

International (BlackNews.com) — Devin James knows the meaning of reinvention. After nearly losing his life in a robbery-related shooting at one of his retail stores seven years ago, James suffered a permanent disability during his senior year in college and was unable to complete his studies or original occupational game plan. James understood the power of his mind and re-branded himself. Today, he’s helping others do the same as he sits at the helm of The Devin James Group, a strategic brand marketing and communications agency that powers a brand with unique programs that incorporate innovative PR, marketing and advertising.
But now the 28-year-old James is reinventing himself again as a global branding expert. Last year during an interview with the Atlanta Post, James predicted that he would win international clients within five years. In January, he accomplished his goal four years ahead of time when The Devin James Group was named global agency of record by Global Products Inc. (GPI), a woman-owned firm that manufactures and distributes Harley-Davidson products worldwide.
The collaboration between GPI and The Devin James Group emerged as a result of a uniquely branded elevator spill on James’ part, as well as a little help from Southwest Airlines. Thanks to a misplaced bag and a no-hassle flight change, James ended up sitting next to GPI CEO, Rebecca Herwick. Their subsequent discussion and his immediate follow-up sealed the deal, as The Devin James Group beat out a number of larger firms to become GPI’s first global agency of record. “There was an overabundance of global agencies bidding for our business but The Devin James Group delivered the most creative and globally appealing approach that clearly established that they understood my vision for the company,” said Rebecca Herwick, Founder and CEO of Global Products Inc.
January also saw James create and execute a re-branding campaign for HavenHouse St. Louis, an organization that provides lodging to families who are suffering from medical crises. As part of the campaign, The Devin James Group developed a social media strategy and executed a sponsorship program that rose over $25,000 in cash and even more in in-kind contributions. The Devin James Group also re-branded HavenHouse’s HopeFest fundraising event and developed the slogan, “Experience Hope in Action.” To better publicize the event, The Devin James Group secured six billboards and developed a series of public service announcements that aired on six Clear Channel stations for a total of 6.7 million impressions/reaches each week. Finally, James secured an autographed football from 2010 NFL Draft First overall pick and Rookie of the Year nominee, Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford and proclamations from both Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley for the event.
“Devin’s creativity and unique understanding of branding helped us to show donors how relevant HavenHouse is,” said Kathy Sindel, MSW, executive director of HavenHouse. “In doing so, we attracted more supporters to help us with the important work that we do.”
James secured the HavenHouse contract on the referral of his client, Liberty Restaurant Group, a 23-restaurant Burger King franchisee in St. Louis.
“I was extremely impressed with Devin’s ability to implement such high level strategic initiatives to effectively reposition the Burger King brand in St. Louis,” said Jay E. Amarosa, president and CEO of Liberty Restaurant Group, which is the title sponsor for HavenHouse’s HopeFest. “I observed first-hand his ability to direct all aspects of our public relations, sponsorship activation, event marketing, social media strategies and Web initiatives and not once did he deliver anything less than an incredible, cutting edge solution that exceeded our needs.”
Devin James has been featured in the Memphis Business Quarterly, the Memphis Regional Chambers’ “Crossroads” magazine, the Memphis Flyer, the cover story of the Commercial Appeal business section, numerous features in the Memphis Business Journal while also appearing on WREG News Channel 3 “Live at 9” with Marybeth Conley and WHBQ MyFox Memphis, “Money Matters” with Mearl Purvis and Scott Maddus and nationally in such publications as Black Enterprise Magazine, The Network Journal, Atlanta Post, Who’s Who of Black St. Louis, the St. Louis American Newspaper, the Dallas Weekly, African American Golfer’s Digest magazine, Hotel & Motel Management Magazine as well as mainstream internet sites NFIB.com, CBSMoneyWatch.com, Yahoo News, Clutch Magazine’s “Black Men to Watch” annual feature, YFS Magazine, BlackNews.com and AOL’s Black Voices.
The Devin James Group is a brand marketing and communications agency that specializes in brand identity, advertising art, cutting-edge web initiatives, brand/public awareness campaigns, out-of-home advertising, event “experiential” marketing, taxi/vehicle advertising and sponsorship activation.

The Devin James Group
901-322-6057 Local Direct
877.905.5300 Toll-Free

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