Fighting for Fairness

Mount Vernon resident Robin Douglas is a connected and engaged advocate for local African American businesses

Name a county-based advisory board, task force, committee, or business alliance and she probably is (or has been) involved. Her most cherished position, however, is her current one, as president, CEO, and founder of the African American Chamber of Commence of Westchester and Rockland Counties (AACCWR), a 227-member organization launched in 1996. According to the last census, there are approximately 5,200 African American-owned businesses in the county. We asked the 50-year old Douglas about the AACCWR and the state of the African-American business community.

What does the AACCWR do?
The Chamber counsels and protects the interests of African American businesses. The ultimate goal: to create equality in the business environment so there is no need for an ethnic chamber.

What was the reason for the AACCWR?
A lack of access to opportunities and business information outside the five boroughs. Under County Executive Andy Spano, a program was established to ‘provide outreach’ to “Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises (MWBEs), but I did not understand what the program’s goals were. Outreach to do what? How many MWBEs actually received contracts and what was the dollar value of these contracts? I could never get answers from the county. Two years earlier, I had started the AACCWR modeled after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce but advocating on behalf of the inclusion of MWBEs, and after that we brought the county component into the work of the AACCWR.

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How many members are corporations, small businesses, individuals?
There are 15 corporations, 204 small businesses, and eight individuals.

What is the biggest business member by number of employees?
Black Enterprise Magazine with more than two hundred employees. Barksdale Health Care in Pelham and Cricket Staffing in Ossining are the next largest.

What are African-American businesses’s biggest issues in Westchester today?
Primarily, the disparity of revenues and access to capital compared to mainstream businesses. Investors are less likely to put money behind a black-owned business. The credit crunch in recent years has affected mainstream businesses but, unfortunately, it hit the MWBE community prior. It’s mind-boggling to me to watch small businesses cry about not being able to make payroll because the banks will not allow leveraging of their receivables. That had been happening in the MWBE community before this recession.

Who was your best-received speaker at an event?
Former President Bill Clinton. He received the Earl G. Graves Award from Earl G. Graves, Black Enterprise’s publisher, himself at our tenth anniversary dinner.

Any thoughts about the future of the AACCWR? Hopes? Expectations?
Yes. I am now on the board of directors of the U.S. Black Chamber in Washington, DC. My committee handles new chamber development across the country. I am looking forward to that.

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