Marion Barry is my friend, I know, I know, he is everyone’s friend, but I stand here today to honor my friend and to speak about the contribution that he made to build the capacity of minority businesses in Washington, DC.
Our first minority business law, now commonly known as the CBE program was first established in 1977 during Marion’s reign as mayor. Initially, its goal was to help local, minority-owned businesses win city-contracting projects long dominated by majority companies. The program works by assigning preference points to participating companies, in essence, leveling the playing field in contract bidding process and determining how hundreds of millions in public money are spent each year.
“Marion’s foresight and desire to make Washington a true Capital City not only enabled majority firms and other large developers the ability to participate in the realization of major Washington landmarks, but created paths of opportunity for hundreds of minority businesses. “Those of us who worked with him consider Marion an astute politician whose energy and vision is indelibly imprinted on the neighborhoods and signature developments he enabled us to help create.”
Marion often said that he had the courage, tenacity, vision and love for his community to give qualified blacks opportunities that eventually opened up a white government to them. He was proud of the fact that minority business growth skyrocketed from 3 percent when he took office to 47 percent at the end of his tenure. To further strengthen the law, in 1980, he fought for a law that required 35 percent of contracts to go to minority firms. I am proud to call Marion Barry my friend for having the courage to force our inclusion in the revitalization of our city.
Marion’s commitment to nurturing talent locally and growing the city from within was key to minority success in this city. His commitment to providing opportunities to women, to the voiceless, to black people who had previously been locked out of government jobs, is the hallmark of his legacy. He was never scared to fight for black people, even though he knew it would make him unpopular. He created more black millionaires than any other mayor. He developed the city that you see today – the Convention Center, Verizon Center, spurred economic growth in the U Street corridor through the Reeves Center and many other projects.
For those of you who may not know, Marion and I grew up 106 miles apart in Mississippi and we often talked about cotton field operations and what would happen at the end of the row. I look forward to meeting my friend again and talking about what happens at the end of this journey called life.