By Sonja Lother
An attentive audience gathered at Red Mountain Cabaret Theatre on October 3 to launch the J. Mason Davis Leadership Society formed by United Way of Central Alabama.
The new affinity group, named in honor of noted Birmingham attorney J. Mason Davis, brings together African American changemakers who champion diversity and opportunity, and are striving to positively impact the community through philanthropy, volunteerism, and advocacy.
Here are five key things from the event.
Keynote speaker Sekou Kaalund, head of JP Morgan Chase’s Advancing Black Pathways initiative and moderator Waymond Jackson, Birmingham Business Alliance’s Senior VP of Public Policy, focused on the need to be intentional in creating opportunities for African Americans and black business in the Birmingham area and beyond to succeed.
“We have to build initiatives by understanding what solutions are needed and deliver opportunities in areas where we are. That’s achieved by recognizing opportunities to make an impact with the right partners and people in ways that are sustainable,” Kaalund said.
Black entrepreneurship can make a difference
If entrepreneurs of color owned businesses at the same rates as white entrepreneurs, it would result in nine million more jobs and $300 billion in worker income, Kaalund said.
“The opportunity to drive economic growth by investing in black families and businesses is real. Black buying power is currently at $1.2 trillion but is on track to reach $1.5 trillion by 2021. That is nearly equivalent to Russia’s GDP, said Kaalund. “With that, we need to address financial literacy and stability, changing the narrative to a savings and investment mentality.”
Affinity groups can guide future impact
Natalie Kelly, a key organizer of the J. Mason Davis Leadership Society, said, “Being in an affinity group like this allows United Way donors to focus on issues they care deeply about—in this case, improving the quality of life for underserved African American groups.”
“This is an exciting chance to rally around United Way and give input and future direction on ways to help promote financial success and stability in the African American community,” said Kelly, manager of Brasfield & Gorrie Corporate Responsibility.
Jackson and Kaalund agree that being inclusive is the name of the game. “Don’t leave people out from having access to capital if they have ideas,” said Kaalund.
“We need to work with professional employee organizations to invest our assets in training, education, and entrepreneurship to increase the impact of African American economic development,” Jackson said.
Learn from the giants
During the Q&A, Kaalund and Jackson advised the audience to teach the younger generation by raising awareness about the living legends among us. “People in this room represent doors that have been opened,” Jackson said.
“Future generations look at your example so they know they can achieve it,” said Kaalund, “Promote those like J. Mason Davis who have had a successful corporate and community impact.”
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