Media businessman Carl West, publisher of Truth Be Told News Service, was recently named Chairman of the Board of the esteemed Black United Fund of Illinois (BUFI).
N’DIGO chatted with Carl recently about BUFI’s direction moving forward and about his other interests.
N’DIGO: Let’s start at the beginning…tell us about your background, please.
Carl West: I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and raised in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood after my parents moved to the North when I was nearly two years old. I attended Burnside Elementary, CVS High School, (where my picture is on the “Wall of Fame” when you enter the front door), Robert Morris College and National-Louis University. I received a few low-level degrees.
I worked at Time/Life Magazine in my late teens, early twenties, while attending school. I also worked at the Chicago Board of Trade up until resigning to start my business MIDWEST GAP Enterprise in 1998. Working at the Board of Trade was transformational. It changed my life in multiple ways. It was first a culture shock. Then, as I studied the market and mainly how white people did generational business to continue building generational wealth, it stirred my desire to be in business.
How and why did you get into media and publishing?
I always loved the media business. I enjoyed the art of communication. I knew that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of either Robert Johnson of BET or John H. Johnson, who founded Ebony and Jet.
Once I got the nerve to go into business, it was the media and publishing industry that drove my passion. The print game was much cheaper to invest in, so I chose magazines and newspapers to stake my claim. I truly love creating and distributing content for consumption. I also like being able to make money doing what I absolutely consider to be my passion purpose. It makes life easier.
Talk about TBT.
TRUTH B TOLD News Service – TBT – was the initial name of my first digital media platform. I soon transposed the name to TBTNews. It has been such a labor of love for me to establish a brand that has grown tremendously into five other digital media entities:
Public Eye (a political platform); The Property (a real estate platform); Spotlite (a sports, entertainment, and fashion platform); www.tbtnewsservice.com (an e-commerce web portal); and soon to launch is The Advocate (a legal platform) profiling lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals.
TBTNews is my version of a business periodical combined with a lifestyle publication profiling the best and brightest. Since presenting TBTNews over nine years ago, it has been one of the most rewarding adventures that has brought me so much excitement.
I spend my entire days thinking deeply about how to bring relevant news and information to my tens of thousands of subscribers. Content is King! And I love conceiving meaningful content to educate and inspire readers to think big and to always know that wealth- and community-building are possible and we should always pursue excellence and greatness!
Give us a brief history of the Black United Fund of Illinois, its goals and its accomplishments, please.
In 1985, the Black United Fund of Illinois became the 16th independent affiliate of the National Black United Fund. BUFI has continued to develop the idea of charitable fundraising in African-American communities; it’s an old and honorable tradition dating back to the Prince Hall Masons.
BUFI’s purpose is to provide philanthropic support to projects and programs that address their efforts to the critical needs of African-American communities. Among these needs are the effects of federal, state, and local budget cuts in Chicago and across the state.
These cuts have devastated many communities, turning them into economic and social disaster areas, and African-American communities are often the hardest hit. BUFI was founded by the iconic Henry English to help alleviate some of those ills that plagued Black hoods.
Explain how BUFI works. Where does the money come from, where does it go, and how? Through what mechanism?
BUFI is identical to a global brand like United Way. Money is generated through payroll deductions, and grants from various organizations and corporations also assist in BUFI’s operating mission. BUFI is the largest provider of Safe Passage workers. BUFI has a partnership/grant with Upward Bound.
One of BUFI’s main components is acting as fiscal agents to a host of smaller not-for-profit organizations and agencies. There are fee structures attached to being a fiscal agent. And of course, when you operate a major entity like BUFI, there are payrolls that must be met.
BUFI has an incredible staff that works super hard to fulfill the mission of the organization that Mr. English founded. Most of the staff has been around for decades. They were handpicked by Henry and they’ve proven to be loyal and committed team members.
In the almost 50 years since the Black United Fund movement started across the nation, how has the climate changed or remained the same in terms of people from the community giving to support Black United Fund causes?
BUFI has never wavered on its mission. And like any long-standing organization or major corporation, changes occur every two generations, and BUFI has seen these changes affect their output. But what helps with maintaining, as BUFI has done, is strong leadership from the board of directors and in BUFI’s case, its founder.
I can’t stress enough about Henry English’s dynamic leadership. When I met him 10 years prior to his death, that’s the first thing that struck me – his ability to think logically and always having a game plan for the future of BUFI. We talked often and he was a gentle giant who was fierce in his operational structure and knew every aspect of what mechanisms kept BUFI moving forward.
