More than 200 people attended a town hall discussion last week in Iselin, hosted by the African American Chamber of Commerce of N.J. (AACCNJ) and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce designed to kick off celebrations in August–traditionally called Black Business Month. The event’s theme, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), espoused and attempted to ingrain how a multichromatic workforce from top to bottom in corporate America, businesses, and politics is a beneficial and profitable strategy both in business and life. The message is pervasive and timely, as diversity initiatives are under attack by the U.S. Supreme Court and national politicians.

“New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country,” said John Harmon, president of the AACCNJ. “Yet, we are often overlooked when it comes to contracts awarded to minority and women-owned business enterprises,” Harmon added that the town hall meeting would serve as a wake-up call to the powers that be to include more people of color in every capacity in business, politics and everything else.

Other notable speakers at the near-day-long event included prominent New Jersey author and minister Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Soaries is a Republican that served as the Secretary of State for New Jersey between 1999 and 2002 under former N.J. governor Christine Todd Whitman. He also oversaw the powerful and influential First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in New Brunswick for 30 years. Soaries said systemic racism has and continues to impede the progress of African Americans at all levels.

However, the outspoken pastor said businesses, the private sector, and communities must unite to foster and promote positive change and sound money management, which is crucial to building and maintaining personal and professional success. In reference to George Floyd–the Minneapolis man murdered in May 2020 by a police officer while other officers watched, Soaries said, “While the fight for justice continues and the war against injustice is not over, justice has won a significant battle in this ongoing struggle.”

Lastly, Newark mayor Baraka touted Brick City as the forefront for minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) with dozens of grant funding opportunities, initiatives, and strategic alliances for entrepreneurs. 

Additionally, Baraka said despite rollbacks in Affirmative Action and other race and gender initiatives, Newarkers remain undaunted. “When the highest court in the land attacks affirmative action, what it is in essence saying is that we don’t need to apply any policy, any law, any set-aside, any activity for African Americans in this country,” he said. There are more than 80,000 Black-owned businesses in New Jersey, with most located in the metro New York and Philadelphia area–including Newark, Paterson, Camden, and other parts of South Jersey.

I'm an award winning journalist based in Edison, NJ. My work has been featured in dozens of publications including, Black Enterprise magazine; ESSENCE magazine and Real Health magazine. I am also a featured...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *