by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
Two years ago, Lorenzo Brown, CEO of ReEnergyWorks, Inc., a company that specializes in renewable energy alternatives for businesses and homes, took the bold step of becoming an entrepreneur in the burgeoning “Green Movement,” with the vision of creating “green opportunities” for the community’s jobless and their families in the form of employment and business opportunities.
Two years later, that vision of providing jobs has faded due to the lack of contracting opportunities by–surprisingly–the very community Brown hoped to help…his own.
“Black consumers don’t trust Black contractors, Brown lamented in a recent interview. “If this continues, I’ll go out of business. We (Black contractors) need to do something to regain the trust of the community.
Brown recalled the time an area church promised him two jobs. “My bids were the lowest; but they gave the jobs to a White contractor and a Latino. I waited one year for those jobs based on word of the person I was dealing with at that church.”
In March, Brown had 10 roofing jobs promised to him. But out of those 10 only two materialized as actual work.
“It’s frustrating and discouraging as a Black contractor who has put a lot of time and training into what I’m doing only to have doors slammed in my face by other Black people.”
“People in our community would rather deal with Mexican or White contractors and pay the full amount, though I give my customers’ a deal (on the price of the work).
Brown did an informal survey of 100 people, some of whom were customers, asking them why they don’t deal with minority contractors. Brown said 95% of those who responded said they won’t deal with Black contractors and can’t be convinced to do so.
“A friend of mine called a contractor to do some work for him,” Brown recalled. “When my friend found out the contractor was Black, he backed out of giving that person the job.”
White contractors who are lax in their practices, Brown revealed, have no problem getting contracts. “We (Black contractors) give discounts and we still don’t get any work.”
Brown believes the number one reason for Black reluctance to do business with their own is trust; Black folks just don’t trust Black folks.
That trust, Brown says, has been eroded by unscrupulous Black contractors who take advantage of unwitting Black consumers; doing shoddy work for hundreds–and sometimes–thousands of dollars.
Another complaint is punctuality; being on time. “The people I’ve talked to complained they (Black contractors) were never on time–always late. When they did come, they didn’t finish the job on time and it was half-done.”
Brown admitted some Black contractors come to a job high on drugs or are frauds who prey on single women and the elderly. “You have contractors who aren’t even educated in their field, let alone licensed, bonded or have insurance”
There is also a fear of theft. Black people Brown questioned didn’t feel comfortable leaving their homes and belongings with another Black person–in this case a Black contractor.
Brown understands the negative feelings and frustrations of the community and believes he’s just as much a victim of the unscrupled contractors as consumers.
“I’ve talked to other licensed Black contractors who are going through the same thing of their own not hiring them. What do we need to do to move forward?
“For those of us who are legitimate, it’s hard,” Brown said. “We’re not begging or looking for handouts. We (Black and minority contractors) need to come together and help each other.”
Brown credited the Black chambers of commerce for their efforts in providing networking opportunities that can lead to contracts in the community.
He also credited the city and state for their efforts in providing work for him and other Black contractors.
But city and state work isn’t enough, said Brown, when their are opportunities in the community he and other Black contractors can’t get because of a “White ice gets cold” mindset.
“We just need an opportunity to prove we can do the work as well as anyone else.”
Despite his struggles, Brown’s business still manages to give back to the community that hasn’t been receptive to what he has to offer.
Though a non-profit 501-3C, ReEnergy Works takes 10% of its total profits and invests it back into the community.
“We’re striving to buy our own building for the business,” said Brown, who added the facility would be used to train individuals coming out of prison and provide them work.
“A lot of people will be coming out of prison who won’t be able to find jobs. I’m willing to provide jobs to them.”
If Brown’s dream comes to fruition, those former prison inmates would be trained in HVAC (heating and air conditioning), electrical, weatherization, roofing, home improvement and demolition.
“We’re a growing company,” said Brown, who added that despite his woes says business is okay. “But we can’t keep growing if we dont’ get hired to do the work.”