Presidents’ Council’s conference brings together African-American business owners

Lowell Perry Jr. 

I had the recent pleasure of participating in Northeast Ohio’s first African-American entrepreneurship conference, presented by the President’s Council, President’s Council Business Chamber and President’s Council Foundation, in collaboration with Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the Greater Cleveland Partnership Commission on Economic Inclusion. The event was also part of the yearlong community-wide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Central’s own Carl Stokes’ election as mayor of Cleveland.

The Northeast Ohio African American Entrepreneurship Conference was comprised of two days of activities which sought to better integrate sustainability efforts into daily actions and remove barriers to inclusion by unlocking the collaborative power of business, government, nonprofit, and civil society. The event brought together all those who share the President Council’s mission of closing gaps that negatively impact minority communities, have a shared passion for and understanding of the issues and needs of African-American business owners; and actively seek progress in removing barriers linked to those challenges.

A clear message was sent that thriving black-owned businesses are fundamentally essential to the economic empowerment and sustainability of our community.  In addition to the economic missive, there was extensive discussion around the importance of mentoring both aspiring entrepreneurs and the next generation of young people.

Morning keynote speaker David E. Gilbert, President and CEO of Destination Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee for the Republican National Convention spoke to the importance of collaboration. All of the endeavors he manages require a special kind of bringing people and resources together to achieve success. In many ways, his approach captures the essence of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood where coming together as a collective body around a common purpose is the order of the day.

The afternoon keynote was delivered by Susan L. Taylor, Founder & CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, and Editor Emerita of Essence Magazine. Susan is an iconic figure in the African-American community. She is a true soldier for kids, and someone I have had the pleasure of collaborating with for a long-time. Her personal and professional testimony is fascinating, inspiring, and a clarion call to action for people who care about those less fortunate. She stressed the critical need for mentoring young people, and why it is so important that we as adults take time to ourselves to regenerate and make sure we are at our optimum best if we are to make a difference in the lives of others. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak – do it!

Our young people need to see more business people, men and women who look like them who are finding success in the world of business. That is a big part of the transformational change we are looking to make in the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. Entrepreneurship can be a real way forward for the next generation. They need to experience this kind of an event to better understand that entrepreneurship is in our DNA as African-Americans.

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