HONORING OUR FOUNDERS
Kay DeBow Alford & Harry C. Alford, Jr.
Kay and Harry did absolutely everything together. They were inseparable in family and business. There are many references to their life together and their dedication in serving the Black business community. Here we linked some of the best references to their lives to offer some indication of the impact they have had on the people they met and the organization they founded together, as the perfect endeavor!
It was in the city of Detroit where Kay and Harry met. Who would have guessed it? A fun loving and “wild” man from Southern California versus a nice and sweet, pretty girl from the “Heartland” of Indiana. But it happened and the love has been going strong for over 40 years.
Harry had the reputation of being a girl chaser and would work a rotation of five or six women during any designated period. He had two divorces on his resume and an enormous “team” of broken hearts in between. He was a popular guy on the Detroit nightlife scene, while Kay was new to the city working her first corporate job as a sales representative with Colgate Palmolive. Harry acquired his sales skills while with Procter & Gamble, prior to working with the Johnson & Johnson sales division.
One sunny afternoon Harry was traveling through the Detroit Metropolitan Airport with his local sales force on their way to a conference in Dallas. He ran into a friend who suggested he come over to his table where he and his team were having lunch.
Knowing my reputation for chasing the prettiest of ladies he said, “Harry, I want you to meet my new sales rep. I believe you are going to like her.”
There she was, sitting quietly, with that gorgeous smile and rookie demeanor. When I laid my eyes on Kay DeBow, “lightning” struck. She was on her way to a conference in New York City so we exchanged business cards and committed to spending some quality time together upon our return to the Motor City.
I told one of my sales reps that if I ever meet that foxy lady again, I would end up marrying her. He laughed but I meant every word of it from the bottom of my heart. I appreciated it all, her smile, honey colored skin, shapely legs that resembled Wille Mays’ baseball bat, and with hips and a bust line to match. I said to myself if it is meant to happen then Lord, please make it soon.
Two months later we ran into each other in a Farmer Jack’s supermarket. I immediately put this rap on her: This is a tough city with a very rough business environment. However, I sort of run this place. Ask around about me. In fact, I would make a great mentor for a young rookie such as yourself. If ever you want to probe my mind and pick up some good training “tips” please call my voicemail.
It did not take long! In 20 minutes, I had a message from Kay saying she wanted to start the “training.” The next day we had our first breakfast date which later turned into a lunch and then into an after-hours bar date. The next day I drove her through rural Ontario replete with a cabin restaurant. That evening we reserved accommodations at a fancy hotel and began our super-duper love affair.
Three weeks later we had moved in together and so, the beginning of this 40-year love affair began on its fantastic “voyage.” If you have watched the sitcom “Martin,” notice at the beginning of each show they have a picture of a hotel. That is the “Parkstone” in the English Village neighborhood of the Eastside of Detroit. That is where we first lived. Truly, it was beautiful times.
For our first vacation, I wanted to make it something that would be most memorable. We came up with a trip to Las Vegas and a stay at the MGM Grand Hotel. That visit would become instrumental in showing our love and devotion for each other. Yes, it was that hotel that had one of the largest fire disasters in history and killed 84 people.
I remember it like it was yesterday, that Friday morning when we heard a screaming guest running down the hall shouting, “We are all going to die! You must run for your lives!”
Then we heard a bunch of fire engines surrounding the grounds. I looked out the window and saw a bunch of firemen running. I opened the window and asked what is going on? They said just go back to your room and we are going to put out a fire. “Put out a fire” – quite an understatement.
I casually went to the restroom to brush my teeth and start our day. Immediately, I noticed black smoke billowing from the local vent and it hit me then, THIS IS BIG! It was time for my Army skills to kick in.
I told Kay to get dressed and be prepared to leave when I returned. I ran down the hallway and saw that all the elevators were shut off and people were bumping into each other as they hurried to exit somehow.
The stairwells were filling up with smoke like a chimney. I made the decision and said to Kay, “We are going out the window.” She replied, “We are on the fifth floor!” I said yes, but calmly reminded her, “there is a rose garden below, with grass and soft dirt. We go or else we will die.”
I tried to convince the people around us to do the same. They refused. When the legal depositions started coming out we found that those who refused to jump out our window, as we had, all died of smoke inhalation.
