Moderator Roland Martin (Journalist/Columnist, TV One), Panelists Dr. Lisa Cook (Michigan State University), attendee Benjamin Wells (Mega Indeation Group) and Panelist Ron Busby (U.S. Black Chambers Inc.)

Entrepreneurship at the CBC

Convened a couple of weeks after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the Congressional Black Caucus' Annual Legislative Conference gathered thousands of educators, religious figures, government officials, and business leaders among them to discuss the state of the African-American community.

I attended the conference on its final day, and was struck by the passion, conviction, and purpose that hummed in the atmosphere—by the attendees and speakers all anxious to share thoughts and spur other individuals, but preferably whole communities, into awareness and, ultimately, action.

In the Black Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Session, Ron Busby (Director, US Black Chambers Inc.), Dr. Lisa Cook (Assistant Professor, Michigan State University), and Alfred C. Liggins III (President and CEO, Radio One) highlighted the obstacles and opportunities for individuals working to open or grow their businesses.

While the speakers touched upon access to capital, contracts, and marketing, they spent the most time stressing the importance of affordable home ownership and access to credit. Many new entrepreneurs borrow against the equity in their homes as a way to secure loans to start their businesses. However, 53% of Black wealth was wiped out by foreclosures and declines in home values during the housing crisis (PewResearch). Without that asset to borrow against, fewer small businesses are created, with serious implications for future employment and wealth generation in the African-American community.

As I looked around the room during that discussion, I saw the need and purpose behind Calvert Foundation's work. At the end of the day, these were the types of individuals to whom our lending ultimately flows—aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners who can be the driving force behind change in their communities. We invest in them through our work promoting neighborhood stabilization and affordable homeownership, in our partnerships with NeighborWorks Capital, the Housing Partnership Network, and similar organizations. In doing so, we help strengthen the economic foundation of communities, and our country, for the next generation.

It has been 50 years since the March on Washington—the manifestation of engagement and activism that did, and hopefully will again, change our country for the better. I was honored to attend the conference, to be reminded of the history that we are building on, and the future to which we all have the power to contribute.

So, what groundwork will we lay for the next 50 years? We welcome your thoughts!