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NEW YORK, NY - On Thursday, November 5th, Harlem Business Alliance (HBA) hosted a successful keynote speaker and panel discussion for the event Black Business Matters: Achieving Economic Equality in Contracting in the Harlem Hospital Pavilion. The purpose of the forum was to address the fact that Black-owned businesses in New York do not receive a fair share when it comes to contracting opportunities. Even though the NYC Black population is 25%, last year Black-owned businesses received less than .03% of government contracts in NYC.

The event began with a one-on-one discussion between keynote speaker R. Donahue Peebles (the nation’s largest African-American real estate developer/Founder of Peebles Corporation) and moderator Adrianne C. Smith (HBA Board Member). Mr. Peebles shared how DC Mayor Marion Barry gave him his first real estate development opportunity which he was able to grow into a multimillion company. He stated that successfully executing public contracts leads to success in private contracting.  After a short recess Walter J. Edwards (Chairman of HBA/CEO Full Spectrum of NY LLC) and James Heyliger (President of the Association of Minority Enterprises of New York) moderated an esteemed panel consisting of Honorable Michael A. Blake (Member of NYS  79th Assembly District), Maya Wiley (Counsel to the Mayor), Carra L. Wallace (Chief Diversity Officer at the Office of NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer), La-Verna J. Fountain (VP for Construction Business Services & Communications at Columbia University), George A. Cleary (Deputy Director of Small Business Development Programs, Dept. of Diversity and Civil Rights at MTA and Wayne A. Benjamin (Assistant Director of Opportunity Programs Group at DASNY). 


Counsel Maya Wiley made it clear that the current administration inherited the present procurement system however they are working to create a system that will provide greater access to city contracts for M/WBEs. Programs and seminars are currently being put in place for M/WBEs to better communicate with contracting agencies. The agency and university representatives discussed the various programs they offer entrepreneurs seeking contracts. HBA shared its Back Office Support Initiative as a model program that should be supported and replicated throughout underserved communities across the nation. HBA provides expert intensive marketing, strategic planning, loan packaging, and technology utilization services to local entrepreneurs. Moderators Walter J. Edwards and James Heyliger closed by saying that although this dialogue was fruitful the need to work collaboratively with the city, state and NY institutions to reduce these inequities is critical. 

Notable attendees included Londel Davis Jr. (President of MLK Jr. Democratic Club), Lermond Mayes (COS, Council Member Inez Dickens), NY Senator Bill Perkins, Vy Higginsen (Founder, Mama Foundation for the Arts), Darrell Gay (Arent Fox LLP), Larry Dais (HBA Board Member), Lloyd Douglass (HBA Board Member), Russell Grey (Real Estate Broker, Esra Realty LLC), Maurice Grey (HBA Board Member), Tyreta Foster (Foster Lynch & Thomas, LLC), Zevilla Preston-Jackson (JP Design Inc), Walter E. Maxwell (Executive Director, NYC Dept of Small Business Services), Aissatou Bey-Grecia (Director, Workforce Strategies & Initiatives, The McKissack Group, Inc.) and Knox LaSister (Smart Inc.)

Special thanks to Columbia University, Con Edison, MTA, NYC School Construction Authority and Harlem Hospital.

Photo Credit: Strivers Row Photography. Additional photos may be requested via media contact.

Live photos and quotes can be found on social media via the hashtag 

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HBA serves as an advocate for the preservation and retention of Harlem's business community. The Harlem Business Alliance was founded in 1980 by a group of prominent Harlem business leaders who recognized the void that had resulted from years of disinvestment and abandonment in Harlem and the critical need to mobilize the existing businesses and organizations to come together as a collective voice. Incorporated in 1990 as a class 402 501(c)(3) corporation, HBA has worked diligently to establish Harlem as an economically self-sustaining community. HBA's membership is diverse and representative of the most influential minority owned businesses in the New York City Metropolitan area.
For more information about Harlem Business Alliance please visit

Adrianne C. Smith and R. Donahue Peebles
Not an empty seat in the Harlem Hospital Pavilion
(L to R) La-Verna J. Fountain, Carra L. Wallace, George A. Cleary
(L to R) Moderator James Heylinger, La-Verna J. Fountain, HBA Executive Director Regina Smith, Carra L. Wallace, George A. Cleary, Wayne A. Benjamin, Maya Wiley, Honorable Michael A. Blake and HBA Chairman Walter J. Edwards
Guests networking after the event
Post event advice from James Heylinger

Media Contact:

Dariana Colon-Bibb, Rebelle Agency



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