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Black Business Groups Form Detroit United Front

Crain’s Detroit Business
Annalise Frank
Feb. 23, 2022

Three Black-owned business groups are coming together to form a new advocacy organization called the Detroit United Front.

The Detroit chapter of the National Business League Inc., a Black business association that merged with the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, is coming together with the Detroit Black Chamber of Commerce and Booker T. Washington Trade Association, the groups announced Tuesday. Together they have 11,000 members based in Detroit, which “makes them a pretty impactful advocate going forward in this political economy,” NBL Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Harris said.

“(The three organizations) all have their own distinct history, legacy, and they bring their own membership to the table,” he added.

The groups will combine their membership and new members will be joining the Detroit United Front, according to Harris. The organizations will have separate leadership, but they’ll come together at one table to advocate on issues such as education and training, exports and trade, and public contracting. They have a memorandum of understanding together, Harris said. They also plan to produce a report on how successful and not successful area corporations have been at supporting Black businesses.

The Detroit United Front aims to confront an “ongoing benign neglect of Black businesses by the philanthropic, public, and private sectors,” a news release states.

Harris declined to estimate the Detroit United Front’s budget moving forward but said the NBL’s Detroit chapter has operated with a budget of over $1 million yearly in the past.

The organizations plan to formally announce the move and related leadership changes at the State of Black Business Summit on March 7 at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel downtown. The event and its speakers are meant to address the lack of access to capital and other assistance, as well as “systemic, institutional, and structural neglect and exclusion of Black businesses,” according to the release.

“It is unacceptable that in a city that has a supermajority Black population around 79% … that Black businesses can’t access capital or ecosystems that provide resources,” Danielle Cato-Benson, founder and chief executive officer of HealHER Virtual Spa and mental health center 1:11 The Collective, said in the release. “Detroit needs new leadership at the table that will move the needle forward, producing measurable results in the community.”

Cecil Forbes, owner of iCare Spine and Rehabilitation Center PLLC in Detroit, will be the new president of the National Business League’s Detroit chapter, replacing Hodari Brown. The NBL will also bring on a new chairperson, Orena Perry, owner of Detroit-based event planning and consulting company JEADL Enterprises LLC.

The Detroit Black Chamber, which was previously a chapter under the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, is naming Cato-Benson as president and Chad Rhodes of The Rhodes Cos. as chairperson.

The Washington trade association, originally formed in 1930 in Detroit according to University of Michigan historical records, will have as its president Bartel Welch of Red Diamond Digital. Crystal Gunn of the Amazing Woman Network will be chairperson.

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