Anthony Hales’ story is much too common. He graduated from Jackson State University, landed account-executive positions with two major regional radio stations and later did public relations work in Washington, D.C. Hales did all the right things but then hit a glass ceiling.
He applied for a job opening at his company. Hales says he had the perfect qualifications for the promotion but was passed over. That was the turning point.
“You get tired of dealing with the issues of being a minority in corporate America,” says the Mississippi native. “I decided to stop stressing and build my own [company].”
Hales, 30, launched his own company last year. He’s now transitioning from his day job to Hales Creative Solutions. His Washington, D.C.-based company provides a range of services, from graphic designing and Web development to business consulting.
Racial discrimination in the job market is real. A 2004 landmark Princeton University study showed that employers preferred to hire white applicants with criminal records to blacks who had never served time.
Ten years later, whites who never finished high school had a lower unemployment rate than blacks with some college education, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And the New York Times chronicled the struggle of recent black college graduates to find work compared with their white counterparts.
After freelancing before his launch, Hales started with a small client base that generously recommended his services. He now has a few large corporate clients and the ability to hire three people. “We’re growing and building at a steady rate,” he says.
Still, he faces a number of challenges in getting to the next level. Hales admits to a few “hiccups” along the way and lacking some of the “educational pieces” in his skill set to cement his success.
U.S. Black Chambers Inc. launched its Young Black Male Entrepreneur Institute to nurture businessmen like Hales. USBC is an association of over 115 independent black chambers of commerce and small-business associations nationwide.
USBC launched the pilot program last month in Washington, D.C., with plans to expand nationwide. The institute provides a specialized curriculum, based on the nation’s top business schools, while drawing on the practical experience of businesspeople, who serve as mentors and advisers, explains Howard Jean, who designed the program with his partner, Keith Benjamin.
The program is divided into three phases following recruitment of the participants. Each phase consists of six-week sections that cover topics such as strategic marketing, business-plan development and refinement, and individualized business coaching from seasoned business owners.
Hales is now in the second phase of the program. He’s already benefiting from the institute’s network of mentors. “That’s valuable,” Hales underscores. “It’s valuable to talk to people who have been there.”
USBC sees the urgency in developing the next generation of black businessmen. African Americans have made significant strides in the business sector, but it will soon be time to pass the baton.
Black-owned businesses are one of the fastest-growing segments of the American economy. From 2002 to 2007 they earned $137.5 billion, according to U.S. census data, and by 2013, there were some 2.3 million black entrepreneurs who employed (pdf) nearly 1 million workers. The growth in small-business ownership by African-American women (pdf) has been the biggest driver, but ownership between men and women is about evenly divided.
Beyond teaching solid business principles, the initiative seeks to change society’s negative perception of black men. It also wants to nurture young black businessmen who will serve their communities, says the program’s co-designer Jean, who, as a 32-year-old entrepreneur, also fits into the category.
“The implications on economic development and workforce development will provide young black males with leverage and influence, which in turn will allow them to serve as business leaders in various sectors,” Jean explains.
Indeed, helping his community is part of Hales’ mission. “We need to build businesses as black men and hire some people. That’s the key to reducing the economic divide,” he says. “I’m fully committed.”
Nigel Roberts is a New York City-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.