Black Businesses: Driving Economic Development

with Kenneth Harris of the National Business League

Booker T. Washington founded the National Negro Business League in 1900 to strengthen the commercial and economic prosperity of the African American community.

Kenneth Harris of the National Business League outlines the current state of black entrepreneurship.

Posted on:

February 03, 2020

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: Booker T. Washington, educator and reformer, paved the way for the advancement of African-Americans. In 1900, Washington founded the National Negro Business League to enhance the commercial and financial development of the African-American community. Hi, welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Paul Lisnek. Well, 120 years later, what is the state of black businesses in America? Let's talk about it. Joining me is Dr. Kenneth Harris. He's the president and CEO of the National Business League, Inc. Dr. Harris, good to see you.

Harris: Thank you for having me, Paul.

Lisnek: It's my pleasure. I mean, I think this is the first interview I've done in lots of years where I opened with Booker T. Washington and what he did, and I'll tell you why I was stunned. I'm very familiar with the Chamber of Commerce, and it looks like what Mr. Washington did preceded that.

Harris: 12 years. Absolutely. And not only is he an iconic and legendary figure, he was the brainchild to trade associations. And so, look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today, thanks to Booker T. Washington, almost 120 years later.

Lisnek: Amazing. Let's take a look at the status. As you look at the world of African-American business today, where do things stand? How is the community doing in terms of success, comparatively speaking?

Harris: And thinking even 150 years post-emancipation and -slavery -- where we have come as a community economically -- well, we have grown three times the national rate to more than 2.9 million black businesses across the country, we employ over a million people, we produce over $150 billion in total receipts, and most importantly, the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs in the country. Forbes Magazine, 2018 -- black women. And so this is a proud time as we are turning the corner to reach into economic independence and empowerment. Just like Booker T. wanted.

Lisnek: I imagine concept's important to you and the community -- the notion of economic equity, inclusion, diversity -- are those fundamental?

Harris: Has to be because when you look even post-emancipation and post-civil rights, have we really moved the needle 50 years later passed the Civil Rights Act? And so, when you look at today in terms of equity and inclusion, inclusion doesn't necessarily mean equity, equity doesn't necessarily mean inclusion, and equity or inclusion doesn't necessarily mean black economic progress. And so, in terms of measurement, this is a time -- a fun time -- where we get a chance to review history, look at history, look at data, facts, and evidence to really see if black Americans are really moving forward in terms of their entrepreneurial dreams and passions. just like Booker T. Washington envisioned when he formed a trade association 120 ago.

Lisnek: We had this conversation, and I know this to be true. You're not a red organization, you're not a blue organization.

Harris: No, we're nonpartisan...

Lisnek: Exactly.

Harris: ...nonsectarian, and we understand green very well.

Lisnek: What I want to ask you is -- talk about the symmetry between your organization and others, like the Chamber of Commerce, and others who do what you do to bring about what would be prosperity for the African-American community but for the United States. Harris: No doubt about it. And what a time, especially when the African-American community -- the population has grown to more than 14%. As a community, we spend more than $1.5 trillion as consumers. And most importantly, when you think about African-American professionals, we have achieved both social success, educational success, and political success. Where we are turning a corner now is economically. And so when we look at the vast opportunities and partnerships that are available to us, even the partnerships we have with Comcast, this is an extraordinary opportunity as we move into the year 2020.

Lisnek: And I know about those. I'm so happy. Well, I'm gonna have you put your kind of crystal ball hat on for a little bit and ask you to look in the future. Talk to me about the importance of black-owned businesses as the future and the 2020s are upon us.

Harris: Yeah, no doubt about it. So, when you look at the 2.9 million black businesses that exist across the country, we know that 95% of those companies are between one and five employees. So as an organization, we have great work to do. I always say, "The revolution will not be televised. It will be digitized." And so we are now moving into a new frontier, and we get a chance to not only position African-American firms in black-owned companies to be successful, but we get a chance to move them into the Cloud, into the tech space, into this new frontier of digital opportunities that exists amongst entrepreneurs.

Lisnek: So, I imagine that new entrepreneurs out there, people who want to get involved, may want to know about the resources available to them through your organization. So how can people find out about that?

Harris: Oh, real easy. They can go to and we look forward to not only celebrating Black History Month with them, but talking about entrepreneurship and empowering black business owners, not just here in America, but throughout the globe.

Lisnek: I just got to say, you know, I talk to lots of guests on this show. There is something about the way you talk about. This organization, this is a passion for you. This is this is life-changing for you.

Harris: No doubt. I follow an incredible iconic figure in Booker T. Washington, who I would always say had it right. So, what he envisioned 120 ago is more relevant today than it has been any time before. All I get a chance to do is take a 120-year-old organization and put some Armor All on the tires.

Lisnek: I think if Booker T. Washington was here, he would say, "Dr. Kenneth Harris from the National Business League, thank you," for carrying on the tradition that he started years ago.

Harris: Thank you so much, Paul.

Lisnek: And thank you for watching us. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community and across our country, just go to I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.

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