Last week, I was invited by Tavis Smiley to be one of a select group of official bloggers for America's Next Chapter, held last evening at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. Due to prior commitments at The Media Is You and the Indie Business Book Club (not to mention snow days!), I was unable to attend in person, so I Tweeted it live via Ustream. Here is some of what I learned.
The panel, moderated by Tavis, included a cross section of influential leaders (listed below), but I was disappointed (and surprised) it did not include an African American woman.
How can you have an informed discussion about America's Next Chapter without including a black woman in the discussion?
According to 2009 census data, the United States population is composed of 37,264,679 black adults, 19,513,012 (well over half!) of which are female. (There are 17,751,667 black men in America.)
What about amazing women like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., physicist and first black woman to orbit the earth, Mae Jemison, NPR's Michel Martin, former National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice? The list goes on.
As much as I enjoyed last night's program, this left a gaping — and I think obvious — hole in the discussion.
Tavis did a great job of managing the panel personalities, many of which were polar opposites. I enjoyed seeing him do what he does best in terms of leading a challenging discussion, keeping it real and avoiding cat fights. (He also does a wicked Oprah Winfrey impression.)
Small Business And Entrepreneurial Discussion
I was thrilled that the topic of small business ownership and entrepreneurship was raised repeatedly, especially since I raised it with Tavis last week. While most of the panelists mentioned the topic, Arianna Huffington's remarks resonated most with me. I Tweeted some of her insightful insightful comments here, here, and here.
Arianna also invited everyone to check out Etsy to see people pursuing their dreams, telling their stories, finding their voices, and being empowered by their ownership of a business — even a very tiny one.
In Arinna's words (at 2:38:52 in the video time stamp):
We have people who are starting their little businesses on etsy.com. Have you been there? They are taking their passions and their hobbies and they are turning them into a way to make a living. … So there is an explosion happening around the country, but we are not talking about it, we are not chronicling it. So I think what we need to do is to bear witness not just to what's happening in Washington, but also to what's happening around the country. We need to tell stories. We need to bring these people to prominence in a way that can encourage others to get involved. …
Arianna Is Spot On!
Arianna's point sare precisely the ones I made in this post. As the leader of IBN, a nationwide trade organization with hundreds of members on etsy, I believe — no, I know for sure — that Arianna's assertion that the solution to our nation's economic woes lies in the hands of small and family businesses — if only the government gives them a chance to thrive without unduly burdensome regulations that would strangle them before they have a chance to start.
Will that happen? I'm not sure, but I have posed the question — to Small Business Administration head Karen G. Mills and to President Obama through Democratic National Committee Chairman Gov. Tim Kaine.
What Arianna articulated is the essence of human life — to have the freedom to harness your gifts to provide for yourself, and to make the world a better place.
Education Is Only Part Of The Solution
Education is part of it, yes. The pursuit of knowledge is a noble one. But it's what one does with knowledge that enables him to make a meaningful contribution. And before a person can do something with knowledge, he must be in an environment where he is empowered to use knowledge to improve his own personal situation. He must know that he will be supported and not trampled. He must know that everyone from his closest friends to the official he voted into the White House will do everything possible to create a level playing field so he can learn, thrive, and contribute.
I hope that the other panelists, Tavis, our nation's elected officials, and everyone who tuned in live or watches the live re-broadcasts on PBS will take Arianna's comments to heart. From the smallest etsy startup to the multi-billion dollar Wall Street firm that may one day provide credit to the firm, we are all responsible for creating a world that empowers everyone to maximize their potential What better way to do this than to own and manage a profitable small or family business?
The Economy Will Not Recover Until Legislation Stop Making It Impossible For Small Business To Plan And Thrive
As Maria Bartiromo pointed out, our economy will remain stalled until businesses see that looking regulations will not make it impossible for them to plan, produce and hire without taking unreasonable risks.
This is the essence of human existence, and American businesses, American legislators, American educators, and American families have lost sight of it.
America's next chapter must include all of us, and it must embrace the notion that everyone can be a capitalist, even in a small way.
Questions: What do you think of Arianna's comments? What prominent black women leader would you like to have seen on the pane? Do you think it matters that no black women were included? What do you think will be America's next chapter?
*America's Next Chapter Panelists: Arianna Huffington, David Brody, David Frum, Dr. Cornel West, Dana Milbank, Maria Bartiromo, John Chen, and Maria Teresa Kumar. The discussion was wide-ranging and included education, race, racism, politics, immigration and yes, even small business. Of course, if anyone was paying attention to my Twitter stream, this is the topic I was most focused on