By Robert Dickerson
In its 15th year, the A.G. Gaston Conference has become one of Birmingham’s premier Black History Month events. The conference will be held Tuesday, February 12 and Wednesday, February 13 and includes topics on African American History, Economics, Politics and Quality of Life. The conference is a reminder of Dr. Gaston’s accomplishments, the businesses he started, streets named in his honor and his legacy. It’s Black History Month and there is no better way to celebrate it.
The conference will delve into the phenomena that there are black elected officials serving in important positions in state and local governments while at the same time the racial wealth gap is widening. Based on a recent Urban League study, the average net worth of black families is approximately $6,000 and the average white family’s is $100,000. This discussion, led by Angela Rye, will unpack the conversation to get a better understanding of whether politics or political power can drive economics and economic power.
One of the selling points for Birmingham is a good quality of life and is predicated by who you are, where you live, and how much money you make. Gaston’s enterprises have played a role in making his employees happy and successful. Managers at Booker T. Washington Insurance Company and Citizen’s Federal Bank, institutions owned by Dr. Gaston, earned as much as they would have working for major corporations owned by whites. In many cases, African Americans held executive positions at Gaston’s enterprises when those positions were unavailable in major banks, insurance and utility companies.
Now, most corporations are concerned about the environment, sustainability, and governance and strive to be socially responsible corporate citizens. Many have established foundations and support community initiatives to take care of the health and well-being of citizens in their communities. This year’s conference will take a deep dive to determine some of the mandates of corporate social responsibility and how several leading corporations execute on those promises.
Gaston in his famous Green Power: The Successful Way of A.G. Gaston, said that he had seen power, which he called “money in action, green power.” He went on to say, “The proper use of the power of money, organized for the good, could indeed be a great power.” Another valuable Gaston quote is “to have a few well-defined aims or goals and to work consistently for their attainment prepares us to do anything we aim to do.” The conference looks at 21st Century green power, featuring the author of the critically acclaimed “Black American Money,” Dr. Boyce Watkins. The popular Watkins, sometimes controversial but always provocative, will share a wide range of ideas, suggestions and recommendations just as Gaston did some five decades earlier.
The conference also demonstrates the importance of listening to younger leaders in the community. A group of millennials and Generation Xers will lead a discussion about civic innovation. This session will highlight innovative strategies to elevate Birmingham as a premier city for people to live, learn, work, play and serve.
The conference has always recognized local heroes with its People’s Choice Award. These award recipients have done outstanding service and have captured the attention of conference organizers with actions that make them worthy. The 2019 recipient of the People’s Choice Award is Devon Frazier, a teacher at Robinson Elementary School in Fairfield. Frazier saw a need and established “I See Me, Inc.” a nonprofit organization that helps children of color see themselves in the books that they read. Keenly aware that literacy is a way to combat the “school-to-prison-pipeline,” Frazier has dedicated herself to assisting her students to read at or above their grade levels. Frazier’s award will be presented at the Green Power Luncheon on Wednesday, February 13.
For more information about the A.G. Gaston Conference or to register, please visit aggastonconference.biz or call 205-250-6380.
Robert Dickerson is executive director of the Birmingham Business Resource Center.