July 29, 1938 – Jan. 7, 2014
Unbossed and unbought.
That’s how people remember Lumon Ross, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Western New York and a fierce advocate on behalf of black businesses. Mr. Ross died Jan. 7 after collapsing in his Buffalo home. He was 75
Mr. Ross was co-founder of the Black Chamber in the early 1990s and the only president the organization has ever known. Under his leadership, the Chamber has sponsored forums and workshops to facilitate the growth of black businesses, often in cooperation with other organizations. But he was never afraid to speak out on his own when he thought black business owners were getting shut out, whether through overt measures or more subtle regulatory or contract provisions. “He really fought and advocated on behalf of African-American businesses,” said Brenda McDuffie, president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League, who said Mr. Ross “spoke truth to power.”
For years, Mr. Ross – along with McDuffie – was a constant presence at meetings of the Joint Schools Construction Board, pressing to make sure black businesses and workers were included in the $1 million effort to reconstruct Buffalo schools. He also was a voice for black contractors who felt they weren’t getting a fair share of the business.
“He never backed down. When there were significant issues to be raised that weren’t popular,” McDuffie said, Mr. Ross was willing to raise them “based on his convictions.”
“There are probably few warriors who would come close in this community to the impact he had. He’s going to be really, really missed,” she said.
In addition to advocating on behalf of black businesses, the Chamber under Mr. Ross played a big role in giving black entrepreneurs the information and guidance they need to succeed.
It collaborated in recent years with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Buffalo Urban League and others in sponsoring workshops on starting, running or growing a business. And last year, the Black Chamber collaborated with the local chapter of the Black MBA Association on a forum exploring the challenges facing black entrepreneurs, up to and including how to come up with a succession plan – a failure that sinks many black businesses when the founder retires.
“He was very dedicated to the improvement of the black business community and the community at large. But because of the need, he was very concerned about the black community,” said Richard Cummings, vice president of the Black Chamber and of American Rated Cable & Communications.
Mr. Ross was concerned about economic justice, and “he’s laid a path to accomplish it,” Cummings said.
“We owe it to his legacy that we will keep his spirit alive and what he fought for,” said McDuffie. “He was unbossed and unbought.”
A Buffalo native who earned a bachelor’s degree from Buffalo State College, Mr. Ross was a social worker and a state Division of Youth supervisor before opening the Kensington Experience restaurant on Kensington Avenue in the early 1990s.
In addition to his work with the Black Chamber, Mr. Ross was a board member of Citizens Alliance and Restoring Our Community Coalition, as well as a member of the Buffalo Local Action Committee and the Kwanzaa Committee.
Survivors include his wife, Nancy A.; four daughters, Alexandra C. Eaton, Lara M. Gray, Sarah Obot and Kate I.; two sons, Lumon J. and Gabriele Olla; a brother, Ralph; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Services were held Monday.