We jumped, but it came at a cost. I broke my ankle and five toes. Kay did much worse. She broke two bones in her vertebrae and an ankle. Thanks to that soft grass.
Kay’s rehabilitation took a year and a half including two major surgeries. I worked through my injuries. My bosses allowed me to work from the home and nurse Kay in the process. The bonding we went through sealed our love forever. Five years later my remarkable lady delivered twin boys and this family hasn’t looked back since.
Kay DeBow Alford, co-founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, died on Monday, July 19, 2021.
Highly focused, efficient and determined, she was the linchpin of the chamber, other chamber leaders said.
Kay, as she was affectionately known, was named Kayanne when she was born on Dec. 12, 1957, to Charles DeBow Jr. and Aurelia Jane Stuart in Indianapolis. She came from a family of educators and entrepreneurs.
Alford’s father was one of the first four Tuskegee Airmen, serving in World War II. Her maternal family owned several successful businesses in the greater Indianapolis area.
A graduate of Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, she received her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. She began her professional career at Colgate-Palmolive in Detroit, where she met husband-to-be Harry Cicero Alford Jr. They were married in 1980 and had twins, Harry III and Thomas, who became successful sportsmen and businessmen.
The Alfords made their home in Indianapolis. She pursued government work and became the director of marketing for the Hoosier State Lottery in Indiana.
The couple also became entrepreneurs, owning several video stores and private ventures.
Through their business experiences, the couple realized there was a need for a national connection.
They founded the National Black Chamber of Commerce on May 23, 1993, and moved to Washington, D.C., the next year.
They had begun locally to fill the void of a Black business organization by founding the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce in Indianapolis, which evolved into the NBCC.
The NBCC was crafted from the empowerment principles of Booker T. Washington, the business acumen of Congressman Parren Mitchell, and the father of affirmative action, Arthur Fletcher.
The organization formed chapters throughout the United States and expanded its reach to France, Mexico, England, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Kenya and Ghana.
Kay Alford singlehandedly organized and produced the national and international conventions and conferences.
She helped guide the NBCC, assuring its participation in business discussions on Capitol Hill and interaction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Kay was the backbone of the National Black Chamber, the mother and driving force behind the great accomplishments of the NBCC. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her and who benefitted from her tireless drive to make the nation better for all Black business owners,” said Larry Ivory, chairman of the NBCC and president/CEO of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce.
“We will continue her legacy to fight for the improvement of African-American communities throughout the Black diaspora.”
John E. Harmon Sr., founder, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, said Alford’s “words, although spoken softly, were at times, penetrating, yet nurturing and impactful.”
“Her commitment to attaining the best for Blacks was the cornerstone of her advocacy. I am grateful for the moments we shared together and her investment in my development as a Chamber executive which has led to huge dividends for many and will never be forgotten.”
“The business community lost one of its champions with the passing of Kay DeBow Alford,” said Dorothy R. Leavell, who served as a board member and chairman of the NBCC board. “She was the power behind the scenes of the many accomplishments of the NBCC.”
Other survivors included her grandchildren, Tatum and Archer; brothers Charles Henry DeBow III and William Weir DeBow; sister Natalie Jane; nephew Jonathon C. DeBow; and other nieces and nephews.
Services will be in Shreveport, Louisiana, overseen by the Winnfield Funeral Home of Shreveport.
On August 14th, 2021, we buried our beautiful mother, Kayanne “Kay” DeBow Alford, 63. She was the most entrepreneurial, caring, strong, selfless person who always put us, her twin sons, first. Who we are today and the industry we work in are all due to her.
Kay, as she was affectionately known, was named Kayanne DeBow at birth on December 12, 1957, to the parents of Charles DeBow Jr. and Aurelia Jane Stuart in Indianapolis, Indiana. She seemed to be born for business leadership, coming from a family that was known as educators and entrepreneurs.
Mom’s father, Charles DeBow Jr., served in World War II as one of the first four Tuskegee Airmen. Her maternal family was the Stuarts, who owned several successful businesses in the greater Indianapolis area.
A graduate of Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, she received her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. She began her professional career at Colgate-Palmolive in Detroit, Michigan. It was in Detroit on June 8, 1980; mom met husband-to-be Harry Cicero Alford Jr. After a short courtship, mom and dad were married on October 31, 1980.
