By Denise Stewart
For The Birmingham Times
Janice Mathis, leader of one of the nation’s oldest organizations of African-American women, opened the A.G. Gaston Conference in Birmingham Tuesday, calling for compromise, cooperation and collaboration to create jobs.
“We have to create jobs where they are needed the most,” said Mathis, who was appointed executive director of the National Council of Negro Women in 2015.
“The great recession of 2008 is still going on in a lot of African American communities,” Mathis said. “We lost billions of dollars in hard-earned wealth as the value of our homes dissipated and our public policy institutions frankly failed to provide systematic comprehensive solutions.”
The A.G. Gaston Conference, presented for 13 years, honors Dr. Gaston, the iconic Birmingham millionaire. It encourages discussion on closing the wealth gap through entrepreneurship and policy.
Gaston, a business man with a heart for the community, died in 1996 at the age of 103. He built a business empire that included Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, A.G. Gaston Construction Company, A.G. Gaston Motel, the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club and CFS Bankshares.
During the civil rights movement, Gaston often used his resources to pay bail for jailed activists, such as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In addition to Mathis, speakers for the two-day event at the BJCC included Ramon Ray, editor of Smart Hustle magazine, and Dennis Kimbro, a business school professor and author of What Makes Great Great.
Mathis, in her presentation, stressed the need for African-Americans to work together to help overcome the wealth gap and recover from ails of the great recession that continue to plague the community.Historically, black families have not had a lot of generational wealth to propel them higher and faster economically, she said.
“My parents didn’t have anything to leave me but faith in God and a good education, and you have to be able to make from there.” Mathis said. And that’s why it’s imperative for African American business and community leaders to work together to conquer wage differentials, unemployment and underemployment.
She said black and women-owned businesses have some catching up to do.“We have a million black firms, but most of them — 90 percent — have no employees or one employee,” Mathis said. Cooperation can go a long way, she said. “…Many voices at the table make us stronger.”