African-Americans: The New Powerful Elite

Article excerpt

Black History Month is a time of renewal for the African-American community in the US. This month's celebrations are an opportunity to take pride in business, cultural, and political achievements. Milan Vesely provides this comprehensive review.

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Eschewing the radicalism of the 1960's for increased influence in mainstream America, the black community in the US is no longer an outsider looking-in but more like an insider, working from within, to change the still lingering racial prejudices of the past. With black businessmen and women now heading top 100 corporations, black politicians framing administration policies, and younger entrepreneurs setting the standard for both the black and white generations, the African-American community is at last taking its rightful place in US society.

Still among the majority to be suffering poverty in the US, African-Americans are nevertheless using their considerable talents to shape American society, an achievement that is increasingly becoming more obvious. Such a change can only be good for US society as a whole and is a proud achievement well worth celebrating.

NATIONAL POLITICS

For the first time in US history, two African-Americans have been vying for election in the 2004 Presidential elections. The Reverend Al Sharpton of New York and Congresswomen Carol Moseley Braun of Chicago, Illinois have both acquitted themselves well in the run-up to the Democratic Party's nomination, each reminding the leading candidates that the African-American community wields considerable political power, possibly even controlling the margin between victory or defeat. While neither won their party's nomination, these two colourful politicians have highlighted the black community's increasing participation in national politics, their wry sense of humour livening up the otherwise dull TV debates. Focused on the black community, their campaign fund-raising efforts also highlighted the growing number of black-run and black-owned corporations that are now considered among the major players of the US economy.

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On the Republican Party side, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice are prominent Bush administration cabinet members, both expected to retain their positions should President Bush win a second term in November 2004. For the first time, black Americans have direct influence in the White House, their views regarded important enough to shape America's national and international policies.

Investment Field

* Top African-American banks have assets of $4.3bn.

* African-American insurance companies hold $559.4bn in assets.

* Top African-American investment banks control and manage $664.4bn in issues.

* African-American capital management companies boast private equity funds totalling some $2.5bn.

No business activity is as fast-paced, nerve-wracking or challenging as the trading of stocks on Wall Street. To be a major player on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or on the more technology driven NASDEQ requires acumen, agility and ready access to vast amounts of investment capital.

In 2003, trading activities on both boards were especially difficult--a lukewarm US and world economy making the opportunity to exercise profit-taking a rare occurrence. Despite this, African-American professionals excelled in the investment field with Merrill Lynch's E. Stanley O'Neal, Citigroup's Thomas Jones and American Express Co's Kenneth I Chenault all appointed, or continuing in positions as chief executive officers (CEOs) of their respective firms.

Standing out from the crowd, Vernon E Jordan Jr., senior managing partner of investment banking powerhouse Lazard Freres, is also best known for his advisory role to former President Bill Clinton in the impeachment proceedings over the Monica Lewinski affair. Others who excelled in a difficult and challenging year are:

Ronald E Blaylock, 42, Chairman and CEO of Blaylock and Partners L. …