The Alfords made their home in Indianapolis. Mom pursued government work, and at the height of that work, she became the Director of Marketing for the Hoosier State Lottery in Indiana. Our parents also became entrepreneurs owning several video stores and private ventures.
They had begun locally to fill the void of a Black business organization by founding the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce in Indianapolis, which evolved into the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC). Through their business experiences, our parents realized there was a need for a national connection early on.
When they left Indianapolis, Indiana, and moved to Washington, D.C. in September 1994, they had already founded the National Black Chamber of Commerce on May 23, 1993.
The NBCC was crafted from the empowerment principles of Booker T. Washington, the business acumen of Congressman Parren Mitchell, and enforced by the father of Affirmative Action, Arthur Fletcher.
Mom and dad Alford took the business mission to new heights. The organization, comprised of chapters throughout the United States, expanded its reach internationally to France, Mexico, England, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Kenya, and Ghana.
Mom coordinated and singlehandedly organized and produced the national and international conventions and conferences. She helped guide the NBCC, assuring its participation in business discussions on Capitol Hill and their interaction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Highly focused, efficient and determined, mom was the linchpin of the Chamber, defining multitasking to its highest degree. Yet, as serious and fierce as she was in the business arena, she was equally invested in her family. She was a devoted wife to Harry Jr. of 41 years and the mother of twins.
Mom lived life to its fullest until her body gave in on July 19, 2021.
Mom loved unconditionally, accomplished more than most, and lived vibrantly. Mom lit a fire under everyone she touched. She made everyone feel loved, appreciated, and seen. Her bright light lit up the world for all of us to feel like we existed for a reason. She devoted her life to her family by setting us up with the tools to succeed. She raised us and conditioned us to win — no matter what. And, we won a lot.
Every win was a family moment like in sports (lacrosse, football, laughably, even wrestling, soccer, and basketball), every acceptance letter and subsequent graduation from a college, every job, and so much more. Mom made sure we were prepared to cross every finish line. She loved being a St. Albans and University of Maryland lax mom (we can still hear KayKay yelling our names from the bleachers)! But, most importantly, she loved being a grandma.
- Of the many ways to describe mom, she was:
- She attacked life — embraced every day like a gift/holiday to be celebrated, not to be taken for granted.
- Never took a day off — led by example and took charge.
- She respected and made sure she took care of others before herself.
- Learned new technology — even crypto (lol).
- She enjoyed small and big wins the same way — too much food to eat, table decorations, family pictures hanging from the ceiling/refrigerator/laundry room walls/toilet seats (yes)/windows/ doors, and balloons. So many balloons!
- Co-founded the most prominent Black non-profit organization globally and ran it for 30 years with her best friend, our dad!
Earned national and international respect in corporate circles. Recognized by the White House and international trade groups as one of the leading advocates of global business development opportunities for Latin American, South American, and African nations. Led an annual convention that attracted more than 1,000 people, representatives from over 30 government agencies, and 100 significant corporations. Guided legislation and played critical roles in international trade initiatives. Met with Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other world leaders. Kind and Beautiful
Mom was gorgeous — a masterpiece! Down to her colorful shoes, mom’s fashion sense was impeccable. It would only take one smile to make us melt — the whole world could be crumbling, and she’d smile and comfort us.
We’ll miss holding her hand, hugging her, and kissing her cheeks. Funny
She married our dad on Halloween! She knew how to make us laugh — her laugh will continue to get us through — every single video we have of mom has her contagious, boisterous laugh embedded. No one, not a soul, will ever know her reach. She touched everyone, especially family members. Whether it was help with the rent or an emergency, Mom helped them no matter what they needed. She gave without expecting anything in return.
It was once said you should “play long-term games with long-term people.” Of course, the intent of this advice is on business. But, to us, this message is about parenting. No one better than mom understood that all the impactful returns in life come from compound interest. There are three lessons from mom, in particular, that stand out and guided us on how to approach life by showing up, competing, and loving hard.
