By Bob Dickerson
If there has ever been anyone that I consider myself privileged to have met, anyone who greatly inspired me by his unique entrepreneurial vision in his passionate belief in economic self-sufficiency that would be A.G. Gaston.
He was well organized, had great instincts, understood people and obviously made good business decisions. He was the kind of person who spurred others to action and led by example. He exhibited excellent characteristics like self-discipline, hard work and determination. He was certainly a Black Titan.
How many of us can really say that they met, got to know and actually worked with a true American hero. Well, I actually can and quite often do, especially during Black History Month where in Birmingham we recognize the life and achievements of A.G. Gaston, celebrating him during our conference held in his honor.
The virtual conference planned for February 23 and 24, “One Vision, One Cause: Elevating African American Entrepreneurship”, will be supported by keynote speakers of national acclaim and panels of local experts.
Headlining the 2021 A.G. Gaston conference is Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. As the conference focuses on the economic state of Black Birmingham as well as Black America, Morial’s voice is a critical one. Morial’s newest book, “The Gumbo Coalition”, shares important messages about leadership and joining forces under a common cause.
Gaston’s remarkable life and significant accomplishments aren’t told enough, in fact I believe that the Gaston story is the stuff that epic movies and documentaries should be made from. That, my friends, is my personal goal along with making sure that the memory of this giant of business and industry never fades away.
Gaston’s personal story rivals those of businessmen Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan as well as his heroes, Booker T. Washington, Sebron Edwards and John Merrick. The decisions he made the deals he cut, the pitfalls he avoided and the partnerships he curated played important roles, helping him live a life full of tremendous achievements. Launching business after business, cornering industry, starting educational enterprises, horizontally and vertically integrating his life and his ventures, this man was phenomenal in every respect. So exceptional that indeed he even used his failures to propel them to success.
My personal A.G. Gaston connection story is a simple one. I was looking for a job and he employed me. I worked hard and he rewarded me. His company gave me an opportunity to shine and be noticed and as a result I have been able to contribute to this community. My story isn’t unique as dozens of others whose paths crossed Gaston’s could tell this same story.
Booker T Washington insurance company, Citizens Federal Savings Bank, Booker T Washington Business College, Vulcan Realty Company, and A.G. Gaston Construction Company were breeding grounds for talented young African Americans looking to make their marks in Birmingham’s business community. Iconic names like those of Louis J. Willie, Kirkwood Balton, Donald Soloman and Lou Esther Ard come to mind as do some of my contemporaries like Floyd Yelling, Walter Howlett and Bunny Stokes.
During my time at Citizen’s, the building on 3rd Ave and 18th St was always the center of Black enterprise and commerce, of conversations about and visits from prominent pastors, business leaders and politicians. Birmingham’s first Black mayor Richard Arrington, Black Enterprise Magazine publisher, Earl Graves and prominent civil rights leader the Reverend Abraham Woods are among this prestigious group. Getting the opportunity to sit in board meetings with the likes of Attorney Arthur Shores, Rev. John T. Porter, and masonic leader S. J. Bennett was an education in itself.
So, I am obviously elated to once again have the opportunity to invite you to join me in celebrating Dr. A. G. Gaston during our virtual conference. Virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic but filled with information, with motivation and perhaps some inspiration, as we celebrate Gaston while looking for the next iconic business owner, the next man or woman who will create jobs, reshape industry, contribute to society and to the economy. The next businessman or woman who will find needs and fill them and change lives in this community like my life was changed because of A.G. Gaston.
The conference is free to the public. Registration is available by visiting the conference website www.aggastonconference.biz.
For more information about the conference, you may also call the Birmingham Business Resource Center at (205) 250-6380.
Bob Dickerson is executive director of the Birmingham Business Resource Center and founder of the A G Gaston Conference.