Prophets Without Honor

The self-proclaimed ministers of capitalism have gotten a cool reception to their gospel in Dallas. But Chevis King Jr. and Joe Howard won't give up till they've found a better way to spend black people's money.

Howard says it's even more basic than that. "I wouldn't tolerate a blow-out from Chevis, and he wouldn't from me," he says. "Hell, we're too old."

Rather transparently, Howard appears glad for the opportunity to branch out on his own. His son describes him as a wildcatter: a man who can divine an opportunity, strike at it, and move on. "He can see oil in Fort Worth," Blaine says. "Hopefully, he'll hit a gusher."

The paper itself is a tabloid-size tome, looking a bit crude graphically, like a high-school paper. Its main staples are breezily written articles championing black-owned businesses and columns by black conservatives, entrepreneurs, and Libertarians. It scores some of its impact with provocative, even taunting headlines.

"Are Black Retailers Wimps or What?" screams one such message in bold red letters in an October issue. The story, penned by Blaine Jon Howard, decried the lack of black investors willing to open shops on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Dallas.

Another story, about a large black church group losing a HUD contract, takes the church folks to task for thinking they were owed the contract merely because they were black, and their church was in the neighborhood. "It is no longer a game of popularity," the paper declared. "The game is economics."

The paper's path to capitalist heaven is the Beacon Economic Plan; King designed it nearly a decade ago, while watching his manufacturing business crumble. Through a chart pegged to an individual's weekly income, the plan tells people how much money to spend with black-owned businesses each week in order to spark an economic renaissance. Different columns extrapolate the impact of those dollars on black businesses--in the form of expansions, start-ups, and new hires. For example, if a person making $193 to $288 a week would spend $39 of it with black-owned businesses, that individual would channel $2,028 a year into the black community--and that's not even taking into account the multiplier effect. King's plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth area foresees a potential for $360 million in economic development and 5,700 new jobs.

King says his plan is as old as America, and has been practiced by every immigrant group that's come here: The Irish, Italians, Jews, Koreans, and Chinese all used a similar plan of economic reinvestment to improve their lot and status. It's the only kind of affirmative action, he adds, that works: black people selling things to black people.

"Trading transcends every language, color, religion," King says. "Right now we've got Jews trading with Arabs, blacks trading with whites, whites trading with Mexicans. What we don't have are blacks trading with blacks. We are propping up everyone else."

"We are a powerless people right now because we are consumers only in the largest capitalist country on the planet," Howard adds. "That is why we are marginalized."

Despite its simplicity, the Beacon Plan hasn't been embraced by black Dallas. When the paper's first issue came out in June of 1992, it was met with silence. Although Howard and King fielded a few calls of praise, the good intentions didn't immediately translate into advertising.

The duo explain away this lack of interest as part of a greater conspiracy to silence them. They say they knew they'd get some negative reactions in the beginning, but didn't realize the extent of it. They blame the poor response on Dallas' "anointed" black leadership.

"We were relying on black leaders to see the potential of capitalism--that free enterprise would enrich them," Howard says. "We were counting on black preachers to realize how this would benefit them. We were hoping that once we exchanged ideas, the talking heads would say, 'Gosh, this could work.' But we are being led by men who have never understood how America really works."

Critics say, however, that it's King and Howard who don't understand how the market works. Thurman Jones owns Minority Opportunity News, a monthly paper that deals primarily with black issues. Jones, who publishes the professionally produced, generally well-written paper, says there isn't anything so special about King's and Howard's message that would garner them such conspiratorial ire.

"The truth is, a lot of papers already here are marginal, and they barely have any editorial bite," he says. "What makes them so special?"

But King and Howard clearly enjoy their role as persecuted outsiders. The failure of their paper to take off as quickly as they had predicted becomes evidence of the truth of their mission. Their forced asceticism becomes an emblem of faith.

"Our persecution is real," King contends. "It makes our job more difficult. But that's what happened to a lot of folks who were trailblazers. It happened to Colonel Sanders. It happened to George Washington Carver. We look at the numbers and the potential out there. It will happen to us."

Howard and King lay the blame for the black community's dire state on its traditional leaders, a group they call the unholy trinity: politicians, preachers, and political activists.

These leaders have led people down a socialist path, stressing reliance on the government, white guilt, and upward mobility as a way out of poverty, Howard says. The debate, they say, has been one-sided, spawning its own rhetoric of promises and deferred dreams.

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