UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – On Nov. 30, leading entrepreneurs and scholars from across the legal and business fields participated in a live, online discussion titled “Perspectives on Minority Business Development.” Attendees received a free, crash course on the issues facing minority business owners in the United States, including insights from those who have navigated the obstacles first-hand, and suggestions for how to move forward to address racism and inequality in the business sector.
“Perspectives on Minority Business Development” was co-chaired by Samuel C. Thompson Jr., professor and Arthur Weiss Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Penn State Law in University Park, and Sabrina Conyers, partner at McGuire Woods in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“It was a great pleasure for me to have been the professor for the Minority Business Development course at Penn State Law this semester; and it was a real honor to work with Sabrina Conyers in planning and implementing the last session of the course,” said Thompson. “It was also an honor for Penn State Law to have Sabrina lead several of the classes for the course.”
It is not common for law schools to offer free courses. The importance of the minority business development issue is one of the reasons why Thompson was adamant about the course being free and open to the public. Interim Dean of Penn State Law in University Park and the School of International Affairs James. W. Houck added, “Economic development is really important and this is a strategic effort on behalf of Penn State Law to make sure that all Americans have an opportunity to participate.”
The first session of the Nov. 30 program focused on the identification of “The Problem,” which is the lack of economic parity between white and minority Americans, particularly in business ownership. The student presenters on this panel were Skyler Morgan, Jamirca Nuesi, Ivancica Bobek, and Gabrielle Tock. Together, they set the foundation for the discussion by the second and third panels by focusing on two aspects of a comprehensive analysis of several racial gaps by a Citigroup 2020 publication titled, “Closing the Racial Inequality Gaps.” Comments were provided by Dana Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board, who is a former Citigroup banker and co-author of this Citi Report.
The second session focused on potential solutions to “The Problem.” Thompson and Conyers brought in the following experts from outside the University and from a variety of fields and industries: Glenn Carrington, dean, Norfolk State Business School; Marcia J. Griffin, co-founder and CEO of HomeFree USA; Sebastian V. Niles, partner Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, & Katz, NYC; Stuart Rohatiner, partner, Gerson, Preston, Robinson, Klein, Lips & Eisenberg, P.A. Miami, Fl.; Ethan Smith co-founder and managing partner of Starfield & Smith, Fort Washington Pennsylvania, and an expert in SBA lending; and Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Penn State Law in University Park associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar, clinical professor of law, and director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic.. Brief reactions were provided by Dana Peterson.
The third session discussed a proposal first made by Thompson 50 years ago as a student in a Minority Business Development course. As a means of helping to close the economic gap, the proposal is to have Black churches come together to form two corporations — the National Development Corporation and National Development Bank. The goals: to make make a profit and promote the economic interest of minorities.
The following panelists commented on this proposal: Jonathan E. Ford, Pastor, Taylor Tabernacle, Philadelphia, and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton of School of Business; James M. Griffin Jr., chief operating officer, Homefree USA, Inc., Washington D.C.; Richard Hoskins, professor, Northwestern University School of Law and doctor of religion, University of Chicago, Divinity School; and J.B. Todd McCoy, attorney, Bilotti and Associates, Media, Pennsylvania. and a deacon at Taylor Tabernacle. Also, brief reactions were provided by Dana Peterson.
Recordings of each session of the Minority Business Development course are available on the Penn State Law website here. A recording of the Perspectives on Minority Business Development event can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uc3CvMkvt3k&t=703s. For more information, visit the event page.