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Interview with President and CEO Leroy Jones of Neighbors And Neighbors Association (NANA)

 

Mr. Jones, during this interview how would you like to be addressed?

Leroy is fine.

Leroy, what year were you born and what city?

I was born in Savannah Georgia,  September 28, 1962.

Do you have any siblings?

Yes, I have 1 brother and 4 sisters. One of my sisters is deceased.  I am the second oldest of the siblings.

Leroy are you married and if so, do you have any children?

Yes , I am married and I have been married for eight years and we have 12 children.   My wife is from Miami Florida and we kind of grew up together in our teenage years in the Scotts Public Housing.

What high school did you attend and what year did you graduate?

I attended Miami Edison Senior High School. I did not graduate until recently.  I went back to High School four years ago and received my High School Diploma. I attended two schools,  Miami North Western and DA Dorsey Education Center.

So, it’s never too late.

No, it’s never too late.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood and what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Like I said earlier, I am originally from Savannah Georgia . We moved to Miami when I was about 9 years old. We moved into Over Town and that was like night and day. We moved from an environment where I had never heard a car burn rubber, never heard a gunshot  and never saw a fight until we moved to Over Town in Miami.  Back then,  in the early Seventies ,  Over Town  was real rough, it was real, real rough, it was a rough place to be!! I was lucky enough to get a little after school job at a store called Hence and Son,  across the street from the apartment building where  I lived at in Over Town. The owner Mr. Hence, gave me the job because he knew that I was different from the other kids.  Because, I did not  grow up rough and tough. You know  in my early years I was from Savannah Georgia. I was not rough or tough.  So, I guess, he gave me a job to try to protect me from the rough kids in the neighborhood.  

I remember going to the Whole Sale Distribution Center with him. I was noticing while I was with him all the people with the white skin were paying with a piece of paper or signing a paper.  As I became older, I realized that the white skinned people were paying with a check or signing a promissory note. But all the blacks that were shopping there,  they were paying with cash money. This always stuck in my mind from the time I was 10 years old up until now.  I realized, the people who owned the Distribution Center were giving the white people collateral and allowed them to pay with a check. They would hold the check for thirty days before they would cash it. So, they were giving them help while the blacks had to pay cash.   The blacks did not get the same benefits.  I remember asking Mr. Hence why, were the blacks the only one’s giving money and he said to me. I remember instinctively  how he  said it to me. He said, as you get older you will understand.  Maybe , he thought that I would not understand it if he tried to explain it to me. But he said, when you become older that you will understand how life is with black people.  I remember this until today, I remember telling him while he was driving us home in his van, I told him when I get older that I was going to help black businesses.

Leroy and that is something that you’re doing. You are doing a great job in helping black businesses as well as other nationalities that conduct small business in Miami Dade County .

Leroy, What is NANA and what is NANA about?

Well, I started NANA in 1995 and it became Incorporated in 1996. My last stint in prison because I’ve been in prison 3 times. However, the  last time of getting out of prison, I think I was maybe 31 years old.  My sister asked me to come and help my mom and her in the grocery store that we owned.  It was a Small Mom and Pop Store. I never had any interest in the store but when I got out of prison I didn’t have anything else to do. It was like I had to start all over. Don’t get me wrong, I had extensive businesses. At that time,  I had owned a couple of properties and I had a landscaping company before I went to prison.  But I went to prison for something that I did before I started that landscaping business. It took 3 years before I was sentenced.  However, I was stable enough that my clients continued to let my staff maintain the service to their lawns. When they finally found out that I was in prison, I thought that they were going to cancel the contract but they didn’t. I quest,  they trusted me because of  my record of quality landscape work.

So,  when I got out of prison,  of course I had lost a lot of business because people don’t run your business like you do.  But going  to the store provided additional income.  Although, they only paid me $ 200 a week but it was something that I was helping my mom and my sister do because, I realized they didn’t have the education to run the business in order  to make money like it should have been making. On my first day at the store,  I notice that the store stayed crowded, cash register was constantly ringing. But they didn’t have any money in the bank. They didn’t know how to markup the sales of their products and in some instances,  the vendors were ripping them off. So, within my six months of working at the store,  our square footage grew from 1000 sqft to 4000 sqft  and all the other little stores in the neighborhood  would ask my mother and sister when they would see them at the food warehouse,  what did you do  to grow your  store and what did you to do to make the improvements to  your store.  My sister would tell them that my brother came in and help us in the store. He showed us how to manage the store.

