Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship for Over 30 Years

In June, our community lost one of its most passionate advocates—Henry T. Wilfong, Jr., or Hank, to those who
knew him.  

Hank was a fighter. He was a bright light that, for right or wrong, never wavered in his commitment to the rights of every minority and woman business enterprise—the rights that would allow greater access and inclusion to participate in the building, rebuilding, prosperity, and sustainability of this country that he loved dearly.

What’s more, Hank knew how to fight. He was a veteran, an entrepreneur, a legislator, a policymaker, an agitator. He sometimes remarked that he wanted to be a man who “tried to help somebody.” To do that, he started the National Association of Small Disadvantaged Businesses some 20 years ago and proceeded to work on any and all subjects that would serve the interests of his members—the business people who were often overlooked and excluded. People responded to his style. At the time of his passing, he had a strong following and a reputation for fearlessness.

The recent Supreme Court rulings would have had Hank working overtime, producing his daily “issuances”—he produced 5,031 before he passed—and strategizing on his weekly phone meetings he called The Wilfong Hour. Many believe that the Fisher decision is only a temporary reprieve, and the Holder decision is only the beginning of the battle. (See Eye on Washington, page 28.) The opportunity exists now, in a way that it has not for fifty years, for opponents of civil rights to push back much needed protections in areas that have a demonstrable history of discrimination against and exclusion of women and minorities. This is no time to get complacent, it is time to fight. Our ability to advocate is directly tied to our ability to agitate, as Hank would say.

Also on the chopping block is Hank’s most recent project, the XpressWest high-speed rail project linkingLas VegastoSouthern California. Recently, the Department of Transportation announced that it was tabling the review of the loan application submitted in 2010. Hank viewed this project as a portal to increased minority construction capacity, one that would allow firms from across the country to cut their teeth on what would have been, and still might be, one of the nation’s first high speed rail infrastructure projects. In this project, supporters saw not only the future of transportation in the United States, but a major opportunity for minority- and women-owned firms to lay their own tracks to future success in major infrastructure projects.

It is safe to say that Hank will be remembered, as he would have liked it, as the man who tried, and succeeding, in helping many. For him, for the vision which was his life’s work, and for the full inclusion of small, disadvantaged businesses everywhere the struggle continues, until we succeed—and we shall.


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