Despite America’s painful past, our great nation is experiencing a modern era of small business proliferation that is emerging under a renewed birth of economic freedom in the Trump administration. In various federal agencies, contemporary leaders are paving the way for all people to fulfill their dreams regardless of race and ethnicity to include people of color. One government official is uniquely positioned to help business owners pursue the American Dream. Ashley D. Bell is a regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), appointed by the Trump administration on Feb. 21.
He advocates for nearly 7 million small businesses in the Southeast Region, spanning over eight states.
Bell was honored with the Drum Major for Justice Award from the Perry County Civic League (PCCL). The prestigious award was presented to Bell by PCCL president Albert Turner at the historic Marion Baptist Academy located in Marion, Alabama, earlier this month.
The award recognized Bell’s dedication to serving and strengthening urban and rural communities by providing financing and support to small businesses. In only one year in his position, he has successfully delivered SBA products and services to untapped areas through his Rural Strong Initiative, which has allowed the SBA to reach rural, often low-income neighborhoods across the Southeast that often include many minority-owned small businesses.
The Drum Major for Justice Award is an incredible honor that has been shared among many leaders that have helped to shape history. Past recipients of the distinguished award have been Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. (1966), Rev. Jesse Jackson (1988), Gov. Don Siegelman (1999), Coretta Scott King (2000), Sen. Bobby Singleton (2010), Dick Gregory (2011), and Luther Winn (2013) to name a few.
During Bell’s tenure as an SBA Regional Administrator, access to capital for African American small businesses has increased in metropolitan cities and in rural areas across the Southeast that often include many minority-owned enterprises.
“As regional administrator, I have made my focus on increasing access to capital, business counseling, and making government contracts accessible in remote areas through SBA’s Rural Strong initiative,” said Bell during his acceptance speech.
The impact of his leadership is evident in the results he achieved in the first year of his tenure. According to SBA’s Regional Communications Director Lola Kress, the number of SBA-backed lending to African Americans for the Southeast region is up 9%, and a 4% increase in dollar value of loans.
Additionally, SBA microloans that range from $500 to $50,000 with an average loan of $13,000, have soared. For microloans, a ~43% increase in the total number of loans granted to African Americans, which was a ~32% increase in dollar value of loans.
Bell’s commitment to empowering others and his tireless efforts to procure equality of opportunity are only matched by his self-awareness and humble heart that recognizes the sacrifices that were made by the elders that came before him.
“I accept this honor on behalf of our lost loved ones whose deaths have paved our path. I know without any uncertainty that I would not be here today without the sacrifices of those like brother Jimmie Lee Jackson who was killed organizing for voter rights here in Marion. And for the life and legacy of Marion’s favorite daughter Coretta Scott King,” he said during the ceremony.
In all, it is imperative for blacks to proactively participate in capitalism through entrepreneurship and business investment to close the wealth gap, spur job creation, and live the American Dream as promised by the greatest country in the world.
The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s and not necessarily the opinion of Black Enterprise.