“Keep showing up” is what mom would always remind us when we felt discouraged or unwilling to go to school in the morning. We didn’t like school much as our days were mostly spent staring out the windows, dreaming. Mom knew we’d rather play lacrosse than reading fiction. But she also knew to play on the field; we had to perform in the classroom. She knew that something would come of it if we continued to be present and do the work. These words became an enduring phrase in our household and how we’d live our lives inside and outside the classroom. The will to show up is ingrained in us. Whenever we’re down, we know to keep going forward. Even if we couldn’t see the outcome, at least we’d be directionally correct. She wanted us to have the best education possible. She and dad put us through private school, and she was able to see her two boys walk at graduation from college, sharing seven degrees between the both of us. Even one of us became a professor like her dad after he served as a Tuskegee Airman. Education is one of the best investments you can give your children.
Mom could be stern sometimes, but she was mainly reserved. Competitive but playful, especially when it came to lacrosse. We played at the highest levels, including the U19 National Team, Division I, and professionally. During this period, she became an incredible early adopter of technology, thanks to Thomas. (She even bought Ethereum before us!) One area she grew proficient at was using her smartphone to communicate with us. Since college, we’d awake to early Saturday morning texts of “lax or die!” If memes were around then, mom would have turned the rhetoric into some cute bitmoji. (We have more bitmojis from her than actual pictures.) Instead, these were playful reminders to compete on game day. Indeed though, we didn’t keep this forceful expression to the playing field. As we’ve learned, there are two ways to play the game of life. To paraphrase James Carse, the Director of Religious Studies at New York University, finite players need training while infinite players need education. Instead, she showed us how to play outside the rules, view life as an endless game, and focus on being educated to adapt to unknowns.
In classic mom fashion, instead of the standard, “I love you,” she would sign off every single communication to us with “Luv2luvu.” If we beat her to it, she’d reply, “Luv2luvu2.” On her phone, mom spoke to us daily, multiple times a day, and occasionally throughout whole days. We were always connected by text messages, Google Chat, WhatsApp, Twitter, emojis, calls, or email we were always connected. Unconditional love is the only love we knew. We treated her like the queen we believed her to be. Even when she was in the hospital and up until her final breath, we loved her hard, and she back to us. I’ll never forget how hard she advocated for our dad when he was in the hospital with pneumonia the year prior. Luv2luvu isn’t just something she said. Luv2luvu is how she lived. She loved to love us!
Without knowing our situation, a colleague shared an excerpt from Anna Quindlen’s Commencement Address at Villanova that’s helping her through a hard time with her ailing father who would eventually pass away. Below are a few passages that resonate most with us and are advice that you might take to heart:
“People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the test results and they’re not so good.”
“Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Write a letter. Kiss your mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.”
Mom, you crafted a spirit, and your love compounds. We feel it with the outpouring of support from the communities you knew would shape us as children and men. We see it in our relationships and the partners who push us. We see it in your grandchildren, who share your light complexion and irreverence.
We know you were proud of us, mom. The nurses told us you talked about dad and us for an hour before you left us.The world lost a legend, but your legacy will never die. We’ll always honor your legacy as long as we show up, compete, and love hard.
Luv2luvu, your sons, Harry and Thomas
Is what dad told us days before he passed away from natural causes in his Washington, DC home on December 6, 2021 (of course, Monday Night Football was playing on his TV). As his sons, we can certifiably say he didn’t take any sh*t! He continued to say, after a pause, “but tell them I was fair and strong.”
Dad was the son of a truck driver-turned farmer (Harry Cicero Sr.) and double amputee homemaker (Christine Brown). Born on Valentine’s Day in Oxnard, California, Harry spent his summers fishing and running down old dirt roads with his little brother, John Ray Alford, on the family farm near Haughton, Louisiana. When it was time for high school, Dad matriculated to Oxnard High School, making a name for himself as a Ventura County football star. He then enrolled at Ventura Community College and took his skills to the next level by playing and being known as a ferocious linebacker for the University of Wisconsin on an athletic scholarship. He would go on to graduate in 1970.
From there, dad earned top honors as Company Commander in the Army’s Officer Candidate School class (OC3– 72). He was a wartime Veteran, serving during what the United States Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes as the Vietnam Era. As a Second Lieutenant in the US Army, our dad served honorably, taking on roles including Race Relations Instructor, Accountant, and Finance Disbursing Officer. He also received the National Defense Service Medal. Everywhere he went, he earned recognition for his accomplishments. He would later be inducted into his high school hall of fame in 2013 for what he did on the gridiron. These feats were no different in the business world, making his mark at the highest levels of private and public sectors.
