Paying It Forward with Black Dollars

James Payne's effort to promote black-operated businesses

Published in 2006 Texas Super Lawyers Magazine — October 2006

James E. Payne knows he has benefited greatly from the efforts of African-American leaders who came before him and he wants to pay it forward — in black dollars. In January 2005, Payne, a 38-year-old senior partner with Provost & Umphrey in Beaumont, launched (and funded) the Buy 90 Campaign, a 90-day effort to promote black-operated businesses (BOBs) in his community.
 
“We have got to make inroads on the economic front. Without economic strength, every gain our foreparents made can be lost,” says Payne. He has spread the word — and the effort — by speaking to groups around the country about Buy 90 and its larger objective.
 
Payne says he managed Buy 90 like a grassroots political campaign, enlisting support first from church leaders, then reaching out to the business community. The concept identified and promoted five BOBs in metropolitan Southeast Texas for 90 days: a Conoco gas station, a restaurant, a bookstore, a car wash facility and a hair/beauty product supplier. A black dollar was posted on Payne’s Web site (aholeintheboat.com) for people to print out and carry with them as a reminder of the campaign.
 
The businesses were selected by community members based on their reputation and quality of service. “The idea is to support black-owned businesses if they’re high quality. If you’re coming to them only because they’re black, then you’ve missed the boat,” Payne says.
 
Payne projected that the five businesses would realize a gain of about 4 percent in the first quarter of 2005 compared to the same time period the year before. He was amazed when actual average growth in those first three months was 315 percent. One of the businesses, Ty’s Car Care, opened a second car wash facility as a result of the campaign’s success. And Payne says other BOBs in the community experienced significant growth during the same time period.
 
He has created a five-year plan for the Buy 90 campaign that sets the focus on education, political involvement and establishing financial backing.
 
Beaumont’s population is 50 percent white, 40 percent African-American and 10 percent other minorities, Payne says. Those who criticize the Buy 90 campaign for being divisive don’t understand it and often support it after he has explained its objective, he says.
 
“I’m not trying to cause division. If anything, I’m trying to bring our communities together,” Payne says. “I want people to appreciate what we have to offer and have the black community drive its own economic growth. We’re not looking for government support or any handouts. This is a conservative platform with a socially active base.”
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