Chamber hosts discussion

Seated from left, Lowell Thomas, Steven Scott Bradley, Barry Johnson and Mischico Warren. Standing from left, Donavan S. West, Malcolm Ingram and Lauren Footman participate in the African American Chamber of Commerce’s On The Table Philly discussion.— ABDUL SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

A group of entrepreneurs and concerned citizens gathered Thursday afternoon to address how the African American business community can address crime and gun violence in Philadelphia.

The discussion hosted by the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware (AACC) was part the On the Table Philly 2019 conversations. Spearheaded by Philadelphia Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, On the Table is a day dedicated to elevating civic conversations, fostering new relationships and creating unifying experiences in the region.

The chamber’s far ranging conversation went well beyond the business community’s role in addressing crime and highlighted topics such as the impact of gun violence on young people and its root causes.

Barry Johnson, AACC community engagement specialist, laid the groundwork for the discussion by giving a snapshot of the city’s poverty and homicide rates. According to the Census Bureau, Philadelphia had a poverty rate of 24.5 percent in 2018. The city had 351 homicides in 2018, marking the worst homicide rate in the past 10 years.

Lauren Footman, community engagement coordinator, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, noted that homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males 15 to 44.

“When I think about gun violence and where the actual cause comes from I think it has a lot of do with poor education and a lack of not knowing your value and your worth in society,” said Syreeta Moore, vice president and general counsel of Team Clean, Inc., a commercial, janitorial service.

“And all that stems from the family structure in the Black community and also the fact that we as a collective have not really stepped up to the plate – in my eyes – to fix a problem we know that is prevalent in this city. I feel like we’re waiting for somebody to give us an answer instead of us coming up with a solution for the problem.”

Many of those who participated in the conversation focused on reaching young people with positive messages about the importance of education, entrepreneurship and the history of African Americans.

Nathaniel Williams, the owner of NKW Flooring, highlighted economic development at a time when only 2.5 percent of Philly businesses are Black owned. He has developed a plan that would spur business creation throughout the city.

“I truly believe that if we create well-paying jobs in the community that we can change the mindset of our young people because they will be the owner and operators of these businesses,” he stated.

Chamber President Donavan West said business leaders should make their presence known in the community so that young people could see entrepreneurship as an option.

“Our presence is a core component of the solution,” he said.

More than 450 different conversations hosted by community groups, individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations around the Greater Philadelphia were held Thursday for On the Table Philly.

Groups from across the Greater Philadelphia region talked over a meal on a variety of topics including civic engagement, education, race, health, the environment, youth and arts and culture.

ajones@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5747

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