Dad put his leadership skills to work in a series of key sales and executive positions at Fortune 100 companies such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and the Sara Lee Corporation. Then, in 1989, dad began working as Deputy Commissioner for Minority Business Development for Indiana. It was during this brief tenure that he and his business partner and wife of 40 years, Kay DeBow Alford, noticed that America from a Black perspective was at a crossroads. After studying the writings of such economic advocates like Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Cross, Arthur Fletcher, and others, dad dedicated himself to making a National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) a reality.3
Leveraging from the above success, dad and mom incorporated the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc. in Washington, DC, in May 1993. Dad, NBCC President/CEO and co-founder, established himself as perhaps the nation’s preeminent African American business empowerment champion for over thirty years. Dad built a global organization that has earned a place at the table in the White House and at the top levels of Corporate America. As the intellectual and spiritual linchpin of the NBCC, dad was responsible for opening doors that led to billions of dollars in new business for Black-owned firms across the nation. An example of his courage and leadership is the role he played in rebuilding the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“Today the lessons learned and visioning processes that Harry and Kay brought to fruition are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in small business inclusion programming which are now the basis for every disaster relief program. They not only made history in New Orleans but designed the base principles for recovery programs now implemented across the globe,” said Arnold Baker, President Baker Ready Mix, LLC.
He displayed relentless energy and advocacy in helping forge international business opportunities for African Americans and emerging entrepreneurs in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and the rest of the African Diaspora. He was formally named a Cultural Ambassador by the US State Department for this work. Dad was an award-winning columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and proudly served on the NNPA Foundation Board of Directors. He was an active member of the US Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, where he chaired the Government Oversight and Consumer Affairs Committee. In addition, he was a member of the 2008 Health Sector Assembly, a think tank of national leaders concerned about healthcare.
Congress regularly called upon him to testify on various legislative initiatives related to small business development, the Gulf Coast rebuilding, eCommerce, healthcare, energy, tax reform, and global trade issues. Current NBCC Board Chairman and President of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce, Larry Ivory, stated, “Harry Alford was the Godfather of Black Chambers in the United States and from his Washington, DC headquarters, gave Black business a seat at the table for over 28 years. Harry and Kay’s legacy will live on.”
He received national recognition while delivering passionate testimony on The Hill.
Dad fought for his fellow soldiers of color to be able to grow their beards and he would jokingly say he was the first Black collegiate football player with a visible tattoo. It’d be easy to spot dad yelling “get ‘em!” from the stands at all of our football and lacrosse games. Other pithy sayings he’d rattle off included — “take no prisoners,” “hail the conquering heroes,” “be cool,” and “talk to ya” (the way he ended most phone calls).
He had a wild side, but dad also had amazing grace. Countless times he wept in joy about something we accomplished, like signing our letters of intent to play Division 1 lacrosse at the dining room table, graduating from business school, launching businesses, getting married, and having children. He once surprised us with a birthday note at 2:30 a.m. (the time of day we came into the world). He wrote:
My loving sons, As of 2:30 am this morning [March 2018], I present you with the following question: How does it feel to be 33 years old? It was the beginning of your lives and the most exciting moment for your mother and me. It is just amazing to think of the very beginning and where we have come up to this point. Your warm and committed grandparents and the various venues we have traversed, dealing with each and every challenge and walking away with a victory. There can be no greater understatement than for me to say that I love you two with every beat of my heart, and the pride that fills me up is so immense and grows exponentially with each moment.
Please continue on this fantastic voyage you have jointly launched with such vigor, religion and determination. The best is yet to come, and with the blessings of our God, times can only get better.
We are indeed family, and that alone says it all.
Happy Birthday and I am; YOUR LOVING FATHER FOR LIFE!
Dad, you gave us everything. You guided and supported us with every decision we made, every step of the way. You were never telling, always showing. You demonstrated that anything is possible. Most of all, you were a loving husband, the perfect father, and the most amazing grandfather. You courageously battled through health setbacks such as the 1980 MGM Grand fire and in recent years diabetes, surviving a subdural hematoma, dealing with the flu and pneumonia, a hip replacement and encountering severe dementia. Your health took a particular turn after mom’s passing this year. (Could it have been complications of missing your soulmate?) We like to believe mom has called you home in time for her birthday (December 12).
