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Birmingham’s A.G. Gaston Conference: 20 Years and Counting

2024 will mark the 20th year of the A.G. Gaston Conference in Birmingham. (PROVIDED)
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Robert Dickerson, Executive Director, Birmingham Business Resource Center

Reflecting on 20 years of consecutive and successful AG Gaston Conferences, as church folk would say, I feel highly blessed.  The conference started with an idea of providing a platform for economic empowerment, and I can honestly say that when we started a 20-year anniversary was nowhere in our thinking.

A conference on economic empowerment was something we thought was important when we started, and that belief hasn’t changed. We get personal satisfaction from holding this conference each year, but most important is that it is something we still believe benefits our community.

Reflecting over the past two decades, some things have changed, the first is, I went from a man of 50 plus to a man of 70 plus, living has a way of reminding you that time stops for no one, however the one thing that has not changed, is that while we have improved over the years, we haven’t changed, and I am proud of that fact. The focal point of our conference has remained A G Gaston, the man and his accomplishments used as a north star to guide us toward “Economic Empowerment through Enterprise Development”, in other words, this is certainly the “Green Power Summit.”

One thing that has not changed is the partnership that Gaynelle Adams Jackson and I have had from the beginning. She could be described as the hub around which the conference spokes turn. Gaynelle is a business owner, and she is a staunch advocate for the advancement of Black owned businesses. Over the past twenty years our ability to stay focused on the goal empowering Black owned businesses has been essential in keeping this conference going. While I sometimes get credit as being the face of the AG Gaston Conference, she leads in ways that aren’t as visible but without that leadership we would not be celebrating this milestone.

Celebrating an iconic Black business mogul in Birmingham, Alabama during Black History Month has always just felt right. Gaston’s impact is still being felt here, as some of the speakers and panelists will detail in the upcoming summit. His life, his accomplishments, his story are all worthy of telling, re-telling and celebrating. His strategies, business savvy and even some of his methods, although deployed decades ago, might still be emulated. Gaston was a success in business, the moves he made, the people he persuaded, the deals he cut, the culture he nurtured and the opportunities he provided for people to have careers have left indelible marks on this city, state, and nation, and that included me. As I do every year, I’ll remind you that Black Enterprise Magazine named him “Entrepreneur of the 20th Century” an honor worth celebrating just by itself.

I’m thankful that for 20 years, our conference has been so well received, and that we have been blessed to have consistent success, and have garnered the support of corporate community, and that support along with the community support has allowed us to bring the conference to Birmingham year after year, with confidence that we will be back hosting the conference again the next year.

We have not approached the conference to make money, it has been a way of giving back, so we have utilized the support we get to make this an affordable opportunity for anyone who wants to attend. We’ve invested in the conference focused on making the two-day event an experience, we have been thoughtful about the programming, prioritized attracting an array of top-notch speakers and presenters whose messages support our theme and our beliefs.

Twenty years is a good run, I can think of events and organizations that have come and gone over that time. but we’re still here and as our commemorative logo suggests we’re “Twenty Years and Counting.”

The AG Gaston Conference has spent the past twenty years promoting starting and growing successful black owned businesses, creating economic empowerment through business ownership, and celebrating Black History, Black Excellence and A G Gaston. I certainly hope you’ll join us on February 13-14 at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center for our upcoming event. I can assure you that you will be glad that you did.

For more information or to register for the A G Gaston Conference visit www.aggastonconference.biz.