How were you involved with BUFI before being appointed chairman?
I was elected to sit on the board three years ago. It was something that Henry stressed. He wanted new and fresh blood with innovative ideas to move BUFI into the next phase of programming. And it has been my complete pleasure to share a space which Mr. English created for progress.
I was elected Chairman of the Board three weeks ago. It only occurred after the untimely death of one of my mentors who happened to be the board chair, Mr. Greg Hinton. He was also such a strong leader and the work that he had put forth for the board and staff to execute was masterful. He was committed and was also appreciative of the opportunity to lead BUFI’s board.
First Henry English passed; then Greg Hinton as well, so unexpectedly. What was the process that BUFI went through to move on from those losses and re-organize?
Fortunately, BUFI has other leaders, like Dr. Conrad Worrill and Dr. Robert Starks, who are founding board members. They worked around the clock with other crucial members of the board to keep the team together during those most difficult scenarios that you mentioned.
Again, the staff has never missed a beat. They were trained well by Mr. English and they were very fond of Hinton. These dedicated people can never be replaced, in my mind. Also, the board selected Carolyn Day to take over the day-to-day wheel as the executive director, and she has been nothing short of extraordinary.
How did you come to be named chairman, and why did you want to be?
After Hinton’s death, the executive board met and decided to nominate me at the next board meeting. I didn’t even know. In the next board meeting, I was about to nominate someone else whom I considered to be worthy of leading the board. I was immediately stopped in my tracks and told to shut up! LOL! In other words, I never asked for the chairmanship, but when they let the cat out the bag, I was honored. So here I am, Chairman of the Board.
How does being BUFI chairman impact your role as publisher of Truth Be Told news/website? Can they be symbiotic positions?
It was actually one of my first requests even before accepting the nomination. I didn’t want anything to disrupt my growing media operation. And equally, I didn’t want anything to prevent me from being the man who could lead BUFI’s board. I’m a very disciplined dude; I immediately programmed my mind to make both brands separate, but yet equally important.
Now that the new leadership structure is intact, where does BUFI go from here? What are the organization’s top priorities?
The leadership, starting with the executive director, was already moving in the right direction. Once again, the staff is awesome. They keep BUFI moving. Also, the current board oversees every direction BUFI takes.
My role as chairman will be to recruit three to five new innovative and progressive board members who can grow with me as some of our older members look to take a break from their committed loyalty. I have some new programs to execute, as well as to ensure that a few of Mr. Hinton’s objectives get produced. I have my hands full. But I’m built for this particular journey.
Will BUFI’s Living Legacy/Passing The Torch annual ceremony be continued?
Some version of it will be presented later this year. Totally modified, though, in terms of the scope of its production. I will keep you posted on that program and others, that again, will be presented under my leadership as board chair.
What are the ways that people in Illinois can give to help BUFI?
Go to the website (www.buﬁ.org) and see what connection each individual can contribute, because people bring different skill sets as well as different ideas. Also, everyone has different levels of contributions that they make through their willing donations. Mainly, just be excited to see BUFI expand and continue to build itself to serve the next generation of leaders in the state of Illinois.
What is the state of Black Chicago to you? There don’t seem to be many employment or business opportunities for the Black community. Do you agree or disagree with that and what’s your outlook for the future?
Black Chicago is in good shape. I have absolute trust in my people. I walk the streets and I see all of the amazing things Black folks are doing through entrepreneurship and through social enterprises.
There are newly elected political officials who are working to ensure that our generation benefits from opportunities. This is our time and we must demand that others within our community recognize our desire to carve out our niche in Chicago and the state.
Regardless of who the mayor or governor is, we will shine brightly. We are talented, smart and eager to control our own destinies – and no one will be able to stop our movement for wealth- and community-building for generations to come.
Talk a little about your personal life and some of your favorite spots in Chicago where you can be found hanging out.
As much as people see me roaming the streets from uptown to downtown and from the West Side to the South Side, I truly enjoy being at home lounging out, watching old black and white movies from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.
Reading is my favorite past time. I read everything. It’s part of my research. Nothing excites me more than reading autobiographies. I love to know where people started and where they finally ended their personal or professional journey.
Since my daughter has her own people now that she’s 18 years old, I can’t rely on hanging with her at the movies, which was one our my favorite spots to hang. We would sit in the movies all weekend when she came to visit. I miss that! And now that winter is approaching, I can’t ride my bicycle anymore, nor roll around the Chi on my scooter!