We’ll never forget the last words you said to us just hours before you passed, “I can’t love you guys enough.” You spent the best years of your life protecting us, and we’ve been honored to do the same for you — sunrise to sunset. So, one final time, we’ll take you down those old dirt roads where you learned to run, granting your wish to be buried next to your “momma,” dad, and soulmate.
President/CEO and Co-Founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), Harry C. Alford Jr., transitioned Monday, December 6, in Washington, DC. He was preceded in death by his wife of 40 years, Kay DeBow Alford, Vice President and Co-Founder of the National Black Chamber five months earlier.
By Larry D. Ivory
President/CEO, Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce
It is with great sadness that our Warrior Leader and President/CEO and Co-Founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), Harry C. Alford, transitioned Monday, December 6, in Washington, DC. He was preceded in death by his wife, Kay DeBow, Vice President and Co-Founder of the National Black Chamber five months ago.
In 1993, Harry C. Alford moved the newly established National Black Chaber of Commerce from Indianapolis, Indiana to Washington, DC. The first Board Chairman was the former Assistant Secretary of Labor, Dr. Arthur Fletcher, the “Father of Affirmative Action.” Most of the existing Black Chambers dervied from Harry’s initiatives and influence over the years.
Today, the National Black Chamber is the largest Black business organization in the world, consisting of regional organizations of Black Chambers in the United States, eight (8) countries in Africa, eleven (11) membership Chambers in the Caribbean and five-member Black Chambers in Central and South America. Black Chambers were also established in London and Paris under Harry’s leadership. In addition to coordinating this global operation, Harry C. Alford spoke before Congress on behalf of Black business, often several times a month. For many years, he served on the Board of Directors of the most influential Chamber in America, the United States Chamber of Commerce, in Washington, DC.
When President George Bush asked Harry Alford to assist him with a strategy to identify any Black owned businesses remaining in the Hurricane Katrina impact zone and a plan for helping them survive, he selected the right man,” said Arnold Baker, President Baker Ready Mix, LLC. Harry brought fresh prespective and renewed vision that nothing was impossible and held the White House accountable for making available unfettered access to the Corps of Engineers, HUD, the Department of Commerce, and DOT for the nation’s greatest rebuild.
“Today the lessons learned and visioning processes that Harry and Kay broguht to fruition are responsible for tens of billions of dollars in small business inclusion programming which are now the basis for every disaster relief program. they not only made history in New Orleans but designed the base principals for recovery programs now implemented across the globe,” Baker said.
As word spread of Harry’s death condolences and personal memories of Harry’s business acumen began to pour in.
John Harmon, who is the President of one of the most successful Black Chambers in New Jersey, said that it was the guidance of Harry and his beloved wife Kay, that guided him through many business initiatives. He also said it was because of his influence that he served on the NBCC Board and the Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“I Knew Harry and Kay before they left Indianapolis to establish the national chamber in Washington, D.C. I had a great relationship with him in Indiana when he served in the cabinet of former Governor Evan Bayh. I went into a meeting with him expecting resistance and I was met with agreement and a solution that led the way for Indiana Black newspapers to do business with the state,” said Dorothy R. Leavell, Publisher of the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspapers.
“When he started the National Black Chamber, our relationship expanded to include me as a board member of NBCC and when I was chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation he served with distiction on our board. He was always eager to help The Black Press ‘as a business’,” Leavell said.
Members of the NBCC Board of Directors including Fred Jordan, NBCC’s outstanding member of San Francisco and Oakland, CA, representing the west coast, said that the future of NBCC is bright and presently Charles H. DeBow, III is Executive Director and had served previously as Vice President of Global Development and Programs.
Current NBCC Board Chairman and President of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce, Larry Ivory, stated, “Harry Alford was the Godfather of Black Chambers in the United States and from his Washington, DC headquarters, gave Black business a seat at the table for over 28 years. Harry and Kay’s legacy will live on as we continue moving the National Black Chamber of Commerce’s agenda forward.
