Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: November/December 2014
Publisher's Message
By: Solomon J. Herbert

As 2014 draws to an end and Black Meetings & Tourism winds up its 20th Anniversary yearlong celebration, the time has arrived for us to reflect on the past year's events, and the events that have shaped our lives and our industry since BM&T was founded in l993.

A lot has changed since those early days.  We went from having only one African-American CVB president/CEO (Melvin Tennant in Oakland) to 11 Black bureau heads in 2014, including four females.  During that timeframe, Black-owned hotels grew from only one in Memphis, to over 500 across the nation today.  And hotel general managers, which could be counted on one hand when BM&T launched, now number close to 100.  By any metric, even the most pessimistic among us would have to admit things have improved.  But when you consider there are around 500 CVBs in existence today, and approximately 55,000 hotels, clearly, we still have a long way to go.

Back in 1960s, when I was a Civil Rights worker with the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.), tangible and dramatic evidence of discrimination was everywhere.  For example, the violence heaped Freedom Riders, those brave social activists who boarded interstate buses in 1961 and beyond to ride into the segregated South to challenge non-compliance with federal laws that prohibited segregated public buses as being unconstitutional shed light on horrific Jim Crow practices, or Martin Luther King, Jr. leading thousands of non-violent demonstrators on an historic march from Selma in 1965 to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, resulting in the notorious "Bloody Sunday" at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, gave concrete evidence of racism in America.

Fast forward to the present, where much of the discrimination practiced today is subtle and goes unnoticed to all but the most attentive.  Without the media attention brought on by all of the sit-ins, marches, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience, there is the misconception among some that we are in a post racial era, and that things are just fine.

Nothing could be further from the truth.   If the numbers I shared earlier about the paucity of CVB heads and hotel GMs doesn't grab your attention, maybe the following will.  At the beginning of December, AT&T Inc. and DirecTV were hit with a $10 billion racial discrimination lawsuit for allegedly refusing carriage agreements to Black-owned media companies, thereby denying them distribution on pay television. The lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court in California, claims the companies violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by treating 100 percent Black-owned companies differently than their white-owned counterparts.       

According to the complaint, the National Association of African American Owned Media alleges, "African Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population and represent more than $1 trillion in consumer spending power. AT&T is one of the largest companies in the world and is about to quadruple the size of its pay television business through its $67 billion (with assumption of debt) acquisition of DirecTV. DirecTV is the second largest video programming service in the country. Both profit greatly by providing television service to African Americans.

"Despite the foregoing, 100% African American owned media has been substantially shut out by AT&T and DirecTV. Of the approximately $4 billion in fees that AT&T pays to license video programming via channel carriage agreements for white owned channels each year, zero dollars are paid to 100% African American-owned media. Further, of the additional approximately $4 billion AT&T spends each year on advertising, 100% African American-owned media receives less than $1.5 million per year."

While this may seem somewhat disconnected from our industry, it's a perfect example of how wealth bypasses our community by design.  And though no such lawsuit or study has been undertaken regarding Black-owned print media, we have watched Black-owned newspapers and magazines go belly up in startling numbers (including the longtime fixture "Jet Magazine" or "Sister to Sister," which has ended a 15-year run).)  I can tell you from personal experience that despite all the accolades and awards Black Meetings & Tourism has received, we too have been frozen out of a substantial portion advertising revenue available in our industry because we are a Black-owned media outlet.

Perhaps 2015 will be the year that changes.

Solomon J. Herbert


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