“Coward” JJC is Called Out by Black Business Groups

"Coward" JJC is Called Out by Black Business Groups
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“Coward” JJC is Called Out by Black Business Groups (Chicago, IL) — The Chicago Southland Black Chamber of Commerce, together with Rainbow PUSH, the African-American Contractors Association, Black Contractors United, and Black Contractors Owners and Executives worked with the Illinois House Appropriations – Higher Education Committee, chaired by State Representative La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago), to call a Subject Matter Hearing this morning to discuss the abysmal minority participation numbers at state colleges and universities. According to recent reporting, most state-funded universities are reporting less than 10% diverse spend, while Illinois community colleges are hitting 5%, and at many colleges, they are reporting 1%. Illinois state law currently requires colleges and universities to meet a 30% diverse spend.

“I can’t believe that almost every single community college chose not to attend the invite. It was disrespectful to the House Appropriation – Higher Education Committee and disrespectful to black business. The Illinois General Assembly should be shocked and appalled. Joliet Junior College has been the biggest culprit and they should be defunded. They are institutional cowards. We should not fund discrimination in this state,” stated Darden, Chair of the Chicago Southland Black Chamber of Commerce.

The Subject Matter Hearing, held at the Bilandic Building in downtown Chicago this morning, was met with representatives from the aforementioned organizations, the Chicago Crusader newspaper, N’Digo News, and other Black-owned publications, who shared testimony of the barriers that are still in place when attempting to work with the colleges and universities, despite the goals having been in place since 2017. The goals were raised from 20% to 30% in 2021.

“The attacks on DEI are real,” stated Darden. “We are seeing nationwide attacks and reversals on DEI programs, while our tax-payer funded colleges and universities are refusing to do what it takes to meet these goals.”

Committee member State Representative Cyril Nichols (D-Chicago) expressed concerns with the colleges’ and universities’ diverse spend numbers, saying, “We, yet again, see gaps that need to be filled. I think that maybe, we should start offering programs that can help fill these gaps. This is an immediate need.”

In an attempt to explain their poor performance in minority procurement, many of the universities pointed toward the Business Enterprise Program (BEP), the program that provides and maintains state certifications to minority, woman, veteran, and disabled business organizations, saying that they can’t find certified vendors.

“While certification is a long and arduous process, and not all Black-owned businesses are certified, we are not seeing the colleges and universities doing the work,” said Darden. “The colleges and universities have a responsibility to find, recruit, and help these diverse businesses, whether it’s ensuring they know what procurement opportunities exist, or to assist them with certification. They can direct businesses to organizations such as the Chicago Southland Black Chamber to assist with the process. They can join our minority business associations, trade associations, and chambers of commerce. They can advertise their opportunities in our minority newspapers and media outlets. But they don’t. We don’t see them. We don’t hear from them. They certainly don’t attend our events.”

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Some of the solutions suggested by Darden and the other organizations present included the formation of a task force to oversee the minority procurement processes, requiring the colleges and universities to advertise their procurement opportunities in minority news outlets, asking the colleges and universities to join and participate with minority business and trade organizations in the same manner that they participate with in traditional or “white” organizations, and clarification of the language which requires colleges and universities to award bids to the “lowest qualified” or “lowest responsible” bidder.

“Those terms, ‘lowest’ and ‘responsible,’” said Darden, “Those pesky words can leave a lot open to interpretation. When an organization is resistant to working with Black-owned businesses, they take those words and use it against us. On the other hand, when they want to work with us, those words can work in our favor.”

South Suburban College, the only community college who participated, said they use those words to ensure the businesses they work with are meeting the minority participation goals. If a contractor does not meet minority participation goals, they disqualify those businesses in favor of those who do meet the 30% goal, even if the cost is higher.

“Their testimony is a breath of fresh air,” said Darden. “For a long time, those words have haunted Black businesses. Those words are twisted so the colleges and universities can pick and choose who they want to do business with. I commend South Suburban College for the work they have done to begin moving closer to that 30% mark.”

The Chicago Southland Black Chamber of Commerce hopes that these tough conversations can help start moving the needle to a more equitable business environment with state-funded institutions. As State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford said during the hearing, “We all have to fix this.”

“Coward” JJC is Called Out by Black Business Groups

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