Gore promises business loans to blacks Baltimore to get 1 )) of 7 entrepreneurial training centers, NAACP told

July 17, 1998|By Erin Texeira and Gerard Shields | Erin Texeira and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Pledging to spark more economic growth and prosperity among African-Americans, Vice President Al Gore yesterday announced a goal of $1.4 billion in new loans for black small-business owners nationwide, including developing a Baltimore center.

The new loan initiative, to be administered by the Small Business Administration, will be buttressed by seven community development centers to educate black entrepreneurs. The announcement is timely for Baltimore, where City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III has spent months prodding area banks for more business capital in black neighborhoods.

In a speech to more than 3,500 here at the 89th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Gore called economic empowerment "the next great civil rights frontier.

"Let us open the doors to the new economy wider than they've ever been opened before," Gore said in an impassioned, hourlong speech that prompted raucous applause and standing ovations. Some observers said Gore scored points in his bid for president.

Bell was at the convention yesterday and welcomed Gore's announcement. In February, he had led a two-day African-American Economic Summit in Baltimore, at which black business owners expressed frustration at their inability to get loans. Bell said then that the number of pawnshops and check-cashing outlets in Baltimore neighborhoods shows that the city's poor are relying more on "predatory" lenders to survive.

"I think it's a move in the right direction," Bell said of Gore's announcement. "The whole theme among many of the speakers during the convention has been moving away from social programs per se and toward getting capital available for African-American and minority-owned businesses."

Small-business loans

The new loans Gore promised will be earmarked for blacks who own businesses with fewer than 1,500 employees, according to Darryl Dennis of the Small Business Administration. If achieved, the $1.4 billion goal would more than quadruple the $286.4 million in federal loans awarded to black small-business owners last year, Dennis said.

Banks and mortgage companies in the Baltimore area rank 12th among the nation's top 20 cities in lending money to minorities, according to a survey by the Na- tional Community Reinvestment Coalition.

The nonprofit group, which met with Baltimore City Council members in May, has criticized banks for failing to meet standards imposed by the 1977 National Community Reinvestment Act, a law created to stop discrimination in lending against minority communities.

John E. Taylor, coalition president, called Gore's announcement a great start, but worried that the funds will not last long. "I think $1.4 billion could be spread thin pretty quickly," said Taylor, "but equity investment is sorely needed in the black community."

Community centers offering educational workshops on the loans will be opened in Baltimore and six other cities -- Charlotte, N.C.; Richmond, Va.; Columbia, S.C.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Atlanta; and Austin, Texas -- in the next six months, according to Al Stubblefield of the SBA.

Baltimore gets NAACP office

"This is huge," said NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who said NAACP officials negotiated the agreement for eight or nine months. Other organizations, including the National Urban League and the Black Chambers of Congress, also were involved in the discussions, Stubblefield said.

"We are hopeful we can use this to forge capital and opportunity," Mfume said, adding that he is working with the mayor's office in Baltimore to promote black businesses. He also said the NAACP will move its small-business development central offices in September from Atlanta to Baltimore. Gore, who attended private meetings later yesterday with local black business leaders here, last spoke in Atlanta on Jan. 19 -- the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday -- at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Yesterday, chronicling hate crimes against African-Americans throughout the country, Gore vowed to catch and punish those who violate civil rights laws, stressing that such organizations as the NAACP remain crucial to all Americans. Blacks and Hispanics still trail whites in education, income and opportunity, he said.

"Do we live in a color-blind society?" he asked. "Well, critics of civil rights use the color blind the way duck hunters use a duck blind -- they hide behind it and hope the ducks won't notice. Don't tell me we've got a color-blind society!"

Gore backs affirmative action

Gore, who told jokes from the podium for 15 minutes before beginning his prepared speech and who peppered his comments with "forward in the struggle," sounded as much like a comedian and preacher as a politician.

"The past is in the past, but don't tell me our persistent vulnerability to racism is in the past," Gore said. "We've left Egypt, but don't tell me we've reached Canaan."

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