During the National Black Chamber of Commerce 20th Annual Convention in Atlanta at the Four Seasons Hotel, Larry Ivory, president of the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, presented an award to Stephen L. Davis, founder and president of The Will Group based in Wheaton, Ill., a city west of Chicago.
Ivory offered these glowing remarks: “Steve is a great champion, a great friend, a great Christian, an early supporter of National Black Chamber of Commerce and a superstar. A superstar is someone who influences people, can write a big check, has a lot of friends who can also write a big check. He’s a great humanitarian and a great business leader who has helped a lot of organizations; he also sits on our executive board.”
The Will Group has been involved in notable projects including the lighting of Wrigley Field and Soldier Field, Wacker Drive Reconstruction, Energy Upgrade at Northfield Block and the Illinois Tollway Open Road Tolling program. Davis is a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s of science in transportation.
During his acceptance speech, Davis offered insight into the transportation industry. “When I was growing up in the South, all concrete and heavy highway work was done by African Americans. As I moved to the north, I didn’t see us [blacks]. I really started understanding [this concept]: Intent creates a habit which creates a culture which creates a tradition. What we used to do, we were intentionally left out of and now we don’t do it anymore. They say well you can come back, but we don’t know how. We have lost our way. We need to be just as intentional,” he said.
“I am in the infrastructure business and growing up, H.J. Russell Company was an inspiration to me. Thirty years ago, seeing the BE 100 and Herman Russell on the list inspired me.”
Davis continued, “Sometimes I don’t think we realize that when we’re out there advocating, you’re often speaking things that people in the room don’t want to hear. You’re often swimming upstream and going against the tide, but when you have a faith and a conviction without compromise, and then you are going to do the right thing. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this award in his [Larry Ivory, transportation committee chair, NBCC] honor. ”
Davis offered this advice: “When you look at things like highways, every time you put a gallon of gas in your tank, do you know what happens? You pay 18.4 cents to the motor fuel tax that goes to Washington and is reapportioned back to our states. That money is used to fix the roads. If we are 15 percent of the population, we are probably buying 15 percent of the gas and getting 15 percent of the work, right? We’re half as smart and are getting half of the work. So, we’re getting 7.5 percent [of the] work, right?” he asked jokingly.
“No, we’re getting just around 1 percent and we need to really wake up. Sometimes, you have to look at yourself in the mirror. There is a lot more out there for people who look like me if you will just come in. I have to tell you, I’m getting my 15 percent. There is a lot of money and we just have not been participating. As an advocate for African American businesses, I will continue to say that intent creates a habit which creates a culture which creates a tradition.”–yvette caslin