As a fourth-generation business owner, I was raised with the understanding that business and civic duties were synonymous. And I think if we take an honest look at the essence of civic duties and business we find that, at the core, it's best when they both work in concert.
In the 1920s, when my great grandfather — son of an enslaved Black woman and a white slave owner — became a real estate developer in Colorado building homes for Black people in the segregated Rocky Mountains, his business passion fueled his civic duty to help those who had been disenfranchised to thrive. If not for business owners like my great grandfather and owners of Colorado's historic Winks Lodge (the only Black resort in the western United States during the middle of the 20th Century), many Black people, including celebrities, would not have had a safe place to stay during their travels in the Jim Crow era. It was through their businesses that many people of color were able to create and promote their political agenda.
The bottom line is this: all of our lives are impacted by our civic world, and it is important for each of us to find a role where we can serve and lead as our civic duty.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a very close confidant — a successful businessman in Atlanta, Herman Russell. The late Herman Russell was the owner and founder of one of the largest minority-owned construction companies in the world. At the time of Mr. Russell's passing, it was reported that"When history catches its breath, Mr. Russell's life work will place him among the most significant heroes of the Civil Rights Movement because of his unwavering contributions and commitment to the progress of Atlanta and the nation. No one man has done more to make Atlanta a place where people of all races and backgrounds can bring and build their dreams."
Mr. Russell, like my parents, Art and Frazier Scott, understood that the responsibility of business — especially that of small businesses — was to give back to the local community both economically and through civic contribution. My parents, along with several other successful business owners, helped to transform the landscape of Oakland's business and civic community in the 1980s. Employing over 600 people, mostly people of color, my parents' business was instrumental in launching the next generation of Oakland's small business owners as well as supporting the city's African-American politicians whose ideologies were in line with their own. At that time, Oakland had become known as "California's Chocolate City" because of the opportunities available to Black people in both business and civic arenas.
Personally, my path to becoming a civic and business leader started as a child with my parents. I was often the only child attending community meetings with my parents. During their time in business, I witnessed them build, according to Black Enterprise Magazine, one of the top 100 Black-owned businesses in the United States while remaining civically engaged in the local political landscape, fighting to ensure diversity in our education and contracting communities. I learned from them that our civic contribution is not for ourselves or even our businesses, but for the betterment of our community.
At that time, Oakland had become known as "California's Chocolate City" because of the opportunities available to Black people in both business and civic arenas.
In my formative years, the early seeds of civic duties bloomed when I attended an all-girl Catholic high school. The fact that it was all-girls meant all-women leadership too. And all of us who ran for elected office and won were cast into the world of leadership and civic duty at an early age. In fact, community service was expected, an expectation that continued while I was at UCLA.
In college, I married these two worlds by studying political science and business economics. Growing up and knowing the impact that civic participation has on the business world and knowing that success is found when both worlds coexist, made it inevitable for me to pursue business and link it with civic engagement. Through the world of politics, I discovered that fundraising for political candidates and initiatives that aligned with my morals was as important of a role in shaping the political atmosphere as running for political office was.
It was through their businesses that many people of color were able to create and promote their political agenda.
Consider Henry Kissinger, Warren Buffett, and the Kennedys. It was their dominance in the business world that led to their understanding of the value of political participation. In today's world, even the greatest candidate doesn't have a chance at winning if they don't have strong business support to help them raise the funds needed to get their message out and to build a strong, sustainable political platform.
The bottom line is this: all of our lives are impacted by our civic world, and it is important for each of us to find a role where we can serve and lead as our civic duty. Thus, as a business leader, civic contribution is paramount to have true impact on your community.
WRITTEN BYShonda Scott