Elite business leaders drawn to city

A.G. Gaston Conference encourages leaders, businesses to reinvest 

in community

By Barnett Wright

Birmingham Times staff

Dozens of national business and economic leaders were in Birmingham this week to discuss a myriad of issues that ranged from entrepreneurship to corporate America.

The 12th annual A.G. Gaston Conference featured community leaders, best-selling authors and business leaders, and students from UAB. The theme this year was Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race and Entrepreneurship.

“The primary goal of the conference is to help community leaders and business owners understand the impact that reinvesting in their communities can have on the economy in the state of Alabama,” said Bob Dickerson of the Birmingham Business Resource Center, who hosted the event.

The two-day conference drew speakers that included Birmingham Mayor William Bell; Marc Morial, CEO and President of the National Urban League; Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker, Founding Director of the Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship and Technology; and Dr. Dennis Kimbro, best-selling author of “Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice.”

The conference was founded in 2004 to honor the life and legacy of the late A.G. Gaston, one of Alabama’s first African-American millionaires.

It also provided seminars designed to create and incubate the next generation of community leaders with a focus on economic empowerment in minority communities.

Kimbro told of how he got a chance to spend quality time with Dr. Gaston and learned a valuable lesson of perseverance.

“It was the lowest point of my life,” Kimbro said. “I went through financial hell and high water to get (my book) done … What you don’t know is that we – my wife and three daughters – drove from Atlanta so dad could spend a day with Dr. Gaston.

“It was the middle of the summer and they waited in the car in the parking lot for the better part of that day while dad was in there interviewing him. The financial strain got to me.”

Kimbro said he had almost lost his house on five different occasions and had two cars repossessed. He remembers breaking down in tears in front of Gaston.

“He said, ‘young man what in the world is wrong?’”

“I said, ‘Dr. Gaston, you just don’t know. My wife and children are out there, people are laughing at me, I’m living off her earnings as an accountant, people are doubting me … I can’t find a quarter with a roadmap, I don’t have a dime, I’m behind on my mortgage.”

Kimbro said Gaston listened and handed him a tissue, saying “Young man tell me when you’re through.”

Kimbro recalls Gaston finally saying to him: “Greatness takes time. A person must be tested in the furnace of adversity. Fear not, young man, continue to move forward.”

“He could see from a distance what I could not see up close,” Kimbro told the audience in a conference room at Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Kimbro delivered his message to an audience that included University of Alabama at Birmingham students who visited areas of the city targeted for revitalization and developed sustainable ideas that will make these areas attractive to live, work, play and serve.

The conference was open to students from state high schools and universities to expose them to economic leaders from across the country.