Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

DEAR HARRIETTE: I understand, as an African American, that supporting black-owned businesses is a must in the community. However, it is difficult because I find that many black business owners overcharge their clients. Do you know a reason for this, and if this issue will ever be resolved? -- Supporting Community Businesses

DEAR SUPPORTING COMMUNITY BUSINESSES: Many people try to support others in their ethnic group when making purchases. If you look at communities throughout this country, you will see evidence of this, where money changes hands multiple times within communities, thus helping them to grow and prosper. I will also say that, sadly, this occurs less often in the black community than in many others. I believe this has more to do with the history of our country and how family groups were systematically broken up and allegiances destroyed at the very time when people should have been banding together.

To your point about pricing, it may be true that some vendors overcharge for items. Of course you should be a conscientious shopper. But I will also point out that typically a small business -- regardless of the owner’s race or ethnicity -- cannot compete with a larger chain that has the option of buying merchandise at deep discounts that can subsequently be passed on to the consumer. You may want to make certain purchases locally and leave other, higher-ticket items for the big discounters.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been volunteering with a mentoring program at a local high school for many years. Recently, my contact at the school retired, and I haven’t gotten a call from the school to ask for my help. I think that’s kind of weird, and it hurt my feelings that they seemed to drop me. I like working with the students and think my contribution was beneficial. Do you think I should follow up with the administrator or even call my friend who retired and ask him to put in a good word for me? If my memory of timing is right, I believe we are either at or beyond the deadline for signing up for this enrichment program. -- Want to Help

DEAR WANT TO HELP: I think you should reach out to your original contact and let him know what’s happening. Ask for his advice on how to approach the school in his absence.

Next, either with his support or alone, contact the administrator of the program and make it clear that you would like to continue to be a resource for the students. Ask if the deadline has passed already for you to be involved in the program.

Make it clear that you would like to remain a part of the volunteer base for this program if the school still wants you. Even though your friend has retired, you are eager to be of service. You may also want to remind the administrator of your unique qualities and what you have historically offered to the students.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)