Ralph Davis, former president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spoke to a crowd of about 50 people, touching on the topic of black business in Johnson City and throughout the South.
Coming out of slavery, highly skilled black people often worked on sharecropping farms, where they’d split the profits of their farming with the landowners, but also used their skills to have small side businesses, Davis said.
As black communities developed, facing hostility from whites in the South, Davis said blacks opened up their own businesses, traded their labors and skills with each other and got along well for a while under that system.
Then, Davis said, white businessmen came in to offer lower prices to black people, and slowly dismantled their successful small businesses, much like situations happening today with stores like Walmart.
“The most common thing I hear is, ‘I can get it cheaper somewhere else,’ ” Davis said. “And this isn’t the attitude we should have.”
These personal choices broke apart, and continue to break apart, small businesses across the counrrty.
He and Carver Center director Herb Greenlee went on to honor local small businesses owned by members of the black community, and pushed for those in attendance to be willing to spend an extra dime or drive an extra mile to help out each other. Representatives from many of the mentioned businesses were present and were hailed as supporters of the Carver Center and of the many children listening to the talk.
“If we don’t support our own, we fail,” Davis said.
Greenlee said Davis was one of the center’s original supporters, and an integral part of the cohesion of the local community. Both also spoke directly to the youth in attendance and urged them to worked toward developing a strong work ethic like they had when they were younger, and how it would lead to fruitful careers, possibly as small business owners.
“There’s nothing like having your own money in your own pocket,” Davis said to children, explaining how they could start the entrepreneur lifestyle early with a little bit of hard work. Greenlee acknowledged there are less jobs available for the younger set, but said the same accomplishments could be garnered from using blossoming technology to their advantages.
Many of the children stepped up to the podium after Davis and Greenlee to read essays on the ingenuity of famous black inventors and engineers like George Washington Carver and G.T. Woods, and how their contributions have set the standard for future generations.
Teddy Patterson, an owner of a small business where he paints and installs drywall, was handing out his business cards at the event. Patterson said he was getting bored as a retired veteran, having served in combat in Vietnam, and decided to pursue his love of painting as a profession. Business has been solid in the first few years, he said, and looks forward to continuing to paint locally.
After the event, there was a Taste of the Community meal served to the guests.