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CEO Melvin Gravely’s Reality Check for Black Business Owners in Birmingham

Panel participants at the A.G. Gaston Conference from left: Moderator and conference host/co-founder Bob Dickerson; Fuddruckers owner Nicholas Perkins; conference co-host Gaynelle Jackson Adams; author, speaker and TriVersity Construction Company majority owner Dr. Mel Gravely II. (Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson Photo, For The Birmingham Times)

By Keisa Sharpe Jefferson | For The Birmingham Times

Speaker, teacher, author and Black business owner Dr. Melvin J. Gravely II spared no words as the keynote speaker for the opening day of the 20th annual A. G. Gaston Conference at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.

Gravely, majority owner of TriVersity Construction Company based in Cincinnati Ohio, on Tuesday apologized up front for his harsh reality check.

Addressing the Black business leaders in he room, he said, “We don’t have an agenda because we’re distracted by what other folks are doing to us, instead of what we can do for ourselves. If we don’t evolve, America has decided that they’ve moved on,” he said.

He also offered a straightforward, no-nonsense challenge directly to business owners and asked, “What, if anything, are you reading about business?”

Gravely, who is author of “Dear White Friend: The Realities of Race, the Power of Relationships and our Path to Equity” (a compilation of 19 letters on race relations), added, “We have to grow our companies and our businesses. My job as a business owner is to make money, not so I can keep it, but so I can use it to transform my community,” he said.

A.G. Gaston conference host and co-founder Bob Dickerson, who is president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Resource Center agreed with Gravely.

“If you look back at our first paper we published … in 2005…. It talked about Black business in Birmingham and how little revenue it generated in Birmingham,” said Dickerson. “And if you wrote a paper in 2024, you could still write the same story. You can change the dates, but you’re not going to be able to change any of the facts.”

The annual conference was created to honor Black businesses and named in honor of Dr. A.G. Gaston, an iconic Birmingham entrepreneur who employed a system of “find a need and fill it.”

In his lunch keynote Gravely encouraged business owners to build up their industry knowledge; recruit the best and brightest talent; redefine business success and focus on multigenerational businesses.

He later joined Dickerson, Gaynell Adams Jackson and Nicholas Perkins for a panel discussion.

Jackson, from Birmingham, is founder of Advanced Planning Services, a meeting and event management company. Perkins is the CEO of Perkins Management Services who owns Fuddruckers hamburger chain, the first African American to own a national hamburger franchise system.

Perkins said he used Gaston’s example to enlarge his vision of entrepreneurship and began his entrepreneurial career just a year and a half out of undergraduate school, receiving his first food service contract.

“This company which was a dream of mine and it put me in a position to be able to provide food services for a number of HBCU and government organizations,” said Perkins.

When his company acquired Fuddruckers, his business admittedly was the “smallest dog in the fight” and he still decided to “thrust himself into the world of mergers and acquisitions,” he said.  “I decided to put my hat in the ring. Let’s just say I got a crash course in mergers and acquisitions.”

While the decision was risky, it proved to be a life changing as he acquired the chain and ownership of the Fuddruckers brand, he said.

More information on the A.G. Gaston conference and schedule of speakers can be found here: https://aggastonconference.biz.