(Dec. 12, 1957 – July 19, 2021). Kayanne DeBow Alford, known as “Kay,” was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Charles DeBow Jr. and Aurelia Jane Stuart DeBow. She came from a family of educators and entrepreneurs. Her mother was a teacher in the(IPS) for over 30 years. Other members of her mother’s family established in 1936 and the in 1948. DeBow’s father served in as one of the first four Tuskegee airmen. In 1955, IPS selected him to pioneer its racial integration plan, and he became the only Black faculty member at Thomas Carr Howe High School located on the city’s east side.
Alford graduated fromand attended Indiana University-Bloomington, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business. Her first job was in sales for Colgate–Palmolive in Detroit, Michigan. Here she met Harry Cicero Alford Jr., whom she married on October 31, 1980. Less than one month later, Alford and her husband narrowly escaped death after leaping from the fifth floor of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas in a fire that killed 84 people.
The Alfords moved to Indianapolis, where Kay pursued government work. She became director of marketing for the Hoosier State Lottery in Indiana, while her husband was deputy commissioner for Minority Business Development for the State of Indiana. Following her family’s lead, she and her husband went into business, owning several video stores and other private ventures.
The Alfords’ business and government experiences shed light on the need for a national connection. They realized that every ethnic segment of America, except for the African American community, had a business association that represented its economic interests. To make up for this lack, the Alfords founded the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce in Indianapolis in 1991. Within two years, it became clear that the Indiana chamber was a model that could be expanded to serve the entire nation. The Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce became a national organization and was renamed the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) on May 23, 1993. The NBCC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nonsectarian organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of African American communities.
The Alfords crafted the NBCC upon the empowerment principles of 19th-century African American leader Booker T. Washington; the business acumen of Maryland Democratic Congressman Parren Mitchell; and the affirmative action model of Arthur Fletcher, the Republican government official commonly known as the father of this policy. The organization formed chapters throughout the United States and expanded its reach to France, Mexico, England, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Kenya, and Ghana, with the aim of improving African American communities and businesses throughout the globe. In 1994, a year after their organization became the NBCC, Alford and her husband moved to Washington, D.C.
In Washington, D.C., Kay Alford ensured the NBCC’s participation in business discussions on Capitol Hill and its interaction with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She guided legislation and played critical roles in international trade initiatives. White House officials and international trade groups recognized her as a leading advocate of global business development opportunities for Latin American, South American, and African nations. She earned national and international respect in corporate circles through the conventions and conferences she organized. The annual convention she led attracted more than 1,000 attendees from over 30 government agencies and 100 corporations.