Kelvin Perry

Former president at the Black Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City

Where were you born and raised?
Tallahassee, Florida.

What is your occupation?
Retired; President, Black Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City

What is your favorite childhood memory?
Growing up adjacent to the campus of Florida A & M University (FAMU) I remember the great pride and respect my family and the Black community had for that institution. My favorite pastime was watching the famous Marching 100 Band practice/perform and attending all FAMU football games – wherever they played.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
I view Black History Month today as more of a celebration of Black contributions to society for the uninformed -- unenlightened element of society. Just as important, it is serves as a reminder to this current generation of Blacks what we strive for and how strong Black men and women before us paved a way for the opportunities we now have.

What do you believe is the most important issue currently facing the Black community?
The most significant problem to be addressed is overcoming challenges faced by Black boys and men. No other demographic group has fared so bad for so long. They have been served poorly by schools, and when raised poor are most at risk of remaining stuck in poverty, and uniquely stigmatized as violent, and disproportionately incarcerated. A new deal is needed for Black men and boys. One that acknowledges their mistreatment in society and is intentional in providing access to education and training, the labor market, family planning (especially for fathers), criminal justice reform, and tackling the issue of concentrated poverty.

When did you realize you were Black in America and what has that meant for your life?
Back in 1958 or 1959 when I was five or six years old. I was watching Beaver Cleaver on the Leave It to Beaver Show on TV. I think I asked my mother why Beaver and his family looked different than ours. As I recall, my mother who was an elementary teacher, was very measured in explaining the different human races – the one Beaver belonged to, and the one I belonged to. My ethnic status first adversely affected me as a business owner in 1985 when the business became minority certified as Black-owned. That’s when I understood the real economic consequences of being designated as such. Prior to the certification we were just another Kansas City-based company conducting business in various states across the country. But once we were tagged with the Black-owned label, we lost immediate credibility in the eyes of our buyers. But for a robust international business at the time, it’s doubtful we could have survived this unforeseen marketplace bias. This experience meant there were other powerful factors at play in the marketplace that could impede Black entrepreneurship: The existence of racial prejudice that renders target markets unreceptive to Black entrepreneurs. It was this particular incident that was the impetus behind my future work with the Black Chamber and its membership for years to come. I also made a promise to my predecessor and dear friend Buck Buchannan I would continue his work for as long as I could. And working with the various directors, staff, volunteers and members of the Chamber has now become integral to my life. It has been the opportunity of a lifetime to work with Kansas City’s top Black business and professional firms for as long as I have.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration to push for change?
This is such a difficult question. There’s just been so many great men and women, including my mother and father who have inspired me along the way. If I had to choose one, I would say the late Dr. Sybil C. Mobley, the Founder and Dean of the Florida A & M University School of Business & Industry. She, more than anyone else left an indelible impression upon me as to my responsibility for posterity.

How have you supported or contributed to the local Black community?
I’ve devoted more than 33 years in service to the Black community of Kansas City in an effort to promote, maintain and sustain economic progress for Black-owned enterprises in the metropolitan area. Much has been accomplished with volunteers through action and advocacy. Over the term this service I have had the opportunity to help fund and sponsor student scholarship programs for many area high-achieving high school students, and to introduce a business prep school curriculum at the high school level to acquaint students to the rewards of business careers. In 2007 when KCPS didn’t have a representative at the TIF Commission, I even volunteered my services. Joined by Jackson County and the Library Board representatives we began the reform of Kansas City’s economic development incentive policies. As it relates to Black business development, much remains to be accomplished, as Kansas City and the business establishment have been slow to address the racial inequities in economic resources and wealth disparities. But the Black Chamber is undeniably Kansas City’s most diverse organization of Black business owners and professionals. As such, it constitutes a unique view of the concerns of successful Blacks in business and their willingness to devote time and effort to the development and implementation on plans and strategies of major impact on the community. There are 70 businesses and individuals from various disciplines and trades comprising the membership. A cadre of 45 small businesses defined as minority or women owned enterprises have combined revenues in excess of $463 million ($10.3 million annually) and employ over 1,360 individuals. The average length of time in business is 22 years – the longest being 85 years.

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