Robert J. Brown Worked With Both MLK and Nixon. Here’s What He Says Went on Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement

Robert J. Brown Worked With Both MLK and Nixon. Here’s What He Says Went on Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement

July 30, 2020

Thu, 07/30/2020 – 12:02

The civil rights power broker talks about his new memoir and working with Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon.

In your new book, You Can’t Go Wrong Doing Right, you describe being a liaison between business and the civil rights movement in the ’60s. How did you persuade executives to come to the table?

No businesses can be successful in the kind of environment where people are burning down places. Everybody is a potential customer, and it’s all about the money.

You then went to work in the Nixon White House. What do people get wrong about him?

All they have to do is look at Nixon’s record in terms of civil rights. When we took over the White House, there were two black [generals or admirals]. We changed that. I would review the Pentagon’s list of people nominated to be promoted to generals. If I didn’t see black people, I’d send it back.

Did Watergate change your feelings on Nixon? You were accused of being a key figure in drafting an “enemies list” of his foes.

It didn’t change too much. He made some mistakes and errors, and I know he paid for it.

You describe your work with his Office of Minority Business Enterprise as some of your proudest. How do you think that work has held up?

It revolutionized how society thought about minority enterprise, but some people don’t think that’s important. Regional offices that we opened to make sure minorities and women got a chance to get government contracts were closed under President Obama.

How do you think American race relations changed in general during Obama’s presidency?

I thought he was a good President and a good, decent man, but I didn’t see any great movement under him. I don’t think race relations got any worse. It’s getting worse now. Some race-relations problems are more severe than they were 40 or 50 years ago.

The police are so often at the center of those conflicts. How do feel about that, given that your first job was as a cop?

I’m very disturbed, and somewhat surprised but not totally. I was a cop in the ’50s. Those were difficult days. It’s getting more attention now–before, it was your word against the policeman’s; now people show what really happens [by capturing it on] their phones.

As someone who brought a PR perspective to civil rights, what do you think of protests against police brutality like those led by Colin Kaepernick?

He has a right to do that peacefully. This is America. I would’ve sought another way to do that, maybe to organize a series of meetings. I don’t want to be protesting against my country.

Do you think it’s easier or harder to start a movement now than it was in the ’60s?

Nobody is stepping up to the plate. I haven’t seen the churches organize a race-relations conference. Online is ridiculous. How’re you going to get people emotionally involved online? It ain’t going to happen. People need to meet people in the flesh and blood.

As Martin Luther King Day comes around, are there any memories of him that you return to?

He was one of my closest friends. During some meeting with the Rev. King and Ralph Abernathy, I looked down at their socks. One of Martin’s socks had a hole in it. I said, “Ralph, look at Martin’s foot down there, he’s got a hole in his socks.” Ralph lifted up his leg; he had a hole in his. We got the biggest laugh. A couple weeks later, I went back with dozens of black and dark blue socks and gave a pair to each one of them, and then they started giving away the socks to Andrew Young and [now Congressman] John Lewis. Now whenever I see him he pulls up his pant leg and shows me he’s got socks.

This appears in the January 28, 2019 issue of TIME.



The 2% Solution: Inside Billionaire Robert Smith’s Bold Plan To Funnel Billions To America’s Black-Owned Businesses

The 2% Solution: Inside Billionaire Robert Smith’s Bold Plan To Funnel Billions To America’s Black-Owned Businesses

June 24, 2020

Wed, 06/24/2020 – 13:41

Robert F. Smith, the private equity billionaire who is the nation’s richest Black person, said on Thursday that large corporations should use 2% of their annual net income for the next decade to empower minority communities. Smith made the comments after circulating a plan among CEOs that first calls on big banks to capitalize the financial institutions that service Black-owned businesses and minority-run entrepreneurial ventures. 

In a keynote address he gave at the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy, Smith, 57, said Black and minority communities have been abandoned by large banks and are starved of the capital needed to build businesses and local institutions. Smith argued that pumping in what he described as “reparative” capital and investing directly in financial architecture would be a fast way to advance economic justice for Black Americans.

“Nowhere is structural racism more apparent than in corporate America,” Smith said. “If you think about structural racism and access to capital, 70% of African American communities don’t even have a branch, bank of any type.”

In recent days, Smith, whose net worth is estimated to be $5 billion, has been sharing a concrete plan with the nation’s business leaders that argues that an investment equal to 2% of net income over the next decade would be a small step toward restoring equity and mobility in America. He has implied that America’s big corporations should feel compelled to support such a plan given the exclusionary practices of many industries over several decades. Smith made the case that the average American household charitably donates 2% of its income annually and is asking corporate America to do the same.

During the pandemic, Smith discovered the structural racism in banking firsthand as he tried to help Black businesses and banks that serve Black communities obtain Paycheck Protection Program loans. Smith found that Black-owned businesses faced numerous structural obstacles and as a result had trouble accessing the emergency financing being provided by the federal government through the banking sector.

The balance sheets of the nation’s 4,700 banks are made up of $20.3 trillion of assets, but only 21 of those banks are Black-owned or led, and they have total assets of just $5 billion, less than 1% of America’s commercial banking assets. Blacks make up 13% of the population of the United States.

