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Black Chamber Welcomes All Firms

Looking for members to fulfill initiatives

People who care about diversity and inclusion in Fort Wayne should not let the name of the Black Chamber of Commerce deter them from getting involved, the group’s new president told the Fort Wayne Rotary Club on Monday.

Clifford Clarke, a former information technology director at Ivy Tech and now owner of C2IT information technology company, said the organization is “truly diverse” and not just for Black businesses.

While summarizing the chamber’s programs and services, Clarke said the organization works with disadvantaged businesses and individuals regardless of race. The group is seeking new members from any part of the community.

Clarke’s remarks came during Rotary’s weekly lunch meeting, held remotely using Zoom. He said the chamber began to raise its profile last summer. 

Among the initiatives the chamber is promoting are skilled labor training for the construction industry, advocacy for Black contractors, a directory of local Black-owned small businesses and a survey to determine how people shop such businesses.

The directory, which might have up to 400 listings, should be released by the end of the month, Clarke said.

Other initiatives include a new website and partnerships with several community organizations to address issues the Black community faces. One is Club 720, which teaches people how to achieve a credit score over 700 and avoid what Clarke called the “poor tax” – the additional money people are charged in higher interest rates.

The chamber also has partnerships with Fort Wayne Urban League and SCORE, a group of retired executives who assist fledgling businesses, Clarke said.

The chamber also has a mental health awareness initiative in May and can help people with budgeting, accessing business capital and navigating government, Clarke said.

“A lot of people really don’t understand how local government works,” he said.  

The chamber, he said, is all-volunteer, and no one, including Clarke, gets paid. The group, formerly led by John Dortch, might soon hire an administrative aide. 

“We’re not deep like Greater Fort Wayne,” Clarke said, adding the Black Chamber has only about 100 members. But the chamber is trying to add depth, he said.

Paraphrasing the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Clarke said time should be used creatively to advance people’s well-being.

“The time is always ripe to do right,” he said.

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