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Saturday, December 27, 2008

George Fraser – Black America’s Business Networking Guru

By Starla Muhammad

George Fraser is a brother who is self-assured, confident, focused and seldom at a loss for words. Yes, he’s the author of several critically-acclaimed best-selling books. Yes, he’s an economic-development expert and highly-sought after speaker. Yes, he’s the founder and CEO of FraserNet Inc., a 40,000-membership Black networking organization. Yes, he’s received more awards, accolades and recognition than the average person, regardless of race. Yes, Black Enterprise Magazine called him “Black America’s #1 Networker” and featured him on the cover. And yes, his global network meets annually during a four-day conference that is the largest networking event in America. But who is George Fraser and why is he a man that all business professionals and entrepreneurs should want to know?

To understand where he is today, one should understand the path he traveled. It’s a lesson in determination, grit and love. Born in 1945, he was the second youngest of 11 children to Ida Mae and Walter Fraser. George was orphaned at the age of 4 as a result of his mother becoming mentally ill. His father was unable to care for George and his siblings. Subsequently, he spent 14 years in foster homes in New York City. As a young student in high school, he was not encouraged by his teachers to study and become educated. In fact, his high school guidance counselor suggested he drop out of school. He did graduate high school with a vocational diploma in woodworking because he was not considered “college material” by the school system.

He saw the devastating effects of drug abuse among his brothers and made a decision that he would not go down that path. “I learned a lot by observing the good, the bad and the ugly among my siblings,” he said. He refused to fall victim to his surroundings or circumstances and learned to use the negative comments others made about him as motivation. He cleaned floors at night to work his way through school, but always knew something better was in store not only for him, but for Black people in particular. He attributes three people to orienting him to the fundamental needs of Black people: James Baldwin, Malcolm X and The Honorable Elijah Muhammad. They fueled his desire to make something of himself and to become independent and self-sufficient. As young man, he packed up all that he had and got on a Greyhound bus. He left Brooklyn, New York and settled in Cleveland.

The basis of his work today is getting people to understand the power and significance of personal and professional interaction with one another. It’s become his passion, his vision and his mission. His personal life lessons fuel his desire to help others. Although George had several leadership roles in corporations over the years, it has been sharing the science of effective networking and successful businesses development to thousands of Black folks that led UPSCALE magazine to name him one of the “Top 50 power brokers in Black America.”

“I believe that economic development and wealth creation are the fundamental objectives that Black people have to focus on in the 21st Century,” he said. However, that wealth creation must be transferred through the generations and he is adamant that, “Black people must become the number one employer of Black people. The infrastructure for achieving this goal is networking.” Although he feels it may take another three to five generations to achieve this. “We must tap into the tremendous resources that already exist in our community,” he said. In referencing his critically acclaimed book, “Success Runs in Our Race: The Complete Guide to Effective Networking in the African-American Community,” George expounds upon this philosophy. “God ain’t giving us anything else until we become better students of the resources that we already have. We are an almost $900-billion dollar annual economy. If we were a nation, we would be the 10th richest nation in the entire world. Yet, less than 5 percent of our dollars are recycled within our community.” He also references the article that ran in USA Today in 2007 that noted Black “baby boomers” will be the first generation of Black people to raise another generation of Black people that would not do better than they did. “That has never happened in 400 years. Well, our forefathers and ancestors must be turning over in their graves,” he said pointedly.

However, we are not doomed. The abject optimism of George Fraser is not lost on those who have read his books, heard him speak or visited his Web site. He strongly contends that the key is networking and leveraging our resources. Not just monetary resources, but “human” resources as well. “More than 9 million Blacks in the workforce are in executive, managerial, supervisory, professional, specialty, vocational, technical, administrative, sales and business-ownership positions. That is an army of potential role models and mentors to help those that are stuck in a cycle of poverty,” he said.

However, the first step in this has to be networking. According to George, it’s critical for Black people to pattern our business philosophy on the Afrocentric model based on cooperation and interdependence rather than the European model based on independence and a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. “The highest form of any culture and any cultural development is interdependence where we are linked together in a common bond,” he said. Lack of trust of one another due to the “Willie Lynch” syndrome and lack of self-love still embedded in our psyche is the origin of this mistrust that still affects us to this day. Not all Black people, but “too many” feel this way. “Low self-esteem and lack of self-love lead to low race-esteem, which makes us shy away from engaging in business with or being supportive of people who look like you,” George said.

One way to begin the process of overcoming our mistrust is to network. However, George said we were never taught networking skills on a substantive and deep level. There has been marginal success with the development of Black churches, fraternities, sororities and even some Black-owned businesses, but he said it only reaches a certain level. With integration and desegregation, we began to abandon our schools, insurance companies and other Black businesses. “I think we are beginning to see and understand how devastating that lack of cohesiveness and lack of networking has been to the ultimate rise and/or fall of Black America for the past two or three generations,” said George.

“Success Runs in Our Race,” published 15 years ago, launched the networking movement in Black America. Networking is more than the exchange of business cards at a gathering. It is a medium to facilitate the exchange of ideas, talents and services. “I don’t care what it is that you want to do, what you aspire to do or what kind of business you want to begin, I can introduce you to three, four or five people who are already doing what you want to do and are doing it with excellence.” He states that building relationships through networking is an ongoing process that includes the following steps:
Identify and meet people whom you want to develop a relationship with
Connect and exchange information. Then, build the relationship based on common ground. Follow-up is key.
Find out if you “click” with the person. Clicking is when two or more people come together and add a special value to each other and create synergy.

