Things were going well for Reuben Canada (right), a Point Breeze resident and African-American entrepreneur. His ginger, green-tea and cayenne-pepper beverage, Jin+Ja, is carried by Whole Foods and other stores around Philly. A Walmart buyer was hooked on the drink and interested in picking up the line. But, the buyer suggested, it would be even better if Canada would get his business formally certified as minority-owned. The buyer referred him to the Minority Supplier Development Council (MSDC), a certifying agency approved not only by Fortune 500 companies, but also by the City of Philadelphia. Canada submitted an application.
Then, he says, things got weird.
He says the regional business certification director told him in a phone call, “While reviewing your application, I saw your passport photo. Based on your passport photo, it is not obvious that you are of African descent, so we will need additional proof of your African descent.” She added, he claims, that the only acceptable form of proof would be a birth certificate of a parent that states their African lineage.
“I was blown away when I called for clarification on the ‘African descent’ request,” Canada says. “The director told me I didn’t look black enough and they needed more proof. I told her some black people my age have very little contact with their parent of ‘African descent’, and not by choice. She would [not] even accept a geneaology completed by Professor Henry Louis Gates that included the plantation where my ancestors were slaves. … My birth certificate has no indication of race.” He calls the whole experience “alienating and humiliating.”
Wade Coclough, president of the Minority Supplier Development Council of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, denies that a staffer would approve or deny an application based on a photo. He says all applicants must provide the same proof of ethnicity, usually with a driver’s license and birth certificate. He adds that Canada’s application is still under review. “It’s our job to adhere to the national policies.”
Angela Dowd-Burton, executive director of Philly’s Office of Economic Opportunity, says the city approved MSDC as a certifying agency in 2009 or 2010, but has “not evaluated the specific procedures they use.” She adds that this is the first such complaint she has heard. “It raises an interest in … the need for additional resources to determine race as a category.”
Should Philly's public gas company be in private hands?
Mayor Michael Nutter has announced a proposed agreement to privatize Philadelphia Gas Works. The...
Long Live the King of Jeans
“I always kind of wanted to live in a dream world where Duran Duran artwork comes to life, and...
Civic leader Claudia Sherrod sells property being used as an illegal dump, sues business partner.
Claudia Sherrod, head of the South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S., Inc. civic group, is fighting a legal...