By Roy L. Williams
Special to the Times
Event planner Gaynelle Adams Jackson has been a constant fixture with the A.G. Gaston Conference since she and Birmingham Business Resource Center Executive Director Bob Dickerson Jr. co-founded the event 18 years ago.
The 2022 A.G. Gaston will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, February 22-23, 2022 at on the 3rd floor of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex Forum Building.
“A lot of people who attend the conference really don’t know who I am,” chuckled Jackson, who as the co-founder of Advanced Planning Services, LLC and has been planning conferences of all sizes across the Southeast for over 25 years.
Attendees do not know the role she plays in pulling together the conference and how her program development and project management skills helped turn an idea that Dickerson had to honor his late boss, the late Dr. Gaston, into the A.G. Gaston Conference.
While Dickerson, a former banker who once worked for Dr. Gaston at his Citizens Federal Savings Bank, has always been a visible speaker and the face of the conference, he said Jackson makes the conference a success.
So how has the event planner and former banker made a great team? “First, we are good friends and have a great respect for the skill and expertise we each bring to the table,” said Jackson. “We know when to work together and when to stay in our own lanes.”
Secondly, trust, which Jackson says is vital for success both in business and in relationships. “Bob does all of the fundraising and I do all the logistics, and we plan the program together,” she said. “We trust that the people we are bringing to the table support the goals of the conference. That’s true for the program participants and vendors.”
She continued, “The two of us have been able to create a synergy and partnership that works. I believe that when you bring together the right people with the right skills at the right time and with a true commitment to the cause, you can’t help but have a success.”
Many are amazed that the A.G. Gaston Conference has lasted 18 years, something rare among Black business and networking events. She said the key to its longevity is “remaining true to our mission. It is a testament to what Bob and I have created and speaks to the caliber of the brand.
“This conference is about growing and empowering small businesses, especially African American businesses,” she said. “We’ve always been faithful to that. It’s just like with a business: you focus on what your core purpose is. As long as you stay focused, you will grow.”
“The people and relationships are the foundation of the Conference,” Jackson said. “There is an atmosphere that the A.G. Gaston Conference has. It has its own culture. We are about building relationships and making connections in an informal setting. It is the kind of event you can meet people, feel comfortable talking to them and build relationships that last.
Many of the A.G. Gaston Conference’s main sponsors, such as Regions Financial Corp. and Wells Fargo, have been with the event since its inception 18 years ago.
“These sponsors have been with us because they support what A.G. Gaston Conference stands for,” Jackson said. “It’s a good way for them to give back to the community and to be seen as good community partners.
“We are also very intentional about the vendors that we use. It goes back to our mission to grow and empower African American small businesses.” When looking for vendors, Jackson said, “we look for people with the skills necessary to put on a great event and that want to “grow with us.”
She cited Harrison Prince Designs, which has done the graphics for the A.G. Gaston Conference the entire 18 years, Sandy’s Flowers, James Dean Visual Art and Custom Trophy as just a few of the vendors that “have grown with us.”
When you have a vendor you can trust, you let them do what they do best and you always get more than you expected.”
A year ago the AG Gaston Conference was virtual due to the COVID pandemic – as were many other events. Jackson said going virtual allowed us to expand the boundaries of the conference, receiving nationwide attendance and media coverage across the country. “We probably tripled our registration attendance.”
“Virtual does not give you the chance for relationship building which has been a vital part of our success,” Jackson said. “We are back in person this year and people are excited to be able to renew those relationships.
The 2022 A.G. Gaston Conference has evolved and adjusted and will keep a virtual component.
“Some people who attended virtually from across the country and won’t be able to travel to Birmingham, so we do want to give them that option to hear some of the main speakers,” Jackson said. “We are sensitive to the fact we have an in-person and a virtual market.”