Special to South Florida Times

With the job situation continuing to be less than impressive, economists are nervous about a double dip recession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in October that the national jobless rate stayed at 9.6 percent for the past three months. The numbers are much worse for the black and other minority communities.

For African Americans, the reported jobless rate is 15.7 percent.  Hispanics are in the double digits, too, at 12.6 percent. For whites, it stands at 8.8 percent.

New hires are few and long-time workers are losing jobs that have n ow been eliminated. Some of them have returned to school for more training or retraining and some are moving into self-employment or taking on freelance or independent contractor roles.

For Florida, the situation is even more grim, with an unemployment rate of 11.9 percent.

For an increasing number of people, networking may be one way of making contact with prospective employers, who get hundreds of resumes for each vacancy.  It may even be better than job fairs.

But how much scope exists in the South Florida area for networking among African Americans is open to question.

Some young black professionals say there is no comparison with cities such as Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“There’s a sense of community there,” said Fabiola Fleuranvil, social chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professional Network (YPN).

Historically Black Colleges and Universities, she said, have traditionally been the “cultivator” of black professionals and there are many more in those cities than in the South Florida area, which has only one, Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.

But, for Fleuranvil, there is also a downside.

“Even though Atlanta has a lot of pluses, Atlanta is over-saturated,” said Fleuranvil, a North Miami native who attended Tallahassee-based Florida A&M University, another historically black school in the state, and Clark Atlanta University.

"That’s something people have to consider, especially African Americans, when looking at Atlanta as the black mecca.”

Kimberly Bankhead agrees that over-saturation may hinder networking opportunities in a city but she sees a positive side to it.

Originally from Chicago, she is vice president of operations for the South Florida chapter of the National Black MBA Association.

“Chicago has more things to go to but you attend events and begin to see familiar faces. The more you network with the same people, the more chances you have to build long-term relationships,” she says.

Bankhead, who is also a member of the Urban League and the Broward YPN chapters, came to the area two years ago. The YPN chapters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties seek to connect with black professionals aged 21-40. 

“When I first got here, I noticed organizations weren’t necessarily partnering with each other,” she said. “That has changed.”

State Rep. Dwight Bullard shares that view, saying local organizations are not only more active but they are also courting the younger black professional.

“Ten years ago, you knew of the Urban League but now you have a resurgence with Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce and their YPN chapter, as well as  the YPN in Broward,” said Bullard. “You also have various HBCU alumni associations, Social Esquire,  Millennium  Movers and  Hundred Black Men all making an effort to include the Under-40 crowd in their events.” 

State Rep. Oscar Braynon II also disagrees that there are not many networking opportunities locally.

“Yes, South Florida isn’t like Atlanta, D.C., Chicago or other metro cities that have a lot of networking events geared towards black professionals. But I think if you try you can meet as many people as you want to down here,” he said.

Braynon points to a correlation between where people work and where they live with regard to networking.

“We don’t have loads of black people that live and work downtown, like other cities,” he said. “Most people are working in the downtown areas but go home to Pembroke [Pines], Miramar, and North-Dade.”

Other metro areas embrace the Happy Hour, when people are still in the work mode but a little more relaxed and open to exchange information with new people,” he said.
People are starting to move closer to downtown areas of Miami-Dade and Broward counties and “black people need to participate in that,” Braynon said.

Bankhead says those who seek only the events geared towards black professional may be limiting themselves. They should, instead, attend general meetings of a few organizations. If money is tight, when choosing memberships they should first pick the organizations that best suit their professions.

Some Places to Look For Networking Events

National Black MBA Association, Inc., South Florida Chapter – www.nbmbaasfl.org/index.htm

Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce – m-dcc.org

Young Professional Network (Miami) – ypnmiami.com

The Urban League – ulbroward.org

Young Professional Network (Broward) – ulbroward.org/YPN_HomePage

100 Black Men of South Florida, Inc. – www.100blackmensf.org