By Edwin Buggage
From the Slave Ship to the “Owner” Ship
WBOK 1230AM has become an important radio station in the City giving voice to African-American issues in New Orleans. While there are a host of issues that face the Black Community, it is the loss of historical institutions and Black businesses that are one of the biggest threats post-Katrina.
On this Saturday afternoon at Mr. Chill’s Hot Dogs and Sweet Pastries, Wilbert “Chill” Wilson, an African-American Entrepreneur, who since Hurricane Katrina has become someone who has been working for the cause; empowering and inspiring a community has partnered with WBOK to do a fundraiser and meet and greet with several personalities from the station.
“I thought it was important to show that we can support each other as African-American businesses,” says Wilson. “I also would like to say that while we have made strides with people having more opportunities than ever we have neglected to continue our traditions of owning businesses. I think while we have leaders in other areas we must also focus on how to empower ourselves and build wealth by having more African-American owned businesses.”
Finding a Voice
Oftentimes the voices of the African-American Community are muted and not heard. Therefore, when polices are made and the stories of the history of the City are being told, the Black perspective is absent or seen through a distorted lens. This is why WBOK is an important resource; it is like the underground railroad of today; helping in giving the roadmap to freedom and the aspirations of a people.
“WBOK is vital to the community and is the only all talk Black radio station in the Gulf South Region that provides a platform for the African-American Community,” says Susan Henry the station’s general manager of its importance and relevance.
A Grand Slam: Supporting Our Own
Wilbert “Chill” Wilson has two businesses located on S. Carrollton; a barbershop and a restaurant. “We have to support one another if we are going to not only survive but thrive in New Orleans,” says former City Councilman and top rated WBOK Radio Host Oliver Thomas.”
He believes with success one must reach back and do things for the community and he feels Wilson is a shining example of this, “Chill has been successful, and he gives so much back,” states Thomas. “This young man has done so much post-Katrina, and in the last several years supports the station, but what he does for young folk and a lot of people in our community its simply amazing.”
On this day people from around the City came and experienced great food; got to meet their favorite radio personalities and watched the New Orleans Pelicans sweep the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Playoffs. Thomas called this day a ‘Grand Slam’ stating, “It was great to see people who call and come out to support as we watched the Pelicans win. It was a grand slam at a wonderful location at one of the few African-American owned businesses in that part of Carrollton on the Riverbend and supporting WBOK, another African-American business with our time and our dollars. We need to do more of this where we make sure our dollars stay in our community more than eight hours.”
Remembering our Rich History and Building for the Future
It is an irrefutable fact that desegregation did great things by giving access to Blacks, but conversely, it reduced the number of African-American owned businesses. When we look around the City of New Orleans where there were once sprawling boulevards filled with Black owned shops where Blacks could spend money that would stay in the community. Today many of these places are owned by non-African-Americans or have become part of a wave of gentrification sweeping across New Orleans with mixed results as we witness small numbers of African-American business participation in this boom.
This is a trend that is troubling to veteran journalist and present WBOK Radio Personality Warren Bell who hosts an early morning show called Morning Cup. “I am proud to say I have been a witness to 1/6th of our history,” says Bell speaking of his frontline view of the history of New Orleans. “I have been doing radio and news since 1967 when I was in high school. Some things unfortunately do not change, the inequities in our community, but interestingly we had more Black businesses 50 years ago.”
Speaking of the station and its partnership with Wilson he believes this is a step in the right direction. “I think WBOK’s role in this community is to make sure African-Americans remember our history because even though we have advanced in many other ways post-segregation, but I feel we cannot forget those times where we owned businesses of all types inside our community, and where we did stick together and supported one and other and Mr. Chill, to say he is a younger man than me understands this history very well.”
Wilson says of his work as a businessman, that he stands on the shoulders of those who came before him that includes his late father Willie “School Boy” Wilson. “I grew up in a generation where I was surrounded by people who were great entrepreneurs and did things to empower the community. And, what I want to do for this generation, is to be a leader in the arena of business. Where I can show that we can have our own and also support each other; this is how we not only honor and respect our history, but we build on our future.”