I recently attended the funeral of John Bustamante, a Harvard educated attorney, but most importantly an Ohio business pioneer. John’s business career was marked by many firsts for an African-American business person. He was a real estate developer, partnering with others to purchase the downtown Cleveland landmark, Diamond Shamrock building. He led a group of investors to create First Bank National, which eventually became the largest Black bank in Ohio. Later he became owner and publisher of the Call and Post Newspaper, Ohio’s largest Black publication.
His funeral was attended by numerous dignitaries and public officials. There were scores of proclamations, citations and testimonials given in his memory. His obituary read, “John demonstrated to us all how to win, lose, persevere and prevail….. John Bustamante will be remembered not only for what he taught others or how he lived, but also for what he left behind.”
A business pioneer
Mr. Bustamante’s accomplishments in the 1950s and beyond, were quite amazing given the racial climate for Black businesses during that era. However, his efforts were probably representative of Black business pioneers in other major industrial cities such as Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago.
I met John after he had retired and he was in the twilight of his life. I wish that I could have somehow read his obituary before he died. I would have sat at his feet and soaked up his wisdom. I would have asked him what motivated him and other business pioneers to take the “big swings” and business risks that they did. What were his secrets for success and what did he learn from his failures? How did he get others to follow him and invest in his visions? What big idea did he miss and how could he have done it better?
John’s career and life were not without controversy. Like most pioneers he took big risks and some succeeded and some failed. But most importantly, he “moved the needle” for Black business development within our community. His stature in the community influenced and encouraged others to succeed.
Building Black businesses
Black business pioneers like John Bustamante have blazed many trails for business development within our community. It is our challenge to expand those efforts so that our people can get on the road to economic independence. Some thoughts on steps we can take.
•Support Black businesses and professionals. Wherever and whenever possible we should spend our dollars within our community. Supporting our businesses creates jobs and wealth within the community.
•Invest in Black businesses. Consider investing in programs that support Black entrepreneurs. In Cleveland, organizations like JumpStart, Inc. encourage, educate and support minority entrepreneurs that have high growth business ideas.
•Support entrepreneurial education. Programs like E-City and the Entrepreneurial Academy in Northeast Ohio educate young people on what it takes to be an entrepreneur. They need mentors, business coaches and financial support.
•Honor Black business pioneers. Organizations in Cleveland like the Black Pages of Ohio, the President’s Council and the Christian Business League encourage and recognize Black business leaders. These organizations need your support.
John Bustamante’s pioneering work, life and service speak for themselves. Like John, we can all do our part to help “move the needle forward” for Black business development within our community.
(Michael G. Shinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)