In his talk on Thursday, Smith pointed out that the net income of the ten largest U.S. banks over the last ten years was $968 billion. He figured just 2% of that would amount to $19.4 billion, which could be used to fund the core Tier 1 capital of community development banks and minority depository institutions that primarily service Black communities. Smith was also open to the idea that the capital could be donated in a tax-advantaged way to a nonprofit entity that could provide the core bank capital.

In a way, Smith is proposing a private sector solution to reparations, the idea that the federal government pay financial compensation to Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves. Smith believes Black communities have experienced systemic inequality and exclusion in corporate sectors beyond finance, including healthcare, telecommunications and technology. The net income of the biggest U.S. companies in just those sectors was $1.3 trillion combined over the last decade and 2% of those profits, or some $25 billion, could be used to do things like strengthen healthcare infrastructure in minority communities, equalize broadband access, fund STEM education at historically Black colleges and digitize minority small businesses.

Through his plan, Smith envisions the nation’s banking sector could, over the next ten years, provide billions of dollars of capital to Black-owned banks and community development banks, with some of the funds used to digitize these lenders. His plan calls for the telecom and tech sectors to provide money to help prepare 180,000 students at America’s historically Black colleges for the jobs of the future, and to digitize one million minority small businesses.

Smith, who has an engineering degree from Cornell University, is the founder of Vista Equity Partners, the nation’s biggest private equity firm specializing in software transactions. Part of Vista’s stunning success has been built on Smith’s detailed and secret playbook for running software companies, which has helped Vista achieve some of the private equity industry’s best financial returns.

Now, Smith believes his playbook for economic justice could not only ensure Black Americans have better access to opportunity, but also increase the nation’s economic activity by more than $1 trillion annually.

“I think that will show Americans there is hope, there is an opportunity for the American dream to now be revitalized,” Smith said on Thursday. “And frankly, to give us all confidence that we can actually make this a better country and a better place to live.”


Minority-owned firms seeking to penetrate new markets — domestic & global — and growing in size and scale, can access business experts at a MBDA Business Center. Whether it’s securing capital, competing for a contract, identifying a strategic partner or becoming export-ready, your success is our priority. The Centers are located in areas with the largest concentration of minority populations and the largest number of minority businesses. Click here to find a MBDA Business Center or Specialty Center near you.



Let’s keep it going . . . and growing! Enterprising Women of Color Virtual Series

Let’s keep it going . . . and growing! Enterprising Women of Color Virtual Series

May 26, 2020

Tue, 05/26/2020 – 11:06

The Formula for a Winning Comeback
Reflections from Weeks 1 and 2


MBDA recently launched the Enterprising Women of Color Forum: The Virtual Series – a 4-week webinar series designed to promote resources and opportunities for women of color entrepreneurs. The virtual series is off to a great start with a community of women entrepreneurs tuned in each week to share ideas, new perspectives, and their formulas for being growth-ready despite difficult times. 


Who’s in the Room . . .

Thanks to our event co-partners, the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and The Coca-Cola Company, expert speakers, and a wealth of resources, the events have been more than a success but a magnetic lifeline for the more than 1,600 attendees.

The unique diversity of the audience has ranged from infant stage entrepreneurs to multi-million-dollar firms. All have been met with a collective of powerhouse presenters ranging from experts in the financial industry to a founder and pivotal change agent in the beauty industry.


Building the Formula . . .

The inaugural event to the virtual series, Get Money: The Comeback Edition focused on one of the key hurdles WMBEs face today. The session featured four financial and capital industry executives providing real-time resources on how to get the capital needed to move to the next phase of growth. The discussion included engaging dialogue, witty insights, and a host of tips to ensure attendees were focused on solutions to conquer their challenges!


The second installment, a Fireside Chat with the Founder of Carol’s Daughter Lisa Price, provided a looking glass for all the entrepreneurs working in their passion.   The discussion was bubbling with affirmations and wisdom that helped sustain Lisa Price’s more than 25-year growth and domination of the beauty industry. Lisa shared how she was able to manage the challenges of being a boss, wife, mother, and daughter all while keeping her “hobby”, turned multimillion-dollar company, a household name. Her story was a “getting it done” inspiration!


The WOW moment . . .

MBDA and NMSDC partnered to bring enterprising women together to provide greater access to information but what was witnessed exceeded expectations.  We saw first-hand what happens when visionaries and leaders get together . . . they create their own pathways to success!  Following the first installation of the virtual series, attendees created a “fan-generated” social media group on Facebook to continue the conversation, network, and share best practices.  This is the manifestation of the vision for MBDA’s Enterprising Women of Color Initiative.  We are honored to be a bridge to connect women entrepreneurs to a community of wealth-building resources.


Don’t miss a moment! Register NOW for the virtual series.  Subscribe to the EWOC mailing list at and follow us on Twitter and Facebook @ USMBDA. 

Now is the time to INVEST IN YOU.  Let’s dream bigger.  Let’s achieve more. Together.