Murphy: We need legally defensible solutions to address state’s morally indefensible inequities

Speaking at Black Business Expo, governor addresses disparity study and ways administration is using it to support underserved business community

Gov. Phil Murphy, speaking at the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey-sponsored Juneteenth Black Business Expo on Thursday morning at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, said the state needs to do more to help minority business owners.

“If we want to truly honor the legacy of Juneteenth, we — as a state and as a nation — must do more than merely reflect on the ongoing struggle for racial justice in America,” he said. “We need to recommit ourselves to delivering restorative justice to Black and brown communities that have endured centuries of disinvestment.

“Those centuries of disinvestment have left deep, gaping wounds — all across America — that have not received the attention or care they need to fully heal.”

From public schools to workforce development to housing, minority communities have suffered greatly — but perhaps nowhere as severe as in the business community.

Black and brown entrepreneurs have been deprived of the investments and resources they need to launch new businesses or startups, Murphy said — acknowledging what the state found in a stunningly shameful disparity study that was released in January and showed that minority businesses receive very few state contracts.

Of course, that has been the case everywhere for some time.

A day after a court in Oklahoma ruled there was nothing that the state could do to help the few remaining survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 — which wiped out what was called “Black Wall Street” — Murphy said the state’s disparity study was evidence of his intent to address past shortcomings.

“Our administration’s broader goal was not merely to shed light on persistent racial inequities in the Garden State, but to help establish a framework for remedying those inequities, once and for all,” he said.

Doing so has taken on an even greater challenge, as many diversity, equity & inclusion programs are now under fire, being challenged in court or simply being discontinued.

Murphy addressed the challenge.

“We wanted to create a disparity study that would lead to legally defensible solutions for addressing our state’s morally indefensible inequities,” he said.

Murphy noted that, last year, he signed legislation to launch a new mentorship program that will foster partnerships between experienced business leaders and emerging entrepreneurs, with a special focus on supporting women and innovators of color.

He said the state is organizing an annual, statewide matchmaking event — not unlike the expo — that will help Black and brown innovators build out their professional networks.

And he detailed how the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Black and Latino Seed Fund is a first-in-the-nation investment fund that provides direct financial support to early-stage startups founded by underrepresented innovators.

His speech was short on new proposals, but his willingness to publicly address the inequities — he spoke at the event for the second consecutive year — meant something to chamber President John Harmon.

“I thought it was significant that the governor showed up and gave his remarks for our second annual Juneteenth event,” Harmon said, “given all our conversations about the disparity study and our desire to have a more equitable relationship in public contracting. I thought he demonstrated true leadership.”

John Harmon welcomes people to the opening of the expo.

Murphy, who has long worked with Harmon, pledged to continue the conversations, no matter how difficult they are.

“Over the years, I have relied on John and his colleagues as thought partners in exploring how we can deliver restorative justice to our Black and brown families, particularly in the form of new economic opportunities,” he told the crowd, before addressing Harmon specifically.

“One thing I have always cherished about our partnership is that we have never shied away from frank, honest conversations. You have always offered candid insights into the challenges facing our state’s families and businessowners.”

How much will be done to help minority businesses moving forward remains to be seen.

Harmon remains positive.

“I was hopeful following the release of the disparity study that, based on my meetings with the governor and his team, they’ve been engaging, they’ve been forthright, they’ve been reviewing our recommendations and comparing them to what they’re proposing, and we’re working toward a reconciliation of what we will ultimately be presenting back to the state and for businesses,” he said. “So, I’m encouraged. I got into this game being an optimist, and I will be forever an optimist, because that’s what it takes in order to build the right strategic relationships.”