Arthur Fletcher (1924–2005) was the most important civil rights leader you've (probably) never heard of. Arthur Fletcher organized his first civil rights protest while still in high school after being told that African American student photographs would be included in the back of the yearbook. After graduating from high school, Fletcher served in World War II under General George Patton and earned a Purple Heart. He joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1950 and later became the first African American to play for the Baltimore Colts. Arthur Fletcher was known as the father of affirmative action. He was an adviser to four presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and G. H. W. Bush) , the first Chairman of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, he coined the United Negro College Fund's motto: "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste."
A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste (1977)
Dr. Arthur Allen Fletcher Implemented First Affirmative Action Program Arthur Fletcher Interview Oral History, Affirmative Action and Arthur Fletcher Arthur Fletcher, G.O.P. Adviser, Dies at 80
The National Black Chamber of Commerce announced this week the death of its co-founder Kay DeBow Alford on July 19, 2021. Highly focused, efficient and determined, Kay was the linchpin of the Chamber, defining multitasking to its highest degree.
Kay, as she was affectionately known, was named Kayanne at birth on December 12, 1957 to the parents of Charles DeBow Jr. and Aurelia Jane Stuart in Indianapolis, Indiana. She seemed to be born for business leadership, coming from a family that were known, educators and entrepreneurs. Kay’s father, Charles DeBow Jr. was one of the first four Tuskegee Airmen, serving in World War II. Kay’s maternal family were the Stuarts, who were entrepreneurs, owning several successful businesses in the greater Indianapolis area.
A graduate of Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, she received her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. She began her professional career at Colgate-Palmolive in Detroit, Michigan. It was in Detroit on June 8, 1980 Kay met husband-to-be Harry Cicero Alford Jr. After a short courtship Kay and Harry were married on October 31, 1980.
The Alfords made their home in Indianapolis. Kay pursued government work and at the height of that work, she became the Director of Marketing for the Hoosier State Lottery in Indiana. The couple also became entrepreneurs owning several video stores and private ventures.
Through their business experiences, Kay and Harry early on realized there was a need for a national connection. When Kay DeBow Alford and her husband Harry left Indianapolis, Indiana, and moved to Washington, D.C. in September 1994, they had already founded the National Black Chamber of Commerce on May 23, 1993. They had begun locally to fill the void of a Black business organization by founding the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce in Indianapolis which evolved into the NBCC.
The NBCC was crafted from the empowerment principles of Booker T. Washington, the business acumen of Congressman Parren Mitchell, and enforced by the father of Affirmative Action Arthur Fletcher. Kay and Harry Alford took the business mission to new heights. The organization, comprised of chapters throughout the United States expanded
its reach internationally to France, Mexico, England, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Kenya, and Ghana.
Kay coordinated and singlehandedly organized and produced the national and international conventions and conferences. She helped guide the NBCC, assuring its participation in business discussions on Capitol Hill and their interaction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Officers and members were saddened by Kay’s death and sent along with messages:
“Kay was the backbone of the National Black Chamber, the mother and driving force behind the great accomplishments of the NBCC. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her and who benefitted from her tireless drive to make the nation better for all Black business owners,” said Larry Ivory, Chairman of the NBCC and President/CEO of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce. “We will continue her legacy to fight for the improvement of African American communities throughout the Black Diaspora.”
John E. Harmon, Sr., Founder, President and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ) remembered Kay by saying, “Kay’s words, although spoken softly, were at times, penetrating, yet nurturing and impactful. Her commitment to attaining the best for Blacks was the cornerstone of her advocacy. I am grateful for the moments we shared together and her investment in my development as a Chamber Executive which has led to huge dividends for many and will never be forgotten,”
“The business community lost one of its champions with the passing of Kay DeBow Alford. Co-founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) with her husband, Harry Alford, she was the power behind the scenes of the many accomplishments of the NBCC,” said Dorothy R. Leavell, who served as a Board member and previous Chairman of the Board of the NBCC.
As serious and fierce as she was in the business arena, she was equally invested in her family. A devoted wife to Harry Jr. of forty-one years and the mother of twins, Harry III and Thomas, both successful sportsmen and businessmen. Her most recent pride was being the grandma to Tatum and Archer. Her abounding love stretched out to her brothers, Charles Henry DeBow III and William Weir DeBow; sister, Natalie Jane; nephew Jonathon C. DeBow and countless nieces, nephews and cousins.
Services will culminate with burial in Shreveport, Louisiana. Services are entrusted to the Winnfield Funeral Home, Shreveport, LA.