Blacks Say They Must Work Harder To Achieve Success

County Businessman Warns Of 'Obstacles'

February 17, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Nelson B. Dorsey has worked hard to succeed in business. Anyone has to, he says, whether they're young or old, black or white.

But because "all is not well" in the world, minorities often have to work harder, said Dorsey, who is black.

He hopes his efforts haven't gone unnoticed by his two sons.

"My message is if you really want to do it, you can, but you have to prepare yourself, that there will be obstacles along the way," said Dorsey, who lives near Westminster. He works for the U.S. Postal Service and owns rental properties in the county.

"Unless you have determination, you're not going to make it in business, whether you're black or white," he said.

Dorsey began investing in rental propertiesin 1971 as a way to supplement his income and that of his wife, a public school principal. Now, he said, his real estate "hobby" is more lucrative.

His older son, Gregory, graduated from college last year and is working as a computer analyst in Montgomery County. His younger son, Bernie, is a freshman at Duke University and wants to be a lawyer.

Dorsey, a Carroll County native, said he thinks both sons would like to work here, but he doesn't see much opportunity for youngblack professionals to succeed.

He said he's not sure a young, black lawyer would be able to build a clientele in the county. Althoughhe said he hasn't experienced overt prejudice in his work and his sons haven't told him they've experienced it growing up, he believes a "subtle racism" exists.

People still are taught prejudice, said Dorsey, 42. He said he doesn't see that changing soon.

"I have cautious optimism. I don't think it will change in my lifetime, although Ilike to think it will," he said. Dorsey added that it probably won'tchange in his sons' lifetimes, either.

"You're not born with this(prejudice). It's taught and bred and fed.

"Those of us who grew up in the '60s and '70s through the civil rights movement know racismhasn't gone away. It's got a different face," he said.

"We've allrun into racial slurs. It would be naive to say there are no problems whatsoever," he said.

The unspoken discrimination that may take place behind closed doors when decisions are being made about whetherto approve a bank loan or accept a student into a college is what troubles him, he said.

To counter such potential obstacles, Dorsey preaches the virtues of "determination and optimism" to his sons.

Virginia R. Harrison, an entrepreneur who lives outside Eldersburg, does the same for her daughters by example.

She often spends 12 to 16 hours a day in the workroom off her family room where she runs a dressmaking business. She works hard because it's her nature; she can'tstand to be idle.

Most of her customers are white, but that's because of the demographics of the county, she said. About 3 percent of Carroll's population is black, census figures show.

Harrison said many of her customers have become friends.

"When you're in a business like this and people come in and take their clothes off, it gets personal," she said.

Her workroom is jammed with clothes to be altered, extra material and pins and needles. She sits in the middle of it all, a petite woman who began sewing when she was a girl because hand-me-down clothes didn't fit. She started her business seven years ago, when her youngest daughter went to preschool.

"When I quit my(office) job, I decided I'd stay home and be the perfect mother. It lasted three weeks," she said, laughing. Her daughters now are 11 and15.

She almost always has needle and thread in hand. Even when a customer arrives to have some pants shortened, Harrison doesn't put down the zipper she's mending in another pair of pants until the customer is standing before the full-length mirror ready for her hems to be pinned.

Harrison's business has grown from one steady customer to between 300 and 400. She's never advertised, and the recession hasn't hurt because people are more likely to have clothes altered than buy new ones when money is tight.

Many days she spends 12 to 16 hours behind the machine, sewing sequins on a black evening dress, basting the sleeves on a suit jacket or shortening pant leg after skirt hem after pant leg.

She also feels a subtle bias at times, but said she often ignores it or considers it a challenge.

"I tell my daughters, 'You're already black. That's one step against you, so you have to do the best job you can.' Things change, but the more they change, the more they stay the same," she said.

Dorsey and Harrison said they've both tried to raise their children to be "color blind."

"If they got five black dolls, I bought them five white dolls," Harrison said. "The thing I did not want them to learn was prejudice.

"There are two kinds of people in the world -- men and women," she said.

Dorsey said he "treads a fine line" with his sons because he wants them to "remember the struggle" of blacks in the United States, but he doesn't want them to develop an "anti-white" sentiment.

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