Black History Month just ended, but the work of creating jobs and economic development for African Americans in Germantown caries on.
Temptations Restaurant and Jazz Club held its annual Black History Month program on the last Sunday in February in part to address this continuing challenge. The tittle of the program was “Nation Building: Who Will Rebuild Our Nation?”
“The recession has hit the African American community especially hard and it will be impossible to get out of this hole without creating jobs,” said Gerald Young, owner of the restaurant and organizer of the event. “Black Americans have to become producers and business owners. We have to rebuild an economy that works for our people. ”
The event featured good food, live music by the Temptations Jazz, Blues and Gospel Band and a dedicated group of concerned citizens who were willing to grapple with the thorny issues of high unemployment and lacking investment in the black community.
Unemployment for African Americans is 15.7%, almost twice as high as the national average, and is projected to reach a 25 year high this year. The jobless rate among 16-24 year old black youth is 34.5%, reaching Great Depression proportions and more than three times the rate for the general U.S. populations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I see young people standing around the street doing nothing,” Young said. “Our community has deteriorated to a war zone. Something has to be done drastically to rebuild our nation.” The key, he said, was to develop a local response to a national problem. More black-owned businesses was something he and others wanted to see.
Germantown resident and entrepreneur Charles Harris remembers the 1960s and 70s, when the corner of Queen Lane and Morris Street was filled with black-owned businesses. There was a penny arcade, along with a pharmacy, beauty parlor, bakery, laundry, barber shop, night club, and his own steak shop. Now they are all gone.
“We need a plan,” Harris said. “Start a business and take a chance and build something. Success is in the trying.”
Gerald Young has decided to do just that; he announced that he would soon open a small manufacturing company in the area, making baseball-style caps. It would be modest, he said, but it would provide some local jobs. A friend told him he might be able to import the caps cheaper, but that wasn’t the idea.
“Nothing is made in America anymore,” Young said. “We are no longer entrepreneurs. We have to invest money in our neighborhoods, our own money. We can’t depend on government to help.”
Voting for candidates with job creation platforms was another strategy discussed. The upcoming primary race was on people’s minds as 10 candidates are vying for the Eighth District City Council seat. One of those candidates, Mt. Airy resident Cindy Bass, dropped in to catch some of the event. But Mike Abdullah Mohammed from the Muslim League of Voters cautioned, “it is not only important to get good candidates elected but to hold them accountable.”
As the Black History Month program wound down, Young challenged those present to talk to their neighbors and do something about creating jobs and businesses.
“We talked about it,” he said. “We must now act on it so that our ancestors’ sacrifices were not in vain.”