So,  one day, these ladies  came to the store and said to my mom and sister that they wanted to meet me. I was not there that day. So, on Sunday, they returned to the store  and met with me. They convinced me to start having meetings to help them with their businesses.  We actually use to close down our game room  to hold the meetings for the neighborhood business owners. Our store grew, so fast that we turned the   1000 sqft part of the store into a game room and we added additional 3000 sqft in which that became the store’s new space. Now, just to remind you that Sunday was the busiest day for the Game Room. However,  we would close the game room for 2 to 3 hours so that I could help the community business owners with their paper work.  In doing so, my family was missing out on a lot of money. But we made the sacrifice to help the neighborhood business owners.  My sister would purchase food for the meetings to accommodate the business owners  and it just grew from there.  Now,  there  was talk circulating in the community about what I was doing.

One day, I got noticed   by the Miami Times when I was doing a Buy Out.  I started this Buy Out Program where I convinced all of the businesses that were a part of my group to go out to a particular business and purchase goods from the neighborhood stores. Our goal was to get the business owners and the community to spend Twenty-Five Dollars or more in a community store. The group was instructed to purchase every item that the store sold accept for alcohol  or tobacco.  Then we would take the purchased items and donate them to the residents that lived in Public Housing. So, the first business that we patronized made over twenty grand in one day. That was more money that they had made in a  month. This allowed them to restock their shelves  and spend more money on additional items. Now, they were receiving lower prices. The goods that my group  purchased was donated back to NANA.  At this time, it was not called NANA, it was called Strong Black Front.  So, the neighborhood businesses  would donate the products back to Strong Black Front and we would donate it to the people that lived in the Scotts Housing Projects.  When some  of the news paper staff heard about what we were doing,  they wrote about it, which lead to  some of  our local politician coming out to take a look at what we were doing.  I am quite sure they came out  because it was election time.

From there on, I became known in the City of Miami for the work that I was doing with Small Black Businesses. Within a few days, I received a phone call from one of the Commissioner’s that read the article and noticed the things that I was doing in the community. She convinced me to apply for some County Dollars. I applied for the Federal Funding and in my first year of applying,  I was awarded One Hundred Thousand Dollars in Federal Grant Funding.   I was the only new Miami Dade County Agency that was awarded Federal Funding that year.

How many years has NANA been in business?

NANA has been in business since 1995 about 16 years.

How is NANA funded?

We are actually doing pretty good. We receive funding from different County Departments. Let me name a few, The Department of Public Housing and Community Development, some of the Board of County Commissioners, Office and Grants Coordination, City of Miami Community Development Department, City of Miami South East Over Town Park West CRA and the Omani CRA.

This year we received an award from Congress for Seven Hundred and Fifty-Six Thousand Dollars. The funds will go towards an extension Farmers Market Project,  called Bargain Town, located in Naranja Florida.  We do pretty good as far as funding.

Who receives the benefits from NANA?

Small businesses, our program is geared to help Small for Profit Businesses. We have Non Profit Businesses that come to us for services and also big companies that come for services. Our main focus is Small Mom and Pop Businesses.

Leroy, is there a Selection Committee involved?

There is a Selection Committee, we have a couple of programs that we offer that has to do with money. We have a Mom and Pop Small Business Grant Program where we give out over a million dollars a year in which  each thirteen County Commissioners has a Selection Committee for each district. The Selection Committee reviews the applications and selects what businesses receive the funding.  The money is divided between the thirteen districts. Although,  we run the program, we do not sit on the board or make the selections.

 

What is unique about NANA?

The way that we deliver our services and the services we offer. I don’t know of any city or state that has a grant program like the  Mom and Pop Grant Program in the Country.

I don’t know of any other program that was created by an agency that’s not a county department program that the government decided to take an agency program and turn it into a government program. The City of Miami entrepreneurship business and Micro business both were created by NANA. They are official government programs. I think that’s what makes us unique.

Who are NANA supporters?

Supporters are the small business people that we support, selection committee and commissioners. Every year, we have to request funding.  It’s not guaranteed to us. So, we have to mobilize our supporters and have the people in the community fight on our behalf. This is organized by sending letters and e-mails to the City Government informing them, they  want the commissioners  to continue supporting the program. However, it’s the people who get the elective officials to support the program and NANA  is wise enough to know that.   

 

 TO BE CONTINUED

 WCT 79