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Black-owned businesses just need an even chance

By Marshall IngwersonStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 1, 1982



Los Angeles

''These are not the days of the '60s,'' Barry Baszile says - days when the economy was generous and social programs were blooming everywhere.

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Any black who is in business today, he explains, is in business because he's beating his competition.

Mr. Baszile is a black who is in business today - his own - and doing handsomely. So he has been surprised to approach new buyers for his industrial aluminum stock and be told they have no ''set aside'' work.

What they mean is that times are lean and they don't have any extra business to throw the way of a small, black-owned firm.

Baszile laughs. He doesn't depend on anyone's generosity. He just wants a chance to quote prices, no special favors, and the prices he quotes are good and low, he says. ''We're very good at what we do.'' His robust confidence is winning. He says he has been fortunate, but he has the optimism of a man who would always be fortunate.

The hope in the black community here is that people like Baszile - a successful entrepreneur who cultivated his savvy in the mostly white world of big business - is a sign of what's to come.

The black community needs entrepreneurs. Since at least the time of Booker T. Washington, those trying to improve the lot of black America have tried to get to the heart of the issue by promoting black-owned businesses in black communities. Success, so far, has been limited.

But in spite of a hard-hitting recession and a conservative political climate which many blacks find threatening, a new chapter may be slowly opening. One black observer even calls it a ''second Reconstruction.'' It's a chapter where steadily more blacks are starting up and owning their own businesses, succeeding , and joining the American bourgeoisie. They are new soldiers, like Baszile, in the black struggle for an equal share of the nation's economy.

''If anybody can do it,'' Baszile says, ''the private sector can.''

Economic conservatism is not popular with blacks. They are more than half again as likely as whites to feel that government should help reduce differences in income, according to a recent National Urban League report. But the feeling seems to run stronger than ever among blacks that they must find their way into the economic mainstream on their own. ''Liberation,'' says Rev. Thomas Kilgore, ''must start with us, and we must be the principal characters in the drama.''

Dr. Kilgore is president of the Gathering, an influential group of black clergy in Los Angeles. He is also president of the Black Agenda, a new organization to improve the welfare of the local black community. ''No one can make us viable,'' he insists. ''We have to make ourselves viable.''

As one veteran black businessman concedes - wrestling with mixed emotions over Reaganomics and the loss of some government help to blacks: ''Some of the things we're losing, you could almost say we're better off losing in the long run.''

Baszile's rise to self-made success has been a social scientist's dream case. He learned the ropes of the business world in some major white corporations. Once a probation officer, he became the first black salesman at Hunt-Wesson Foods Inc. in the late 1960s and at Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation a few years later. In 1975 he started his own business, Baszile Metals Service. He is an aluminum distributor, largely for aircraft manufacturing.

It's a business that rides directly on the waves of the economy, so profits have suffered recently in the recession. But Baszile's share of the market has hung tight.

His explanation: ''We have some very good people here - many of whom come from disadvantaged neighborhoods.''