Imagine this: American bankers and businessmen traveling abroad to link interests with sovereign nations that have less to offer than a "nation" within our nation - one with consumer-spending power greater than all but a dozen or so nations in the world.

The "nation" I refer to is, of course, America's black and minority communities and their business enterprises. The actual and potential pwer of these enterprises is, by and large, a blind spot to the American economic eye. But it is a very real presence - what's left of it.

Minority enterprise is threatened and beleaguered. In a nation boasting a system of free enterprise in an open, capitalistic economy, minority enterprise is incarcerated by inequity, shut out by inability to secure capital and exploited by profiteers who are spiritual adherents of segregation.

There's no doubt this spirit still lives. Many in America live publicly with desegregation on their lips and in their mannerisms but with segregation in their hearts. As even our President knows, the spirit still lives in many churches. It lives in attitudes about friendships and marriage, in public and private education. And it lives almost everywhere in the American economy.

Consider some of the devastating side effects of the federal law that opened public accommodations to non-white Americans:

During the decades that blacks couldn't sleep in most hotel and motel beds, a network of black-owned hotels and motels grew up. When blacks finally were allowed to sleep overnight in white beds, they woke up to find many black-owned hotels being squeezed out of existence by suddenly concerned "competition."

Black-owned funeral homes, an industry boosted to prominence by a notion that segregation is practiced into eternity, are eagerly sought by some white funeral-home owners who, since their ambulances now have to pick up black bodies, want the whole thing.

This isn't a call for a return to public segregation in the name of black and minority enterprise. But it is a common-sense plea to business and government and a warning to blacks and other minorities.

The plea is this: The inner-cities immediately the total cities ultimately, will collapse without economic rejuvenation and minority efforts and energy. But there won't be any efforts or energy if minority dollars and jobs move someplace else.

Black and minority business people were a critical component of the minority vote that provided Jimmy Carter his mandate. He must be called on to pay his debts.

Minority businesses can't survive or begin without businesses can't survive, the inner cities can't either.

The warning for minority Americans is this: There are those determined to stifle minority economic and political growth. Their weapons are a powerful will to exploit and the dollars to do it. They must be resisted and overcome.

Congressmen must be told that minorities are concerned about the neglect of bills needed to provide full employment and to finance urban development.

Black and minority dollars are the margin of profit for many big, influential businesses. Spending elsewhere or not at all sends a message so loud even the spirit of segregation can hear it.

The survivial of black and minority enterprise is more than a dollar and cents issue. It's time to force the issue and to seize the initiative to reconstruct the communities - starting at their crippled economic base.

Otherwise, everything that was ever ours and all we hope to gain will be lost and only the spirit of segregation will profit.