Last night, Detroit Seafood Market was filled with some of Detroit’s most charismatic, intelligent, and successful civil servants, faith leaders, and entrepreneurs. I joined this mix of stars to honor the legacy of Bill Ross. Mr. Ross was retiring from the post of leading the Booker T Washington Business Association for decades.
The organization was founded by the Peck family. Their initiative built a platform for Black business people to gather, share, learn, and build together in Detroit.
From selling studio time to rappers, till now leading my marketing firm, Mr. Ross has always been a supportive voice of insight and encouragement. I’m still applying lessons he taught me years ago today.
Last night’s event is a contradiction to all negative perceptions about Black business in Detroit. Successful giants of Detroit business like Tony Stovall (Hot Sam’s Clothing – Detroit’s oldest clothing retailer), Alan Young (of Alan Young & Associates CPA), and Linda Davis (of RL Graphics Print & Design) all gathered as Chuck Stokes (Spotlight on the News WXYZ Detroit’s ABC affiliate) emceed the event.
In the shadows of stars, I look up to, were my peers who are now wielders of social influence and industry. Ken Harris (President of the National Business League – which was founded by Booker T Washington), Karinda Washington (Chief of Staff Office of Partnership & Engagement at U.S. Department of Homeland Security), and Donald Webb (of IT Guys Networking & Cyber Security) are people I’ve shared laughs, lessons, and sandwiches with, are now providing opportunities and resources in abundance. The value of the Booker T Washington Business Association connections I made in 2004, has always come to fruition.
Booker T Washington’s perspective towards achieving human rights for Black people in America can be theoretically polarizing throughout the Black community. Years ago I discussed this with my mentor and the leader of the Detroit Nation of Islam Dawud Muhammad. Minister Dawud impressed upon me to honor the work and practicality of Booker T Washington. He urged me to seek understanding in the building of Tuskegee University to gain value in Washington’s legacy.
The semantics of his more conservative and apologist attitude towards racist White Americans should not devalue the gateways to opportunity Booker T Washington developed for Black people in America and the American south.
Tuskegee University began as an agricultural gem that expanded to produce world leaders in medicine, engineering, and design. Washington’s understanding of practical problem solving, accessing needs, and knowing the value is why Tuskegee has been feeding, teaching, and building Alabama since it broke ground. Developing methods of molding bricks from Alabama clay was the foundational method the university was built.
My love for hip-hop relates to the creativity and drive behind finding value in what others won’t and don’t.
As the Regan administration cut funding for arts and music in public school, the advent of the DJ and rapper was created.
Many people look up to Sylvia Robinson (Sugar Hill Records) and Russell Simmons (Def Jam Records) as the prototype for a hip-hop business leader, I look up to Carl ‘Butch’ Small of World One Records.
Butch Small is a world-class drummer and percussionist who has toured the world with George Clinton, the Four Tops, and many more (I called him to receive his blessing to share this, and he’s actually on tour now). Small is also the father of Carlos Small who is DJ Los. In 1988 DJ Los and EZ B released the ‘Untouchable’ record which was the first vinyl I ever remember a Detroit rapper made.
Butch Small saw the interest of his son and the Detroit community in hip-hop. He also knew that Detroit recording studios rejected the art form and looked at the music as a trend and not a culture. The city Motown Records and Berry Gordy built the ‘the Sound of Young America,’ neglected the rhythms and spirit of hip-hop.
Butch Small took his experience of years working with Sylvia Moy, Don Davis, and Norman Whitfield and applied to hip-hop.
World One Records opened a studio on 6 Mile in the heart of Detroit Westside. The architects of Detroit Hip-hop built their sound within those walls. The legends I love like Kaos & Mystro, DJ Los and EZ B, DICE, and Nikki D all crafted their artistry under the guidance of Butch Small. The other Detroit hip-hop artist at the time all followed the formula World One Records built. Merciless Amir, Awesome Dre, Smiley, Black Man & Kid Rock (when he was wearing Adidas jumpsuits and not confederate flag shirts), Detroit’s Most Wanted, and AWOL all were given access to studios, stages, and radio play because of the vision of Butch Small.
Seeing opportunity in the passion, creativity, and potential of others is the link between Bill Ross, Booker T Washington, and Butch Small. We should all look to be gateways for bigger stages, larger crowds, and louder messages for the visions of others. For if Ross, Washington, and Small were afraid of ruining their reputations, not being aligned with purpose, or only gratification generations of families would be experiencing a lesser quality of life.