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AACCNJ is Empowering African American Businesses

African American chamber aims to fix disparities within the business community.

According to John Harmon, founder, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ), 93% of Black businesses in New Jersey are sole proprietorships, a percentage that he says has been pretty consistent over the last 10 years. 

He adds that while Black businesses may be growing in terms of numbers coming online, this figure shows that they’re not building capacities and are not scaling. 

“They don’t have access to opportunity and the state of New Jersey has not put policies in place to mitigate disparities,” Harmon says. “Those are the reasons, in part, why we thought it was necessary to establish this chamber. It gives us an opportunity to engage with state government at the highest level, working with the governor and his administration, working with legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, and then working with corporations at the highest level.” 

AACCNJ serves as a 501(c)3 advocacy group with 800 members, providing a collective voice for New Jersey’s African American business leaders, advocating and promoting economic diversity. 

Harmon says that during the process of starting AACCNJ, he was often questioned why it was necessary, but to him, the need was clear. 

“Why is it that only 7% of Black businesses have more than one employee?” Harmon asks. “Why does the state do less than 3% of contracting with African Americans, when we represent about 14% of the population? Why do African Americans have the highest unemployment and highest poverty in New Jersey? Why does median Black net worth equate to $5,900, while white is $275,000?” 

Harmon explains that he’s noticed the misconception that black businesses don’t have the wherewithal to provide value to supply chains and corporations. 

“Although we don’t have a lot of Black businesses, those that we have that have employees and capacity are businesses that not only can compete, but will bring innovation, value and efficiency, and impact your bottom line. … Our ability to stay relevant in this marketplace is our ability to respond to [misconceptions].” 

Harmon says AACCNJ is getting more inquiries from corporations looking to foster relationships with his organization, and he lists four things he’d like to see corporations do in partnership including: board diversity; supply chain diversity, including more contracts to Black businesses; more Black hires, particularly at the senior level of corporations; and more foundations and corporate citizenship initiatives targeted around job readiness training, ex-offender programs, financial literacy, etc. 

“It is our hope that we can have a more direct access to resources, opportunities, and information that we can disseminate amongst the business community and get them in a better place, behaving more like the economic mainstream of our state,” Harmon says.

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