Elis, locals discuss city businesses

The town-gown divide broke down Tuesday night when students and New Haven residents convened to discuss remedying challenges for black entrepreneurs.

The event — held at the Dixwell-Yale University Community Learning Center, which co-sponsored the event with Black Student Alliance at Yale ­— prompted conversation about topics including the obstacles to procuring funding for entrepreneurship, the need for community support and the role of education in laying a foundation for future success.

Central to the discussion was an analysis of some of the practical difficulties faced by black entrepreneurs.

One attendee said systematic factors — such as increasing outsourcing of jobs to international workers — are obstacles to black entrepreneurs.

“The whole system is a failure,” said Alan Felder, founder of Man-UP Community Works Organization. “The powers that be are a failure.”

Attendee Lindsey Ruminski said she believes blacks are scrutinized more than people of other races when applying for financial assistance, which they are often required to do prior to starting a business. It is important to counteract this trend in order to increase and improve employment for blacks, she said.

Panelist Clayton Williams Jr., the senior loan officer and facade coordinator of the City of New Haven Small Business Initiative, said encouragement from parents and schools is important in developing a supportive environment for black entrepreneurs.

“Teachers and parents have to be held accountable,” Williams said. “That’s where to start.”

Speakers and attendees said a positive attitude can play a large role in determining an individual’s entrepreneurial success.

Panelist Leonard Smart, an associate director of Greater New Haven Business and Professional Association, Inc., said some entrepreneurs “try to go it alone, and then we get surprised when things don’t work out.”

“Enough,” Smart said. “Lead by example.”

Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead said the competitive spirit that pervades some black communities hinders the potential success of any entrepreneurs.

“We’re like crabs in a barrel,” Morehead said. “We don’t want the person next to us to get ahead of us.”

Williams said he agrees with Smart and Morehead that black communities must work together to support emerging businesspeople.

“We have to form our own successful businesses … we need to talk to each other,“ Williams said. “That’s the only way we’re going to succeed.”

BSAY Treasurer Justin Chukumba ’10 said the experiences of black entrepreneurs are more relevant to University students than some might initially believe. College students can face many of the same sorts of funding obstacles as do people in the New Haven community, he said.

“I feel people at Yale don’t know the kind of resources that Yale has, and people need to be aware of the resources available to them,” Chukumba said.

Other guests at the event hailed from a number of organizations, including Granville Academy, Selah Vibe, Inc. and the Yale Entrepreneurial Society.

The discussion was the first of a “community talk-back dialogue” series co-sponsored by DYCLC and BSAY.

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