George feels that Blacks in Arizona are in a unique position because of the unlimited business opportunities and potential. But our success is dependent upon our unity, which must start with effective networking. Helping us mine out the treasures God has deposited within us seems to fuel his spirit. Using a direct and matter-of-fact tone, George said, “We will take our people, we will take our community and we will ultimately take this country to another level.” And why should we believe George Fraser? Because success runs in our race.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Inspired by Unity and the Desire to Serve: Muslims and Christians Provide Hope in South Phoenix

By Starla Muhammad

The uphill journey in providing a clean and safe haven for those struggling and recovering from substance abuse while bettering their lives came to fruition Saturday, December 13th in Phoenix with the opening and dedication of Trent House, a Level 4 transitional and recovery home on the city’s south side. Named in honor of Trent Louis Hutchison, a young brother who recently lost his battle with drugs addiction and died of an accidental overdose, Trent House is the “brainchild” of The Perfect Image (TPI) Independent Living Facilities, a non-profit organization. As a Level 4 facility, Trent House can provide housing and programs for those dealing with alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness and women with children who are victims of domestic abuse.
Owned and operated by Chris and Catherine Muhammad of Phoenix, TPI was birthed from the couples desire to make lives better for those less fortunate. Two years ago they began acquiring and rehabbing houses with the goal of converting them into homes for men, women and children.
Pastor Hurley V. Grissom, Jr., the onsite live-in director and counselor for Trent House is like the Muhammad’s, in that he also sees a need for effective substance abuse programs and transitional housing for the city’s south side. Mr. Hutchison was a member of Pastor Hurley’s congregation. Pastor Hurley’s church provides a substance abuse recovery program and after an introduction to the Muhammad’s through a mutual contact, Pastor Grissom began referring men and women to TPI for placement.
Although being of different religions, Pastor Grissom and the Muhammad’s share a common bond of love for those who just need a helping hand. “We are reaching out to make things happen, as we are taught by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan…..we want to go out and help our people”, shares Mr. Muhammad. “I found there was no problem with the crossing of religious lines, so that excited me, and that was a plus in (us) moving forward”, added Pastor Grissom.
Muslim and Christian community leaders attended the Trent House dedication. Those in attendance included Rev. Emanno Willis, Bro. Patrick Muhammad, student Minister of Muhammad Mosque #32, Sister Karen Rahman Muhammad, daughter of Nation of Islam pioneers Zarifah Aquil Muhammad and Abdul Rahman Muhammad, Mother Evelyn Muhammad, wife of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Rev. Grissom and Damon Hutchison, the brother of Trent Hutchison. The Hutchison Family presented TPI a donation of $3000 in honor of Trent’s memory. “The entire Hutchison family hopes those who will come here (Trent House) will be helped in their time of need” he told the audience.
Trent House is the first home opened by TPI and is for men in recovery. Pastor Grissom, along with Mr. Muhammad and others, offer counseling, self-development and self-improvement courses to the men of Trent House. In an effort to build self-esteem and responsibility while in recovery, the residents do share in household expenses such as rent, as well as household duties. A home for women and a home for women with children are currently in development. For more information about TPI, please contact 602-486-9375 or theperfectimage1@cox.net.

Local Food Program Helps Those in Need

By Starla Muhammad

According to the results of a recent survey conducted by Feeding America (formerly named America’s Second Harvest), the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, “Food banks across America are reporting a 30 percent increase in requests for emergency food assistance.” These tough economic times, culminated by a surge in unemployment and escalating food costs, have made a trip to the grocery store to purchase the bare necessities, a financial hardship for millions of U.S. citizens of varying socio-economic backgrounds. Feeding America also reported, “Many Americans are unable to provide adequate amounts of nutritious food to their families, due to the current economic crisis.”
For five years, Circle of Life Development Incorporated (COLDI), a 501-c3 non-profit organization has supplied the community’s south side residents with much needed food, donated by St. Mary’s Food bank during its weekly Saturday morning food program. However, over the past few weeks, the lines of hungry families in need that participate in the program have gotten steadily longer. Men, women and children for many of whom English is not their primary language, gather as early as 6am at Muhammad Mosque #32, the distribution point for the food program. Karen Rahman Muhammad, CEO of COLDI and one of the catalysts behind the implementation of the food program has marveled at the number of people that line up each week. “Every Saturday we are serving at least 300 people….this program is having a big impact…there are families that are in tears because they are so grateful,” shares Mrs. Rahman Muhammad.
The need and demand for food assistance is so great, that volunteers distributed 22,000 pounds of food in less than two hours during the program on December 13. To show appreciation and gratitude for the program, several of those receiving food have returned to help volunteer by passing out food and translating for Spanish speaking families. During the past five years of the program the diligence of volunteers like James Muhammad, Paula Muhammad many more have kept the program afloat as the critical need to provide food to the masses is becoming more evident. According to Mrs. Rahman Muhammad, “We have been doing this for five years and this is the first year that we get calls now during the week from people asking us for food.” Any leftover food from the program is then delivered to the elderly and sick throughout the community. The need for food and assistance during these times crosses racial, ethnic and economic lines and the COLDI food program serves a diverse range of people. Mrs. Rahman Muhammad explained, “We don’t ask questions of the people who come, we just feed those that are in need.”