National Business League President and CEO Ken Harris continues Booker T. Washington’s vision to uplift Black professionals

Why did Booker T. Washington want us to think collectively together?

I look at it two different ways. During that time, you had the Negro who was trying to make their way post-slavery during the Reconstruction period, no education, no formal training. They didn’t know how to form enterprise in a meaningful way. So, for us to transition off of the plantation and contribute to society, we had to depend on each other, learn how to use their hands. A lot of things that we did during slavery, though it is not the beginning of our story, were entrepreneurial.

To make a meaningful transition into the economic fabric and mainstream of America, Washington felt that it was important for us to focus on trades, building enterprise, and controlling the agriculture in our land. Doing things in a long, strategic process put us in position to have social, educational and political control. He used economics as the core from a collective mindset, as opposed to on the back end.

Why would an institution of higher learning be a part of his vision for our community?

He believed that if we were able to control our own destiny through entrepreneurship, enterprise development, and trade development, it would lead us to the economic prosperity and the equivalent of educational, political and social power that we need. As a basic concept, he was a practitioner.

Not only did he have theoretical and philosophical practices, he also showed you how it can be done. He leveraged internal resources and his own internal ecosystem and left us what we see today, Tuskegee University, a very prominent historically Black college and university in Tuskegee, Alabama. It is a reminder of what can be done if we follow the playbook.

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