By Steve Jagler Special to Published Aug 28, 2008 at 5:25 AM Photography: Zach Karpinski
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

When Barack Obama takes the stage at Invesco Field in Denver to become the first person of African-American descent to win a major party nomination to be president of the United States tonight, he will be making history.

However, for many of southeastern Wisconsin's male African-American business leaders, tonight will be more than history. It will be a redeeming, spiritual moment to be cherished and passed down through the generations.

Dextra Hadnot, external affairs director at AT&T Wisconsin in Milwaukee, has been watching Obama's ascension closely.

"I've always been optimistic in my lifetime that our country could or would elect a person of color or even a woman president of the United States, and Barack Obama, not just because he is an African-American, he's the right person at the right time," Hadnot said.

"And I'm especially proud of our country and our ability to put people like Barack Obama in position to lead our country."

Ulice Payne Jr., managing member of Addison-Clifton LLC in Brookfield, said he does not yet know what he'll be thinking when Obama accepts the nomination tonight.

However, Payne is looking forward to the moment.

"I am proud as an American and glad to see it happen in my lifetime. I believe this was inevitable because this is the USA, where we support leaders, regardless of their race," Payne said.

Joe Tucker, founder, president and chief executive officer of Victory Personnel Services Inc. in Milwaukee, said he is anxious to hear Obama's acceptance speech.

"I don't know if I believed that it would happen in my lifetime as much as I hoped that it would happen in my lifetime. I certainly believed that it was possible, and that was demonstrated to me by the notion that Colin Powell might run at the time he was considering it," Tucker said. "As far as how I feel about it, what Barack Obama has accomplished and the fact that he is standing at the threshold of the American presidency, for me it reaffirms what I have believed for a long time, and that is this country is not as racially divided as some may suggest. I have always believed for a very long time that we are a better nation and that the racial divide that existed so many years ago is no longer what it used to be. I would sum it up to say this is no longer my grandfather's America. This is my America. I will feel just an enormous sense of pride for country, just a great sense of pride to be an American."

Ruben Hopkins, president and CEO of Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce, also believes tonight will affirm his patriotism.

"As an African-American, yes, I did think that this would happen in my lifetime. When I think back, I am reminded of the people who thought they would not see slavery end in their lifetime. I think of all the people who did not believe that they would see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday in their lifetime. And I think about all the other first-time events that have taken place that we thought we would never see in our lifetime. This is framed in the promise that is America. African-Americans have always been key in bringing America back when America has strayed from the founding documents that this country was founded on, even though African-Americans were originally not part of the plan. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and other documents are documents we hold to be self-evident," Hopkins said.

"Yes, I work daily on behalf of Black businesses. However, that is because on certain levels we have not made the same fair and reasonable progress. Some of that lack of progress can be blamed on racism, but most should be blamed on poor black business leadership," Hopkins said. "It is a proud day for me and my family. The promise of America is alive and well. This is what we in the African-American community are fighting for on a daily basis. Just basic fairness. We want to be treated fairly in our day-to-day lives. What this day means, not just to me, but to us all is how far we have come as a nation."

Cory Nettles, attorney at Quarles & Brady LLP law firm in Milwaukee and managing director of Generation Growth Capital Inc., also said he expected this moment to happen in his lifetime.

"There are extraordinarily talented African-American leaders in the country, including some on the national stage. I knew it was just a matter of time before one of them ascended to this office. I obviously did not know that Sen. Obama would have such a meteoric rise. I have met Sen. Obama a few times. He is exceptionally talented. Nobody could have predicted this a year ago, let alone two years ago. But I did feel strongly (believe) that it was just a matter of time before an African-American president was elected. The same all holds true regarding what I expect will be the first female president elected in my lifetime," said Nettles, a former Wisconsin secretary of commerce.
"Yes, it is a day of great personal pride. Sen. Obama's story gives credence to the expectation that if you play by the rules, do well and are capable, then you can be successful. That is not the reality for too many African-Americans -- and African-American men in particular," Nettles said. "It would be hard for most African-Americans to have watched Sen. Obama's ascendancy and not feel a great deal of pride and optimism about what the future holds for us as a people, and, more importantly, what it holds for our country as a whole."

Of course, like any other subset of our society, there are differing views among African-American business leaders in Milwaukee.

Noel Williams, managing member of Williams CPA LLC in Milwaukee, has a different take on the Obama nomination than most of his counterparts.

"My thoughts were that whoever it was, would not likely not be as extremely liberal-minded, even socialistic, as Obama or (Hillary) Clinton are, since freedom is a trait that registers well with the country. I was wrong there. I have always been fascinated with the fact the 90 percent of blacks, as polled, votes for one party with all the possible candidates being from that party. Despite that, none were ever elevated by the leadership of the party or fought for by the base. So in that sense, I am surprised that 'progressives' have progressed," Williams said. "To me, it is just another day in the logical flow of this great country. This reminds me of why I came here in 1976."

Franklin Cumberbatch, president of Trinidad Group LLC in Milwaukee, is taking a pragmatic approach to the significance of Obama's nomination.

"I'm a black man who is a citizen of these United States. There lies the opportunity for Barack Obama. He's a black man in these United States. He transcends what it is, the 'black' as we've come to know it in America. For me, I see Barack Obama, if he's president of the United States, as ending the Civil Rights movement as it's become to be known. It allows us then to go into a new future step as to how race, especially how black people are perceived into the future, how we raise our children as black children. That we teach them that they see being black as being equal, that everything that is possible for Whites is now possible for them," said Cumberbatch, who was born and raised in Trinidad and is a descendent of African slaves brought to that former British colony in the Caribbean.

Steve Jagler Special to

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at