by Larry D. Ivory
With great sadness I must announce that our warrior leader and president, CEO and co-founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Harry C. Alford, transitioned Monday, Dec. 6, in Washington, D.C. He was preceded in death by his wife, Kay DeBow, vice president and co-founder of the National Black Chamber five months ago.
In 1993, Harry C. Alfred moved the newly established National Black Chamber of Commerce from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Washington, D.C. The first board chairman was the former assistant secretary of labor, Dr. Arthur Fletcher, the “Father of Affirmative Action.” Most of the existing Black Chambers derived from Harry’s initiatives and influence over the years.
Today, the National Black Chamber is the largest Black business organization in the world, consisting of regional organizations of Black Chambers in the United States, eight countries in Africa, 11 membership Chambers in the Caribbean and five member Black Chambers in Central and South America. Black Chambers were also established in London and Paris under Harry’s leadership.
In addition to coordinating this global operation, Harry C. Alford spoke before Congress on behalf of Black business, often several times a month. For many years, he served on the board of directors of the most influential chamber in America, the United States Chamber of Commerce, in Washington, D.C.
“When President George Bush asked Harry Alford to assist him with a strategy to identify any Black-owned businesses remaining in the Hurricane Katrina impact zone and a plan for helping them survive, he selected the right man,” said Arnold Baker, president of Baker Ready Mix, LLC. Harry brought a fresh perspective and renewed vision that nothing was impossible and held the White House accountable for making available unfettered access to the Corps of Engineers, HUD, the Department of Commerce, and DOT for the nation’s greatest rebuild.
“Today the lessons learned and visioning processes that Harry and Kay brought to fruition are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in small business inclusion programming which are now the basis for every disaster relief program. They not only made history in New Orleans but designed the base principals for recovery programs now implemented across the globe,” Baker said.
As word spread of Harry’s death, condolences and personal memories of Harry’s business acumen began to pour in.
John Harmon, who is the president of one of the most successful Black Chambers in New Jersey, said that it was the advice of Harry and his beloved wife Kay that guided him through many business initiatives. He also said it was because of his influence that he served on the boards of both the NBCC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“I knew Harry and Kay before they left Indianapolis to establish the national chamber in Washington, D.C. I had a great relationship in Indiana when he served in the cabinet of former Gov. Evan Bayh. I went into a meeting with him expecting resistance and I was met with agreement and a solution that led the way for Indiana Black newspapers to do business with the state,” notes Dorothy R. Leavell, publisher of the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspapers.
“When he started the National Black Chamber, our relationship expanded to include me as a board member of NBCC, and when I was chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, he served with distinction on our board. He was always eager to help The Black Press “as a business,” Leavell said.
Members of the NBCC Board of Directors, including Fred Jordan, NBCC’s outstanding member in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., representing the West Coast, said that the future of NBCC is bright. Presently Charles H. DeBow III is Executive Director and had served previously as Vice President of Global Development and Programs.
Current NBC Board Chairman and President of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce Larry Ivory stated, “Harry Alford was the Godfather of Black Chambers in the United States and, from his Washington, D.C., headquarters, gave Black business a seat at the table for over 28 years. Harry and Kay’s legacy will live on as we continue moving the National Black Chamber of Commerce’s agenda forward.”
Larry D. Ivory, President and CEO of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.